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Asset tracking has always been important but never more so than today. To position your contract bids or product prices competitively, you really need to know what resources and equipment you already have. With so much of industry geared to 'just-in-time' production and delivery schedules, you have to be able to mobilise, or replace them promptly. Things can go south very quickly if they aren't exactly where you need them and fit for purpose.

Even small enterprises need a long list of items to function, but for a company dependent on expensive tools, machinery and transport, losing them is no joke - it is the difference between prospering and insolvency. High levels of theft easily turn a challenging logistical problem into an unmitigated disaster. 92% of construction firms surveyed by the Chartered Institute of Building reported recent thefts from their sites; 21% said they fell victim on a weekly basis.

The total scale of losses from industrial crime is hard to assess. Estimates range from "over £1 million per week" to over £1 billion per year. Whatever the figure, the face-value of stolen tools and vehicles is only a fraction of the damage. Downtime, repairs, contract defaults, emergency equipment hire, higher insurance premiums and extra security measures probably triple the final cost.

The Construction Equipment Association has reported a surge during the Covid-19 lockdown []. In addition to tools and vehicles, fuel, roofing materials and copper bales are popular targets. On green and agricultural sites, mowers and quadbikes are popular targets. Even when an entire vehicle isn't taken, expensive components are often ripped out.

Two affordable solutions solve a host of problems

Those solutions are asset registration and tracking. In the past, neither of these things was easy. Written lists of assets were usually out of date before the ink was dry, and sticky labels didn't help you trace something that wasn't there. The Internet of Things changes all that. Tracking can now be conducted in real-time and linked directly into asset, maintenance and logistical databases. In the event of a theft, a range of rapid responses are now at your disposal, helping you quickly recover goods and vehicles and claim for any damage. It also serves to prevent you from buying equipment with a suspect history.

It is a travesty that not everyone is yet using the IoT and professional asset management services. The more farms, factories and builders that sign up, the more effective they become in deterring theft and recovering equipment. There are numerous asset registration services available, but what businesses need is one that integrates with IoT services to provide immediate reporting and analytics functions.

Crime is not the only problem state-of-the-art systems help to solve. Efficient registration and tracking helps throughout the asset lifecycle; improving your financial forecasting, bid writing, supply chain logistics, project management, maintenance regimes, health and safety compliance, uptake of subsidies and tax allowances, insurance claim validation, identification of surplus equipment, and in assessing the true net worth of the business.

Another vital asset in any enterprise is its staff resources. Once you have proactive control of your equipment, you can extend the system to match it up with qualified operators. In turn, this can inform your hiring and training investments. There are few aspects of a business that cannot benefit from a proactive asset management policy.

Rural crime boom

Plant and agricultural theft is a vocation for many criminal gangs and they have well-established routes for disposing of heavy goods. For example, three men were caught last year with a tractor and cutter stolen from Bala, trailers from Bala and Denbigh, a digger from Corwen, a quad bike from Machynlleth and ornamental stone troughs from Oswestry.

British agriculture lost at least £50 million in stolen fuel, livestock and agricultural vehicles in 2018 - a 12.1% increase over 2017. Most of the increase was from agricultural vehicles, including tractors, trailers, all-terrain 4x4s, quad bikes and horseboxes.

Even in remote locations, it is essential to lock-up all tools and vehicles and separate them from the keys. Record all serial numbers, for vehicles as well as each piece of valuable equipment fitted or stored inside them. Ideally, also photograph each item. Mark items in discrete locations with smart-water and paint your postcode or other identifier on vehicle roofs to help police helicopters.

Installing immobilisers and having the vehicle identification number etched onto the windows also helps to frustrate thieves, but tracking chips linked to the IoT are one of the cheapest solutions and hard for the professional thief to overcome.