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7 Criteria to Consider When Developing Asset Tracking

A practical guide for organizations considering whether to “build or buy”

You and your team have developed an application that addresses your customers’ business challenges. But your competition is offering a comprehensive asset tracking module that is starting to cause your sales team concerns. You started to hear reports from your salespeople that they’re struggling to win deals because of the critical needs of the operational and accounting departments for asset tracking. Now you have an opportunity to close the gap and expand the value of your application.

Your decision to add new asset tracking, equipment analytics, work order dashboards, equipment inventory tracking, and reporting is simple compared to your next decision: buy or build? Technology-driven organizations face this choice all the time. Of course, there are traditional criteria; however, there’s nothing traditional about integrating electronic hardware and software into your software. This is a fast-evolving industry with high stakes. The asset tracking industry is fast-moving and involves a complex supply chain and professional engineering talent. Done well, comprehensive asset tracking helps your customers increase productivity, reduce costs and ultimately increase profits. Done poorly, asset tracking reflects badly on your company and suggests an inability to keep up.

Choosing to build or buy the next generation of asset tracking hardware and software solutions involves many considerations and rarely offers a simple answer. This post will help you understand and evaluate the criteria that can guide you to making a well-informed decision that best suits your offering and organization.

Provide Comprehensive Asset Tracking That Drive Value

Your customers are demanding more visibility of their assets, equipment operations, costs of operating their assets. In addition, the accounting function of tracking assets original costs, depreciation, warranties, locations, physical counts, and operating costs.

You want them to see new value in your product through a comprehensive asset tracking solution.

While the right technology and solution is a truly potent tool, a comprehensive solution is far more than just a barcode scanner and GPS trackers. It’s based on the best and proven technology solutions—simple enough to let data seamlessly transfer from devices, while flexible enough to answer any questions on the fly.

The company behind such a strong asset solution has spent years developing its applications—from advanced modules and hardware engineering to secured interfaces obtained through advanced integrations. Do you know all the nuanced ways in which your customers can use their equipment? What will it take for you to develop? What resources are needed to provide and support that functionality and flexibility?

As time goes on, customers will have new equipment problems, new use cases, and new ways to create greater value from their equipment. Whether driven by customer feedback, competitive research, market trends, or new features within your core application, customers will expect your asset tracking capabilities to evolve alongside your product. For an in-house team faced with technology advancements, government regulations, equipment hardware updates, it will feel like just yesterday that the wrapping fell off their asset tracking solution. Now your team must go back to work for adjustments or an overhaul—instead of advancing your core application.

It takes a nimble, extensible application to adapt fast enough to flow with evolving customer demands; if your asset tracking solution offering grows old and inadequate, the power of your application can go unseen. Insights and value that you could have delivered get left behind as missed opportunities. Will you have the resources and flexibility to respond to changing customer needs, or will you let your asset tracking solution take the back seat instead? Faced with this challenge, maturity in specialization often wins the race for innovation.

Get Your Asset Tracking Solution To Market Quickly

When deciding whether to build or buy, one obvious criterion is speed to develop and deploy. Delays to market become gifts to your competitors and frustration for your customers. When considering in-house development, your inevitable question will be: “Is it worth the wait?”

One of the most widely believed fallacies in asset tracking solutions is that it is a simple plug-and-play application. Asset tracking involves blending electrical and software engineering to create robust solutions. The electrical designs and coding required to build basic devices, app conductivity, and cloud reporting are deceptively difficult. Few companies have access to in-house engineers that know asset tracking solution techniques.

Teams without deep expertise in embedded systems engineering and software development often invent as they go, creating unplanned expenses and delays as they navigate misunderstood specifications, evolving requirements, coding compromises, long emails and meetings, multiple iterations of prototypes, and ultimately a minimum viable product that’s far from the original goal.

The speediest option is almost always to partner with a specialized provider—one whose people live and breathe the rapidly advancing field of asset tracking and data visualization.

Deploy And Scale With Ease

Is deployment easy? Or, like the present marked “assembly required” just under the wrapping, does post-purchase data alignment and display design make implementation a nightmare.

Connecting to many pieces of equipment can be a challenge. You’ll need a solution that can draw from just about any type, size, or manufacturer's equipment. An application that came to life in-house can be shot down by real-world hardware installations. How many customers will happily beta test your offering for you?

Purchased solutions can have their own problems, of course. If you buy, make sure the solution aligns with the goals for your organization’s broader equipment tracking solutions strategy.

Make sure that the hardware solution integrates easily with your infrastructure—whether that means deploying on-premises or in the cloud. Consider the requirements to deploy your solution

Think about what will be required to monitor its usage, and to scale your solution as usage increases. It should be simple, flexible, and adaptable; why limit yourself or your customers?

Leverage Your Company’s Domain Expertise

You shop for food in a grocery store, have your car fixed by a mechanic, and get your hair cut by a stylist. In the modern world, every business has its own collection of specialties. If you must have the best, you go to a specialist with up-to-date knowledge and reasonable prices. Isn’t that why your customers come to you?

Imagine that your unique value is in software that manages accounting transactions and financial data. Its development isn’t a simple matter—far from it, given that your staff has worked in this area of software development with intense focus every day for years. Then one day you want them to be an expert, integrated comprehensive asset tracking and management system with ten of thousand devices. Is that realistic?

Integrate Asset Management Into Your Customers’ Workflows

Regardless of your decision to build or buy, your solution should let your customer work the way they want to. It should enable smooth, seamless processes without getting in the way of the end users’ workflows. This means single sign-on capabilities to provide them a seamless experience without another login, a functioning integration without awkward interactions with the core application, and a continuation of your branding to keep a consistent look and feel.

A mature solution is transparent. It lays on top of the core application as if it belongs there. It starts to work when an engineer drops a single URL into the code. From there, the asset management application easily passes directives back and forth with the host.

Provide Out-Of-The-Box Data Access And Compatibility

Few frustrations are more wasteful for support staff and more painful for end-users than not being able to access their data immediately. To prevent interruptions to their work, end-users should be able to explore the data right away.

The pain endures even when data transformation is part of the routine, such as when you inquire into available equipment or current locations. Inevitably, there’s a gap; the process creates differences between the live transaction records and the transformed data. One user asks another, “It says X over here and Y over there. Which is correct?” Discrepancies and inaccuracies can prompt confusion, pain, and blame—not to mention the impact on their business.

Weigh Financial Commitments Against Benefits

Running underneath most of these criteria has been a common decision: where to invest for the most return? There are several factors. First, you must figure out the costs, direct and indirect, over the lifecycle of the offering— typically seven or eight years.

In-house development has an opportunity cost for your customer-facing experts: They must imagine and describe in detail a kind of solution they don’t know well. Worse, they must re-imagine and re-describe each time the engineers finish an iteration and offer new tradeoffs or require new compromises. In comparison, a well-designed, and developed asset management application turns the ordeal of remote-control development into a flow of hands-on expertise.

A similar equation works for your software developers. You have another opportunity cost in the time to deploy. Your competition’s advancements continue to show up, so your salespeople assure prospects about your asset management system, hoping they wait to see it. But how many will wait?

Roll-out only begins the next phase of costs. Nothing ever stays the same, especially when technology is concerned. Equipment and technology updates are inevitable. In fact, most application costs occur after implementation. A rigorous lifecycle analysis that realistically estimates ongoing maintenance by in-house developers often tips the balance in favor of buying.Some companies prefer to bear development costs to ensure ownership of intellectual property. It’s a proposition worth careful thought. How much is the IP worth in the competitive analytics market? Will the value endure long enough and ensure a strong enough competitive edge to pay off all costs? All these costs must be compared with the out-of-pocket for a purchased analytics application.

The decision to build or buy your asset tracking and management application will depend on your organization’s current situation, priorities, and resources. These seven factors will help you in your evaluation:

  • Which option allows you to provide the most value to your customers through its asset tracking capabilities?

  • Which of your options deploys fastest?

  • Which option provides the most flexible deployment and easiest scalability?

  • Which of your options best positions you to meet evolving customer needs?

  • Which best meshes with your core offering as a continuous experience?

  • Which can track any equipment that it throws at it?

  • What makes the most financial sense as an investment?

Finding the right asset tracking provider for your enterprise solution can result in a strong and lasting partnership. Of course, such an investment means additional considerations, as you’ll work closely with the provider from evaluation and proof of concept through to implementation and ongoing improvements.