Asset management has taken on a new luster at many organizations today — and for good reason. As the economic outlook continues to be unclear, it's more important than ever for assets to deliver optimum business value — across the complete infrastructure and at every stage in their life cycles.

For organizations with mobile assets, however, that can be a particularly challenging goal to achieve. As assets shift in location from place to place, establishing their status levels, and performing routine tasks like preventive maintenance, becomes significantly harder.

That, in turn, leads to many unfortunate outcomes. Operational costs inevitably rise as key assets function less efficiently than they should. Business processes that should quickly be triggered by problematic asset performance (such as work order creation or replacement requisitioning) are triggered more slowly — if at all. Assets must be replaced more often, demanding not just new capital expenditure but more time and energy from team members.

To visualize these issues more concretely, imagine a hospital with an expensive medical mobile asset that, to serve different patients in different parts of the building, is moved from place to place. Unfortunately, this relocation process isn't tracked as well as it might be. If the asset can't quickly and easily be found, it can't perform the tasks for which it was purchased in a timely manner. Furthermore, if this asset should decline in performance or even fail outright, due to ongoing difficulties in locating it and performing routine maintenance on it, the consequences for the hospital and its patients could be truly significant.

Dynamically track the location and status levels of mobile assets
Fortunately, IBM now offers a compelling new asset management solution that specifically targets mobile assets: IBM Real-Time Asset Locator (RTAL).

RTAL tracks assets by interacting with sensor tags on those assets that communicate asset status data (such as location). In fact, the solution supports a wide variety of sensor tags based on different platforms — Wi-Fi, active and passive RFID, bar code, Ultrasonic, Infrared, Ultra Wide Band and others.

Such extensive tag support makes it a relatively simple matter for organizations to select an ideal communications platform for any given asset, taking into account variables such as expected range of mobility, interference/blockage and others. If line-of-sight is going to be a problem, for instance, infrared won't be a suitable candidate, but Wi-Fi or RFID might. If the asset generates an exceptionally high volume of data that must be transmitted a short distance in a minimum time, Ultra Wide Band will meet that need well.

Intelligent analysis and automated events help maximize asset ROI
Once an appropriate tag has been deployed on a mobile asset, RTAL will continually collect and aggregate status information from it. This information is then analyzed via a processing engine that isolates special/target circumstances (such as performance falling below a given threshold, component failure, or the expiration of time needed before routine maintenance is performed).

If subsequent action is indicated (such as maintenance or part replacement), that action can, in many cases, be triggered automatically by RTAL based on predefined rules. Furthermore, visualization of mobile asset status and performance is also simpler than ever to achieve, thanks to a central console that can display assets by class, tasks, organizational hierarchy and other criteria. Managers can, at a glance, determine how well all the mobile assets associated with a service or business group are performing.

Extending the strong business case for RTAL even further is the fact that it also integrates with IBM Maximo Asset Management and IBM Tivoli Asset Management for IT. This interoperable design allows the organization to obtain even more business value from those solutions (should they already have been deployed), by extending their powerful feature sets and cross-domain functionality to mobile assets that were previously inaccessible — and generating even more extensive insight into how assets are performing against goals and what action is needed in order to optimize that performance.

A rich array of engaging new benefits and possibilities
What are the business outcomes? Longer asset life cycles, higher asset ROI, diminished costs and simplified management and compliance certainly lead the list. But many other compelling new benefits and possibilities can emerge as well.

For example, consider the common problem of asset loss (or theft). Think back to the earlier scenario of the hospital with expensive mobile medical equipment; such equipment should only be utilized inside given areas within the hospital that are known to be secure. At present, unfortunately, many hospitals have no easy way to establish when such assets have been moved outside those areas (and are therefore more vulnerable to loss or theft).

With RTAL, that problem disappears. They can easily determine exactly where in the hospital the asset is at any given time. They can also set policies to decrease the odds of a problem—for instance, by triggering an automatic alert if the asset is for any reason moved outside secure areas. Subsequently, the security team can take rapid action based on the knowledge of the asset's location.

Another area in which many organizations would like to see improvement is asset utilization, as well as the quantified intelligence associated with that utilization. How often is a given asset used? Where, physically, does that use tend to occur? Which team members make use of the asset, and under which circumstances? These questions are essential if asset management, in a larger sense, is going to be optimized.

Here too RTAL can play a key role. RTAL not only generates dynamic data pertaining to asset status and performance; it can also generate customizable reports that reflect how that status or performance changed — in different locations, at different times or for different durations. This actionable insight helps organizations to ensure that assets are performing up to necessary specifications. It also helps them plan by establishing trends such as changing demand levels and budgeting/purchasing appropriately.

Employee productivity will also climb. Instead of spending fruitless time searching for assets, team members can spend it working and actually using those assets. And when you consider employees themselves are mobile assets, another benefit is evident: enhanced employee safety. RTAL can establish just where employees are in the event of a catastrophic emergency, and thus facilitate and accelerate policies designed to keep them as safe as possible by routing them from problem areas to safe areas with the minimum possible risk.