From IT equipment, including laptops and mobile phones, to furniture, fixtures and fittings, assets within housing providers are on the move. It may sound like a scene from Dr. Who, but the reality is that the assets owned by housing providers are not only deployed within the physical boundaries of head offices but increasingly in the wider community.
For those tasked with managing a fixed asset register and ensuring equipment is available on demand, keeping track of these moving items is a critical aspect of day-to-day activity. This means that the traditional annual physical audit of assets is simply no longer good enough.
As Karen Conneely from Real Asset Management suggests, asset tracking is an all year round requirement. In today’s highly mobile world, enabling individuals to undertake a process of continual routine asset tracking via mobile apps is going to be the key to retaining visibility and control as they flow in and out of the organisation.
Fluid asset base
Today’s society is mobile in so many ways – mobile phones dominate the way we communicate and mobile commerce now outstrips revenue from other channels. While housing providers have developed any number of strategies to support the mobile-enabled workforce and customer base, few have implemented effective policies to control and track the increasingly mobile asset base – an asset base that now moves not only within an organisation but increasingly outside its traditional physical boundaries.
Keeping track of assets used to be a relatively straightforward process, albeit rather boring and grudgingly undertaken. Someone in IT, finance or facilities management would perform a physical audit, typically using a barcode reader, perhaps once a year to provide an up-to-date view of asset statuses and locations. This enabled the finance team to update the balance sheet and IT and facilities management teams to have a better understanding of asset damage or loss.
Times have changed though, and radically. Housing providers are now frequently managing assets or allocating assets to individuals for definite or indefinite periods of time; for example, a new or temporary employee or indeed a tenant. Organisations need to change the way the asset base is considered and managed.
So how are those assets going to be tracked? As housing providers have a continued focus on delivering a better service to tenants, they want to make sure they know what assets they have and that these assets are being used properly.
How will they ensure the equipment is still in place, check for maintenance requirements or manage returns when the equipment is no longer required? Without a way of easily and routinely gaining an up-to-date view of asset location, there is a significant risk of loss and mismanagement.
How can an organisation make the asset audit a routine and simple aspect of day-to-day activity? With the latest generation of mobile apps, housing providers can devolve responsibility for managing and auditing the asset estate away from IT and finance and towards operational areas. The model is compelling; there are no additional hardware costs and low cost software can be downloaded from the Apple store or Android and Windows marketplaces, and works on most smartphone devices. Furthermore the training requirements are minimal since most people already know how to use a smartphone.
Armed with the mobile asset management app, housing staff can undertake the physical audits using the camera on the smartphone to add a photograph and scan barcodes, in the same way the laser scanner on a PDA was used in the past. The difference is that with ubiquitous smartphone use, an organisation can move away from dedicated equipment and dedicated audit individuals to devolving responsibility more broadly across the organisation. The one-off or annual audit can be replaced by routine, even daily activity undertaken by those people directly interacting with the assets.
Simple and immediate access to up-to-date asset information transforms the way housing providers can use and control a mobile asset base. For example, the IT support person faced with a malfunctioning PC can use the app to log on to the asset tracking software and gain all the information regarding the asset’s history and maintenance status immediately, with none of the delay associated with returning to an office in another part of the building. Also, as part of the support process, the interaction with that asset will automatically update the asset register, ensuring that the PC’s latest location is also accurate.
Housing providers are operating far more complex, fluid and changing asset bases, and the traditional, once-a-year approach to tracking those assets is no longer enough. Waiting for Christmas or year-end to undertake a one-off audit is not going to work in this mobile environment.
If stakeholders, including the office manager, IT manager and finance manager come together, they can ensure they have a handle on their asset base. By enabling diverse individuals to use the new generation of app-based asset-tracking solutions, housing providers can gain real-time visibility of asset location, value and status. With this information, it is the asset owners and budget holders that are now empowered to make the critical asset-management decisions, ensuring essential control is imposed over this continually changing yet increasingly valuable property.
Karen Conneely is group commercial manager for Real Asset Management.