From a Week to an Instant: Asset Vue Slashes IT Inventory Time with RFID
Before RFID, an inventory count at an average data center took a week. Thanks to Asset Vue and Impinj, the same task now happens instantaneously.
Recently, we sat down with Sean Cotter, president of Asset Vue, to talk with him about his company’s RFID IT Asset Management (ITAM) solution. Founded in 2011 and headquartered in Pennsylvania, Asset Vue is an Impinj gold partner that builds solutions through the lens of “for data center managers, by data center managers.” Here is a selection of our conversation with Cotter:
Impinj: Let's talk about Asset Vue ITAM. How did the concept come about, and what was the main challenge you were trying to solve?
Sean Cotter: There were three partners in the business: one sold data center solutions, one ran IT departments, and the third ran some of the largest data centers in the United States. We were all talking about how frustrating and time-consuming it was to manage data center inventory, and we said, “There's got to be a better way.” One of us learned of an RFID tag that was built for servers. We went out and started building a little application, and within six months we had landed as clients two of the largest communication companies in the country.
Data center operators needed an accurate inventory of what was inside their walls. The old solutions — before RFID — were extremely manual, extremely time-consuming, and extremely error-prone. We traditionally would see inventories that were approximately 85% accurate, so 15% inaccurate. We saw some as bad as 30% inaccurate. By introducing RFID, we were able to get up to 98%, 99%, even 100% in some cases. Now we can get close to that 100% mark with next to no labor using Impinj readers with antenna hubs. We build a real-time network inside data centers, and we can get accurate inventories on-demand — no human needs to go into the data center to take inventory now.
PI: How long would it take someone to do inventory before RFID, and how long now?
SC: Before RFID, taking inventory would require someone wearing knee pads and a lamp on their head, carrying a magnifying glass and a clipboard or a laptop, using a barcode scanner to verify all these numbers. It might take a week. After RFID, it would take about two hours. So, 40 hours to two hours is roughly the return. When we went to real time, obviously that went from 40 hours of error-prone work to almost instantaneous.
PI: What benefits are your clients seeing? What new challenges does Asset Vue ITAM help solve?
SC: Initial results were much faster inventories and much more accurate inventories. As time went on, we added some functionality that allowed inventory management to go automatic and in real time. No one needed to be involved. We could give you near-100% accurate inventory without anyone going in. More recently, we've been able to go downstream and go further into infrastructure. We've added the capability for managing offline storage.
If you're running a large data center, servers are expensive. The solid-state drives that go in the servers are expensive — $4,000 to $5,000 on average — so you want a single drive to last a full lifecycle. When that drive is installed, you have a lot of tools you can use to see when a drive’s online, how long it's been online, all kinds of information. But as soon as that server shuts off or that drive has been removed, you lose all sight of it.
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With Asset Vue, you can use RFID to track and trace that drive from the second it comes out of the server to the moment it's been properly destroyed. This ability is immensely valuable. We’re also seeing more data centers wanting to track just-in-time spares. You don't want to have 10,000 solid-state drives sitting around waiting to be used; you don't even want 1,000 or a couple hundred. But you want enough on hand so when servers start to fail, you can quickly swap drives in and not worry about lead times on replacements.
PI: How long does it take to implement a solution on average?
SC: Our solution is available on-demand. If somebody wants to do a demo, we could set up a software instance immediately and send a few tags, a handheld reader, a fixed reader depending on their needs, and get them out within a week. Our proofs of concept can be turned around within an hour for software and within a few days for hardware, depending on the opportunity. For full turn-key implementations or guided walk-throughs, we can do any given site within a week. Usually, we can move faster than the customer.
PI: What sets Asset Vue apart from other IT asset management solutions?
SC: I think the biggest thing we do differently is we have a great team. They know the space; they know our clients. But I think the big game-changer was when we added real-time technologies. When the Impinj antenna hubs came out, we could get strong enough reads to really implement real-time visibility for customers. That was the biggest game-changer, because we went from being able to speed up your inventory, to doing your inventory for you automatically. That was the difference. That was huge.
PI: What kind of input do you get from your clients? How do your customers guide the development of your products?
SC: From Day 1, this was a customer-driven solution. And every customer adds value to the solution. I don't think we have, to date, charged any customer to make enhancements for them. We also do regular meetings with all our customers. So, once you've signed up, we're coming back to you at least twice a year. Some of our customers, we’re talking to them weekly or monthly. We grab that feedback, we put it into our R&D maps. We do at least two major releases a year — those releases are always built off the needs of what our customers are saying and what they're coming back with.
PI: How would you describe your ideal customer?
SC: The ideal customer is, really, anyone who has a large, fixed inventory. Asset Vue is now flexible enough that we can handle really any fixed asset. And that word is important because we don't focus our business on direct to consumer, and our best customer is a business customer. The direct to consumer space is a piece of what we do, but it's a smaller piece. The fixed assets, the serialized assets — our ideal customer is an enterprise customer with a need to track and manage a large number of fixed assets.
PI: Do you have anything more you’d like to share about your experience with Impinj?
SC: A few years back, a customer came to us and they challenged us. They said they didn't like the form factor of the RFID tags we traditionally had been using. And we all know there's thousands of form factors for RFID tags, but they had some specific needs and we needed to make something custom. And while we were on that journey, a question came up: What inlay were we going to use? We selected some inlays, we got some samples, we went into our lab, and we started doing a bunch of testing. Just testing on normal things.
We had a few fixed readers and a few handhelds, and the data popped out very quickly and it was very stark: The Impinj tag chips performed better. On the Impinj fixed reader we were getting 20% better reads! And it was across the board. Every test we ran worked that way. It became obvious: We're going to make sure to use Impinj tag chips.
And we went back to a couple of our partners and said, “You need to change. We need to be able to use Impinj chips.” They said, “Yeah, we’re not ready for that.” I showed them the data. And within a couple of months, guess what? All their tags now have Impinj chips.
Check out Asset Vue on the Impinj Partner Directory for more information about RFID ITAM and other solutions. To learn more about RAIN RFID and the Impinj platform, view the latest from the Impinj blog.
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Friday, May 12, 2023
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