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Understanding Your Asset-Tracking Options

Each type of location-tracking technology has its own benefits and drawbacks. Here's an overview of what you should consider.
By Martyn Mallick and Matt Teskey
Adding Value to Location Data with Business Logic
While the above technology summaries focus on hardware components, they glance over the role of software in providing the tools and business logic that allow users or systems to utilize the generated data effectively. The software layer includes the developer interfaces; hardware integration and abstraction; and management, configuration, calibration and custom business logic. Such software is required to bring data from any one technology above, or a combination of those technologies, to provide a truly complete solution.

What's more, it is often not enough just to take raw data from a system and show the last location on a visual map. Instead, most enterprise-class systems require configuration and maintenance, including the ability to register assets and define the business-level attributes of assets. These systems require advanced business rules and alerts to act on location information, as well as provide integration into enterprise systems. Sensor data may also need to be incorporated with location data, as many applications need to know the condition of an asset or its surroundings. For example, it may be nice to know that an asset is on a truck or in a storage room, but some enterprises may also want to know the temperature, humidity or other environmental conditions of the asset, as there may be business implications for certain conditions.

When designing a system, end users, developers and integrators need to decide which parts of the software layer they want to build and maintain themselves. They must also understand which software infrastructure platform could make their jobs easier, and allow them to focus on where they can differentiate and add the most value to the system. When employing a software infrastructure platform, it is important to choose one that supports the range of tracking technologies, as this provides the ability to move from one technology to another, or to support multiple technologies at the same time.

Leveraging a software infrastructure platform also builds a knowledge base for future implementations regardless of technology, as developers and integrators can focus on the business logic of a solution instead of getting bogged down in low-level hardware integration, data mapping or location computations. The ideal infrastructure will provide the building blocks needed to get the most out of the physical technologies, while offering the flexibility to extend it through custom business logic to meet all of the solution requirements.

Making a Technology Decision
A common first step in investigating a location-tracking solution is to find a trusted integration partner who can help with the definition of the entire solution, help with the decision-making process and carry out the implementation. It is then important to clarify which assets need to be tracked, and asset size, value, composition, frequency of movement and importance will all be factors in technology selection as well. In addition, system requirements for cost, location accuracy and "real-time" versus "last-seen" data points must be determined. Whenever possible, it is important to evaluate any technology under real-world conditions in the actual tracking area to ensure that the technology's performance meets the system requirements.

As with any system that generates data, it is vital to clarify how location data will be used. Some systems require graphical maps with icons representing the location of assets on-screen, updated as new data is available. Other systems are alert-based, where various scenarios and exceptions are handled as they arise. Some systems may require location data to be fed into enterprise systems for future reporting, analysis or archiving. Thus, the data usage requirements must be considered—not only when choosing a location-tracking technology, but, more importantly, when considering the software layer.

Martyn Mallick is the director of RFID and mobile solutions at iAnywhere, a subsidiary of Sybase. The company's RFID Anywhere software integrates business logic and processes with a variety of automatic data collection and sensor technologies, including RFID, bar codes, mobile devices, PLCs, location-tracking systems, environmental sensors and feedback mechanisms. RFID Anywhere's Location Information System (LIS) has been designed to leverage RFID Anywhere's broad device support and features to integrate and combine a variety of technologies for locating and tracking assets.

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