Asset Tracking 2.0 = Asset Surveillance

Asset tracking evolves from accounting to accountability

Written by Dann Anthony Maurno, Editor-in-Chief

If you’ve watched CSI or Law & Order, you’ve seen some poor detective sitting through hours of surveillance video from a convenience store, or warehouse, or an ATM machine, looking for a clue in a few frames of footage.

Agonizing. asset tracking video Surveillance

But when it comes to assets, we now have the ability to pinpoint the exact second of footage, and queue it up digitally, so that a detective or security officer sees when and where an item was last seen – even if the item is hidden in a briefcase or under a jacket – and who had it. That is the state of asset surveillance.

The next level of asset tracking

Asset tracking with barcode or RFID is marvelous for helping to find stuff, but the current solutions have overlooked security – viewing it as a completely separate problem.

Historically, the primary purpose of asset tracking is to count inventory and assign responsibility. You might discover the losses during a quarterly inventory, but you don’t really know where missing assets went.
Combine asset tracking with portal-based clandestine video surveillance, and you’ve got “Asset Tracking 2.0.” Here you’re adding real-time asset control; accountability; and best of all, theft reconstruction.

There are three places where this being used a great deal.

First: on important documentation. The State of Florida implemented SimplyRFID’s Nox system on file folders in its court system. Nox combines passive RFID with overt and covert high-definition video surveillance. We reported on Nox in our article, New RFID Technology Allows You to be Tracked WITHOUT Your Knowledge . One Florida County has 40,000 criminal cases per year, and relies upon physical files (most legal systems do, and they have to – copying those documents is usually disallowed). If a file folder goes missing when a case comes to the docket, a judge might hold off for fifteen minutes while such high-value talent like district attorneys and paralegals scramble to find it. And if they don’t, a defendant walks.

Now, an IT professional can pinpoint the last known location of the file in question. In one real case, that file was found in the mailroom and in transit, and in another, at the bottom of a paralegal’s stack of files. Now think beyond court documents, to such high-value documents as blueprints and employee records, and you see the utility. Plus, there is a compliance element to this as well – it even goes into Sarbanes-Oxley. Court systems are required as a state agency to keep track of employee records, which RFID/video surveillance helps to do.

A second use is in sting operations and surveillance, and here is where the FBI uses Nox. in 2006, the FBI was investigating thefts in a warehouse, which trafficked high-value electronic goods like plasma TVs. This warehouse processed more than 15,000 shipments, and video alone was impractical to spot an item that might be hidden inside another carton, for example, the FBI placed $.20 tags on all the high-value items in the warehouse, and combined with video surveillance, had the evidence to ID the thieves.

A third is on corporate assets, especially PCs and laptops. In an organization with hundreds, even thousands of computers, it is pretty valuable to get a handle on what is walking out the door. But you don’t want the alarms to ring every time a laptop goes out the door in the normal course of business. Asset surveillance allows you to call up a time and location when it was last seen.

Laptops are good for about $100 at a pawn shop, but of course, they aren’t the only corporate assets worth taking. Anything that someone can resell or use at home is likely to disappear. Think of $100 printer cartridges, or $5 reams of paper. A stapler might seem a trivial item to tag, but think of it as a “gateway” theft. Someone who’d steal a stapler is likely to steal something more valuable, given the chance. Now think beyond corporate assets, to artwork or auto parts – once again, anything not nailed down and with some resale or personal value. Right now, copper wire theft is running at millions of dollars per day, because of the resale value of copper.

Of course, not all these cases involve sinister motives. In the case of the State of Florida, neither the mailroom clerk nor paralegal has any criminal intent in mind, nor do most people who leave their offices with laptops in their bags. At a distribution center, someone who was supposed to load four plasma TVs on a truck might load five by mistake, but you can trace the one that’s missing to that dock door and see who was driving the lift truck.

One very clever use of asset surveillance is in tool tracking. Ford, DeWALT (of toolbox fame) and ThingMagic have partnered to offer RFID-enabled pickup trucks, to verify that all expensive tools have been loaded back into the truck at the end of a job, or that the right tools are loaded before a job.

Isn’t this just real-time location?


Active-tag RTLS, at a cost of about $50 per tag, just aren’t practical for $200 assets and batteries make the tags too big to fit on certain items - like file folders. At a large company or distribution center, you’d have to tag thousands of items in a distribution center to catch a thief.

With passive RFID, you slap a sticker outside or inside the box, you can even have them tagged in China or wherever they’re manufactured. Also, you’re not doing a real-time “ping” to know within inches or feet where a file folder is. Besides which (and thinking like a thief, here), if you wanted to take an item, you’d likely know enough to rip off an active tag or to put the item inside an aluminum briefcase or other metal container, and effectively disable the tag.

With lower-cost passive tags, every item is tagged, which is a more difficult system for a thief to “baffle.” Every tag is an opportunity for a thief to slip up. And at perhaps $.20 per tag, you have the option of cost-effectively tagging anything you want. (At the RFID World show, SimplyRFID tagged individual bags of M&Ms. Later, they were able to show video pinpointing the second that a bag “went missing,” and its new owner.) Companies have found in implementing NOX that ROI begins after about 5,000 items. The State of Florida is adding a $.50 surcharge to court cases to cover the cost of its asset surveillance system.

Given the minimal investment and rapid ROI, it’s no surprise that companies are finding budget to support these kinds of implementations even with a somewhat troubled economy.

For more information about Nox, visit

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