Inventory and Asset Management

business team inventory

First let me say thank you, with a title like this one, I am surprised anyone is reading this blog. Let’s face it, asset and inventory management is not exactly a topic that sparks interest and debate. Part of the reason for that is that no one really enjoys doing this tedious, boring work. Yet, as higher-ed tech managers, the number of installs we support continue to grow and the technology inside each device gets more sophisticated. Yet, our staffing levels stay the same; it is a very important topic. Recently, on the higher ed AV Slack channel, there was a discussion of what different people use for asset and inventory tools. Not surprisingly, there were a wide range of various options, but mainly the consensus was that most people have fiddled around with a spreadsheet or database and created their own system. No one felt that a suitable product existed on the market. If you are a manufacturer, software developer or integrator, let that statement sink in for a bit. A group of AV people who work in higher ed discussed a product/service that they would like, and one does not exist in the market. So here is an example of a niche product just waiting to be created.

What would such a product need to do in order to provide real value to tech managers? The first feature is very obvious, it needs to track all the equipment that any person wants to track. Many schools have rules about what they need to inventory and what they don’t. A Shure SM57, for example, is likely never entered into an inventory system, but certainly (I really hope) anything that is going to go on the network does get tracked. Along with the basic information of serial number, model and manufacturer, many schools may choose to track additional information. For example, we track MAC address, purchase cost, purchase year and installation location. I am confident other schools may track more information. This feature is basic, and honestly could live in a spreadsheet. A well-developed database with a great user interface would be even better. But, there are additional features that could really make the product pop, and bring value to a customer and revenue to the developer.

The first of these extra features would be a budget tool. Schools all develop their maintenance and replacement budgets differently. However, no one can create a budget without first knowing the costs of the installed base of equipment. So, included in the tool should be a field that allows you to enter the cost for each item the school is tracking. We would also want to track an expected life of each piece of equipment. Next the tool should allow for some flexibility in how to report on this information. For example, in April I may want to run a report on all the equipment that is coming to the end of life in the next year. This would allow me to very quickly look through and start to determine what my budget and plans will be for the following year. Having this tool would also allow me to have conversations with senior staff about budgets and what effect different choices would have on our systems. In effect, it would let us do real time budgeting and risk analysis.

A more complex feature (to create, at least) would be a tool that could poll the equipment for firmware and software versions. It would then compare this to a database and report to the user when new firmware was available. This particular feature would benefit both the developer and the customer. It benefits the customer, because it helps us determine when a piece of equipment needs to have firmware upgraded. As we get more and more aware of security concerns, this could be a very valuable feature. With so many pieces of equipment from a variety of manufacturers, it is near impossible for us to track this all right now. The software tool could alert the user to what the firmware upgrade is fixing, and the user could determine whether to actually perform the update. This particular feature is valuable to the developer because they could then turn the software into recurring revenue. Quarterly updates, say, would add all the new equipment that had been released in that quarter. Several manufacturers already provide a resource to centrally poll and distribute the firmware, but those are all proprietary and don’t provide the information on all products in a single location.

The software should allow the user to download a template to import the information they want to track. The customer could provide that template to their integrators or resellers. They could then fill in this spreadsheet for their customers every time the customer bought equipment from them. This process would vastly reduce the work that the tech manager would need to do, and increase their likelihood of using this tool. Remember that since this would be sold as a service, having a product that is actually used is critical for an ongoing revenue stream.

Judging from the conversation in the Slack channel, I think there are going to be manufacturers and integrators who say, “we do this already.” Let me assure you, unless you have flown completely under the radar, you don’t have a product that does what we need. Not a person in the conversation said “hey, I use a great product.” So, for the entrepreneurs or developers in the AV world, here is your chance. Develop us something amazing!