Barcode Scanning with Smartphones and Tablets – Smoothing the Way for IT Asset Management

By Nasrin Azari

Many IT asset management tasks — asset receiving, physical inventory, transfers, MAC, installs, decommissioning, etc. — are usually performed “in the field” by IT Asset Managers. Although these field workers probably have a desktop or laptop computer with which they can access and update your asset repository or CMDB, the convenience and effectiveness of a handheld mobile device to replace or supplement that desktop/laptop interface is undeniable.

The ideal mobile set-up allows IT asset managers to:

  • Interact directly with the CMDB or ITAM application in the field so that the most up-to-date information is being both uploaded and downloaded in a timely fashion
  • Perform barcode scanning (and RFID if you are also using RFID tags)
  • Operate effectively in areas where network connectivity is weak or non-existent; after all, field techs literally work “in the field” and frequently there isn’t network coverage in all the locations that need to be serviced
  • Ensure complete security and data protection via both encryption (for data stored on the device and/or transmitted over the air) and proper user authentication

Proper support for mobile workers may seem complicated, but involving an expert will reduce risk and optimize your end result. Furthermore, the benefits for both the field tech and the organization as a whole are substantial and well worth the effort:

Benefits to the field technician:

  • Ability to scan an asset tag or serial number to pull up its asset record
  • Ability to review asset information on the spot (at the asset’s location)
  • Ability to make changes to an asset record, and/or record events, such as an Inventory operation, right at the point of action
  • Ability to perform these tasks on a device that is easy to carry and use
  • Ability (on a smartphone) to use the (same) device to call a customer or co-worker when necessary
  • Ability (on a tablet) to have a robust, easy-to-read display in a compact form-factor
  • Ability (with attached laser scanners) to get high-quality, efficient, scanning capability
  • Ability to complete all work tasks and record transactions without requiring a trip to the office

Benefits to the Organization:

  • Ability to keep field techs in the field and keep them productive
  • Ability to improve data integrity by ensuring on-the-spot, accurate data capture
  • Ability to decrease response time and increase customer satisfaction
  • Ability to reduce headcount and maintain or increase productivity
  • Ability to reduce equipment costs (for scanning)
  • Ability to maintain up-to-date information in real-time

Some of these benefits can be achieved with a standard, handheld barcode scanner running on a Windows Mobile platform, with a smart, sophisticated user interface. In fact, there are some features of these standard devices that are difficult to find in a smartphone or tablet, such as a hardened, rugged option and integrated barcode or RFID scanner. But, smartphones and tablets are quickly infiltrating the mobile work force for a reason. These devices are readily available, convenient, familiar, easy to use, and relatively inexpensive; those are the very reasons why organizations should consider smartphones and tablets for their mobile ITAM workers.

Why choose a smartphone? Well, your users are likely already carrying one. They are comfortable with their device of choice, know how to get around on it, like its general look and feel, and already have a system in place for carrying and keeping track of it. Also, they use it to make phone calls… phone calls to their customers and co-workers, most importantly. Turning this communication device into a barcode scanner connected to your ITAM application is not as difficult as you might think.

There are a few things that you will need to make it happen:

  1. The right software package that supports your device(s) of choice AND your ITAM application
  2. A laser-scanning attachment. Using the phone’s camera for scanning is possible for light scanning activities, but not recommended for heavy-duty ITAM There are basically two types of attached scanners: those that fit onto the device and connect via the USB port on the device, OR those that are untethered and connected via a paired Bluetooth connection
  3. A hardened and/or waterproof case to protect the phone from environmental hazards, drops, and water

Choosing the tablet form-factor has similar benefits, although it is typically chosen for its screen real estate and as a replacement for a bulkier laptop device. Tablets are great for filling out forms (inspections, surveys, work orders, etc.) and viewing diagrams (complex installations or maintenance instructions), with much more variety in terms of data layout on the screens. It is rare for users to be comfortable using a tablet as a phone (unless it is a smaller form-factor), and very few have cellular capability today, but this is likely to change in the future.

With a tablet, you would also need to choose an appropriate software package, incorporate a laser-scanning attachment, and protect the device with a hardened and/or waterproof case where necessary. Whereas the smartphone form-factor paired with an attached laser scanner works as a nice replacement for a handheld barcode scanning gun, on a tablet, this is an awkward use case. So, typically, a Bluetooth-attached, untethered scanner is typically a much more user-friendly option for the tablet.

Bottom line, when you are in the market for a barcode-scanning solution for your mobile ITAM workers, make sure to consider smartphone and/or tablet options, because they are not only very effective, but more user-friendly and flexible than many of the alternatives!

About the Author

Nasrin Azari

Nasrin Azari is the President of Mobile Reach.