NFC technology is transforming the way organisations track their assets, enabling them to know their location, keep them secure, implement effective maintenance and help ensure that regulations are complied with. Here, we’ll look at how this technology works and the advantages it brings
What is NFC?
NFC (Near Field Communication) is a technology that transmits data, via radio waves, between two devices, a tag and a reader. Tags are microchips which can be programmed to carry small amounts of data. When placed in close proximity to a reader, that data is then read and processed.
Tags can be embedded in all manner of items, such as smart cards, key fobs and wristbands. There are also adhesive tags which can be fastened to virtually any asset. Readers come in a variety of forms, some are fixed to doorways and counters while others are handheld and can be moved from place to place. One of the most common forms of reader is the smartphone, which can act as both a tag (e.g., when paying for items with Apple Pay) or as a reader.
To work effectively as an asset tracking system, information from the readers are stored and processed in a central IT system. While fixed readers can be wired into the system, handheld and smartphones can connect via wi-fi or (for phones) over telecoms networks. When the system is based in the cloud, it means managers can have access to the data from any device where they have an internet connection.
How asset tracking works
Asset tracking is a simple process. Each NFC tag has a unique identifier that can be linked on the IT system to a specific asset. By placing a tag on the asset, it can be accurately identified each time the tag is read. By recording the time and location when this happens, managers can know where an asset was last used and have a historical record of its movements.
This, however, is asset tracking at its most basic. With the right system software in place, there are numerous other advantages for business users.
The ability to use smartphones as readers brings several advantages for companies. Firstly, if you have a BYOD (bring your own device) policy, it means you do not have to purchase readers for your business. Instead, staff can simply install the system app on their phones and any information they collect can be transmitted by wi-fi.
Another advantage is the valuable data that the phone can add. If you track an asset by tapping the phone on its tag, the app can also log the item’s location using the phone’s GPS data together with the time that the tracking took place. Furthermore, using a smartphone means staff can input details onto tracking forms, take and upload photographs and, if required, can be called by managers while doing the tracking.
Making sure assets get returned
Today’s NFC asset tracking systems provide innovative ways to ensure that items taken from an asset store are returned. When items leave the storage area, their removal is logged, together with the name of the employee who took them and their phone details. Shortly before the employee is due to return the item, an automated message is sent to their phone to remind them. A specific return time can be given if desired. This can also be used if another employee urgently requires the item and needs to know where it is.
Once returned, the asset is logged back in the store and this is added to the asset’s historical usage records.
Affixing NFC tags to the entrances of storage facilities, offices and other rooms, enables companies to ensure that security personnel regularly check each area while on patrol. Each time they physically check a room, they can use their phone to tap the NFC tag and prove that they have been present.
The tapping of the tag can be used to open up a form on their phones where further details can be added if required. These can include checklist questions such as: was the door secure? Are there any other people in the building? Was an asset present when you checked, etc.?
Compliance and policy
NFC asset tracking systems can be exceptionally useful in ensuring that assets comply with regulations or company policy. For example, by fitting NFC tags to fire extinguishers, it is possible to record that they have been checked in accordance with regulations.
Perhaps even more useful is that, when service personnel tap their phone on the tag, a compliance checklist can be loaded onto the screen showing a list of procedures that need to be carried out and which records the time, date and name of the person who carried out the compliance monitoring. This enables management to have a complete overview of the compliance status of all assets.
This can also be used for ensuring service and maintenance policies are being adhered to. For example, a hotel cleaner taps their phone on a tag on entry to a guest room. They follow the checklist instructions on the app to ensure the room is cleaned in accordance with company policy and then they take a photograph of the room as evidence that their work is complete. The hotel then knows which rooms are available for guests and that they have been cleaned correctly.
NFC asset tracking brings many advantages to organisations. Using NFC tags, such as those available from Universal Smart Cards, together with mobile phones, ensures not only that they know an asset’s location, it also enables them to ensure items are returned to the correct repository, that asset security is thorough, that regulations are complied with and that services and maintenance policies are being effectively carried out.