SECURITY magazine recently talked to some leaders in the asset tracking industry to discuss some of the new technologies on the market. Kim Warne, director RFID business development, ADT Security Services, Boca Raton, Florida, Chuck Stringham, marketing manager, Secure-It Inc., East Longmeadow, Mass., and Jeffery Ross, product marketing manager, Lenel Systems International, Pittsford, N.Y., share their insights.

Q. Briefly explain asset tracking.

Warne: Asset tracking refers to the ability to identify, locate or count individual items in a commercial or retail setting.

Stringham: Asset tracking is the process of monitoring and tracking valuable equipment at all times in case of theft of loss.

Ross: Asset management involves the tracking of physical assets through tagging mechanisms, including their current location, past locations and movements throughout a facility. It involves tracking individuals who are in possession of assets as well as the history of the asset.

Q. What are some of the most common products that have asset tracking devices installed? And why?

Stringham: The most common product we see using this method of security are laptop computers. The main reason is due to the mobility of the device and the cost of the unit.

Ross: It really depends on the application. Generally, high-value assets are the first products to be protected. In your typical business this may be items including PCs, projection equipment or office chairs. In addition, any piece of equipment that stores intellectual property, such as a laptop, is a candidate to be tagged and tracked.

Warne: A variety of asset tracking systems exist, with various systems designed to fit specific market niches. A common element of these systems is the use of radio frequency identification or RFID technology as the core enabler for asset tracking.

In corporate environments, asset tracking solutions generally employ some type of portal identification system along with special asset tags affixed to items to be tracked. In retail stores, readers may take the form of portable handheld units or bulk tunnel readers for scanning cases of goods.

Q What are some of the different asset tracking systems on the market?

Ross: At the most architectural level, there are two types of systems on the market; passive asset tracking systems and active tracking systems.

Warne: For corporate asset tracking, ADT offers several different portal tracking systems. One of the newest portal systems to enter the market is CoCure Watch, which ties asset tracking to access control using a passive RFID tag.

Stringham: LapTrak, a computer tracking and recovery service, STOP-ID tracking tags and RFID tags.

Q. What are some of the most important features in an asset tracking system?

Warne: For asset tracking systems to offer the most value to their users, they must be accurate, user friendly, aesthetically pleasing, secure and able to be integrated into existing system infrastructures. Tags need to be small enough to fit on or inside assets to be secured. Similar requirements exist on the retail side. Users seek a relatively long read distance from RFID systems, which can help yield greater usability and efficiency.

Stringham: Reliability of the monitoring service that tracks the unit is the most important because that is technically what is being purchased.

Ross: There are numerous features that should be built into a robust asset management system. The ability to classify assets is extremely important. This allows system administrators to assign certain classes of assets to individuals. The ability to automatically assign an asset to an authorized individual is also important from a workflow standpoint.

Q. What are some of the most recent technological advancements in asset tracking?

Stringham: Most recently, we have heard of global positioning satellite (GPS) tracking which is very expensive, but should become an excellent method of tracking a device anywhere in the world.

Ross: The ability to disable the basic input/output system (BIOS) on a laptop that leaves a building with an unauthorized individual is a great advancement in the fight to protect intellectual property. The ability to integrate asset management with other subsystems, digital video especially, has also been a huge advancement.

Warne: Perhaps the greatest technological advancement is the past year or so has been the ability to move smart RFID technology into mainstream applications like corporate asset tracking and retail merchandise tracking. Applying RFID technology at the item level enables a visibility to assets that was only dreamed of in the past. Retailers can have full visibility of inventories on demand, enabling more accurate replenishment, better merchandising and ultimately improved sales.

Q. What are the pros and cons of asset tracking?

Warne: Among the more important benefits of RFID are its high data storage capacity, its read range capability and its ability to read a tag even without line of sight. Another important benefit of RFID is the read/write capability of the tag, meaning new information can be added to asset tags. The whole history of a product will be available at your fingertips, allowing the benefits of RFID asset tracking to extend into areas like service and warranty tracking and automatic product returns.

While RFID has many advantages, the technology still has room to grow. Since RFID is an emerging technology, it does not enjoy the depth in product offering found with other more mature technologies like bar coding or electronic article surveillance (EAS).

Stringham: The benefits include the ability to monitor your equipment if lost or stolen. It can be a great tool for inventory control, may reduce insurance costs and it can act as a theft deterrent. Some downsides include cost, depending on the product And with the ID tags, recovery can only be achieved if the theft is reported to a 800-phone number.

Ross: There are a number of benefits to deploying asset tracking. At the highest level, you have the increased protection of intellectual property and of high value assets. Most facility managers who have deployed asset tracking will tell you the ROI is very quick, as soon as 8-12 months in some cases. Any downside outside of changing some operational processes is relatively minor, and the benefits far outweigh them.

Q. Where do you see asset tracking technology heading within the next five years?

Stringham: We see asset tracking having a very large niche in our security market. Technology available will allow us to track and monitor equipment at a cost-effective rate and offer many features that could benefit companies that purchase them. We feel GPS technology will become more popular and less expensive.

Warne: While it is impossible to predict the exact landscape of RFID and asset tracking in five years, we are confident that the next few years will bring a large number of technology breakthroughs. Some of the developments that are imminent are increasingly smaller RFID tags and a wider variety of multi-functional readers, all of which are cost reduced as volumes increase.