Data Center Strategies
Creating your own Asset Tagging Program.
Like any progressive technology, the world of Automated Data Collection (ADC) for asset management is changing. The days of purchasing expensive and sometimes over-bloated asset management systems are diminishing as facilities are learning to cultivate and adopt the latest tracking tools themselves. Facility personnel are learning how to tailor a program specific to their culture, needs and environment. With the growing demands for real-time asset location and increased visibility, along with the Internet of Things (IoT) on the horizon, all indicators suggest that enhanced ADC programs are here to stay.
Radio-Frequency (RF) technology serves as one of the core sensor-based methods for tracking “things”. Most data center professionals already understand the technology and processes involved, and are recognizing that any investment they make in sensor-based tracking now provides more than just current visibility advances and compliance. It also plays a large part, by learning how to use the technology, in preparing their teams in establishing and optimizing their data center solution for the future.
The latest asset visibility trends indicate a move toward a hybrid model approach for developing an in-house asset tracking program, one that blends outside expertise and simple apps with in-house resources and back-end systems. This hybrid approach allows data center staff to leverage the programs and resources already in place. It allows them to learn and adopt the technology at their own pace, as time permits, while simultaneously making asset visibility improvements that increase productivity and generate savings.
Here are a few thoughts and strategies when considering the creation of an in-house asset tracking program.
Focus on relevance.
When staking a claim for asset tagging, it must be tied securely to a business strategy. Your leadership will most likely require you have genuinely defensible motives for the effort. Project scope and planning involves determining specific goals and tasks, followed by costs, and the expected returns.
It often helps to keep in mind that at the rudimentary level, the tracking of servers, equipment, staff, or other facility assets is merely the collection and documentation of individual “events”. These tracking events normally include actions such as movement, inventory or audit, check in/check out, temperature change, or scheduled maintenance. Events are captured and filtered into meaningful data used to improve or replace manual processes, reduce human error, satisfy compliance, streamline operations, and improve reporting functions. Consequently, it must save your people time and calories, and ultimately save money for your operation.
The Phased Approach.
A simple understanding of asset tracking can begin with taking regular steps in the right direction. One new model for deploying an in-house asset tracking system focuses on phasing in the capabilities over time, and starts with the fundamental level of labeling assets with a Passive RF tag.
After assets are tagged, you can start making incremental improvements using the technology, advances that are accompanied by greater efficiencies and savings. For example, an initial procedure may involve upgrading your existing asset barcode tags to RF tags. Currently this process is accomplished quickly and easily by placing the RF tag next to your existing barcode tag, and by clicking on the tag with a handheld interrogator, you commission the barcode information directly onto the adjacent RF tag.
With your current barcode system still in place, you’ve removed the requirement for line of sight when reading the tags. Now you can collect tag information remotely, and this immediately translates into labor savings, and your first incremental improvement. Inventory and audit functions are now accomplished faster by using a mobile handheld or by using an RFID-enabled cart. Search and verification times are significantly reduced.
Next you may add read points at entrances to storage or maintenance areas or at exits to capture tag reads for specific alerts. Then, to track assets remotely at more granular levels such as by rack or slot, an arrangement of fixed readers with antennas or cables are installed that are positioned overhead, into or near the racks. If this level of visibility is ultimately what you seek, it can be implemented at your own pace. Typically an engineering pilot is first conducted to verify the best tag, position, and equipment performance. Often these infrastructure steps for increased visibility are phased in by zones, so it causes minimal disruption to daily operations.
Additional incremental improvements include capabilities such as adding low-cost temperature tags at desired locations to collect temperature information, using the same infrastructure. Later, you may want to add an RF chip to you staff’s badges, and begin matching personnel with entry/exit, specific asset use, movement or maintenance. Some of these examples demonstrate the possibilities of incremental improvements, and the list is much longer.
The phased method of deployment isn’t revolutionary. It has been tried, tested and proven with many new technologies, and helps establish a collaborative internal ethos for the processes before major investments are made. The phased approach allows your team to learn, embrace, and feel comfortable with the technology at their own speed. It flows with the grain of your facility and operations, and assures the entire process won’t overwhelm an already busy staff which is constantly being tasked with bigger issues and technologies to absorb.
The Gartner Bi-Modal idea that organizations need two speeds of IT, traditional IT and agile IT (Gartner just calls them mode-1 and mode-2) seems to fit well within the phased approach model. Newer, agile technologies can be prototyped, developed and transformed before being woven into the fabric of the operation. Measurable results in operational efficiencies can be seen in as little as six to eight weeks after starting a hybrid program.
Applicability, alignment and integration.
Typical tag reading applications consist of a mobile/fixed reader app, an inventory database, and a web management tool. At the end of the day, it’s all about getting actionable data into your system. Many facilities are operating DCIM programs that possess some level of RF capability, and that requires a unified handshake between the systems.
Today there are many solid, viable apps that are simple to use that provide a seamless interface for moving RF tag data to your ERP system. ERP Systems such as SAP, Microsoft, Sage, Net Suite, and others already have the ability to track assets and generate reports about asset flow, usage, calibration schedules, and support for other processes that are vital for operation. These applications allow IT or capital asset personnel to use RF tags to automatically track assets with little or no human involvement.
With most apps, an inventory database is created from existing ERP System asset records. An RF tag is associated to the asset in this inventory database. Inventories are performed using the handheld or fixed interrogators and the resultant data is synchronized with the inventory database. The ERP System is updated via various methods by obtaining updates from the inventory database. These methods can include automatic updates or manually managed updates dependent on the processes and limitations as outlined by the IT department.
Use expert resources.
Engaging with expert RF analysts, engineers, and software professionals early in the process could be the single best decision you make on the path to success. Using independent experts open up a world of resources, and helps you assess your situation in a vendor-neutral, software and hardware agnostic way.
Often, facilities purchase a specific tracking solution before a proper analysis and testing is done, and that action can actually marginalize and pigeon-hole your options down the road, especially if the purchased solution is proprietary. Remember, there’s nothing proprietary about tagging and monitoring an asset. Every component of your program should be standards-based protocols (such as GS1, GEN2, ISO and EPC) that allow you to scale your program freely and effectively. The right expert assures your solution is magnanimous, and not dictatorial.
Starting down the path of developing your own asset tagging program is possible, and it’s entirely achievable. Like all new technologies it’s a learning experience, and the emphasis of making the technology your own includes three main things: finding purpose, creating autonomy, and then mastery. RF is not rocket science, but there is an art behind the science that can be acquired with the right resources. Financially, an in-house program makes more sense, and mitigates the risk of it turning into a large capital expense that becomes a “feed the monster” project.
According to recent studies on the implementation of new technologies across many vertical markets, fully 67% of potential adopters do not proceed due to other pressing concerns that require their time and energy. Phasing in a tracking program at your own pace and budget, and by using expert resources to help, may be the best way to start.