While mobility offers many benefits, such as enhanced productivity and collaboration, it does have one downside: All of those notebooks, tablets and smartphones are much easier to lose, whether through theft or carelessness, than a desktop PC.
Statistics bear this out. A 2010 Intel study of hundreds of organizations concluded that more than 7 percent of all organizational notebooks are lost or stolen at some point during their useful life — mostly outside of the workplace. Tablets and smartphones show similar, if not higher, loss ratios.
However, IT managers can take several steps to optimize inventory and loss prevention processes and reduce the costs associated with mobile devices that go missing.
Tracking assets with serial numbers speeds the process and increases staff compliance with inventory and loss prevention efforts. Using barcodes (or similar technologies such as QR codes) is fast and reduces human error.
Keeping the code on the device can be tricky because mobile devices are constantly handled. Laser etching solves that problem by permanently adding information to each device. Etching can be done by the device supplier or after the device is received.
While commonly used for larger devices such as servers and switches, radio frequency identification labels haven’t made inroads with mobile devices yet.
A few years ago, IT managers placed mobile asset barcodes in the battery compartment, which made them inconspicuous and protected the tag. While this seemed like a good idea, it complicated inventory and tracking. In addition, devices rarely have battery compartments, so the code needs to be visible on the exterior of the device.
Find a consistent, highly visible location for the barcode and stick with it. This can be difficult with constantly morphing product models. Nevertheless, it’s worth the effort to position asset tags in a common location for each device class. Also, consider whether common accessories such as cases or skins will obscure the code. If so, provide guidance on how users can keep it visible. Having extra labels also aids compliance.
Barcode reader technology is fairly robust, but problems can occur — especially on newer surfaces with unusual reflective properties. Before ordering 1,000 notebooks with a laser-etched barcode, make sure that existing code readers can easily pick up the etched information. Do this every time your organization adds a new model of notebook, tablet or smartphone to standard purchasing configurations. If the barcode can’t be read easily, switch to a different asset-tracking technology for that device, such as a permanently affixed label.
Machine-readable codes are great for central sites, but don’t forget to provide human-readable serial numbers for remote inventory, loss reports and home users.
Always place a human-readable serial number next to the machine-readable code. Most barcode systems do this by default because the code can’t hold much more than a short string of numbers. When higher-density machine-readable codes, such as QR codes, are used, make sure that a human-readable serial number is also present.
Security officers disagree on whether or not to etch an organization’s name or logo on a device. That identification can aid in recovering lost devices and will deter workplace theft. However, etched logos won’t reduce theft outside of the workplace, where nearly 90 percent of losses occur.
More important, an etched logo can suddenly make an anonymous device become much more interesting for the valuable data it contains. While mobile data should always be protected with encryption and device lock technologies, sometimes it’s better to avoid hints that a device carries anything other than vacation photos and a music library.