If you’re a business owner in 2017, your company may be more like an NFL (or college, if that’s more your speed) football team than you might realize.
Many organizations are undergoing technological transformations as digital, automated tools become the norm—but in many ways, these organizations are still lacking behind by failing to upgrade important aspects of their model, particularly inventory and asset management.
The Old-School Mentality
Let’s start with football teams. As you may have noticed, the game of football has become more technologically savvy in recent years. While playbooks have always been filled with complex route audibles and coverage schemes, the way players, coaches, and personnel communicate with each other has changed drastically. Tablets, handheld computers, headsets, and state-of-the-art equipment are just some of the more obvious additions to the sidelines of late.
And yet football remains, at its core, an “old-school” game. Players are still practicing with tackling dummies, coaches are teaching formations and attitudes that have been passed down for generations, and those in charge of making sure every player has their helmet, jersey, pads, and other equipment appear to be doing so by hand.
To delve a little deeper into that point: There are 53 players on an NFL roster, plus another 10 or so on the practice squad. Each player needs their uniform to travel with them from practice to games, and for that uniform to go through the wash after every use. You know how you always end up losing a sock or pair of underwear in the laundry? Imagine washing literally tons of clothing every week and not losing an item.
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That’s the responsibility of the equipment management crew. And if this article in the LA Times from a few years ago is to be believed, these guys are as old-school as they come:
“… their job is among the most complex in professional sports, requiring the precision to attend to the smallest details and the planning skills necessary to oversee weekly shipments of up to 11 tons of gear.
“It’s enough gear to outfit a small army and it’s all loaded into 25-foot moving vans for the short drive from the O.com Coliseum to the Raiders’ practice facility, buried deep in a nondescript industrial park… And that’s just the first few hours of what will be another 80-hour workweek for Romanski and his team. There are still 53 helmets to polish and 53 pairs of cleats to scrub and clean.”
“‘I’ve got check sheets and we’ve got it down to an exact science,’ says Urbaniak, whose department’s annual budget of nearly $1 million is similar to those of other equipment managers. ‘I can open a trunk and just look at it and see “OK, I’m missing four pairs of socks and a pair of shoes.” And I can tell you what sizes they are because I’ve got everything laid out. It is that precise.’”
That’s right: These folks clean tons of gear, and at least one crew appears to make sure everything is accounted for with “check sheets” and by just looking at it.
Doesn’t that strike you as remarkably outdated for an otherwise high-powered operation?
Businesses and Automated Asset Management
There is a strikingly similar trend in the world of more general business. Lots of companies in industries like retail, which depend very much on both fixed assets (the long-term pieces of machinery or equipment that are used in the production of income, like vehicles or laptops) and inventory (the products the company sells), are relying on “old-school” methods of tracking and accounting that seem out of place in today’s business world.
The major businesses of our time—Amazon, Target, etc.—long ago recognized the value of using an automated system for keeping track of inventory and assets as they move throughout the supply chain, or among employees. When your supply chain is as complex as Amazon’s, using a barcode-powered tracking system is a necessity.
But more smaller and medium-sized businesses are recognizing the benefits of automated tracking systems. Though they are more of an upfront investment than sticking with pens and paper (or mental checklists), they pay off handsomely: They reduce loss by misplacement and theft, they create a centralized database to eliminate uncertainty about the location and status of an asset or product, and can even tell you when an asset is due for maintenance or disposal. (That last bit is particularly helpful when tax season rolls around.)
Basically, you don’t need to be a megalith of industry to use an automated asset tracking system. It’s increasingly becoming the norm.
How Football Teams and Businesses Can Upgrade Their Asset Tracking
If you’ve got an old-school system begging to be updated, consider looking into barcode technology. Barcodes have never been particularly advanced technology, but in recent years they’ve shown their incredible flexibility and usefulness in a number of areas.
Modern businesses like Spotify, Snapchat, and even Facebook are recognizing the power of the barcode to share information among users and employees. QR codes are fast returning to prominence after an unsteady few years when it seemed like the square codes wouldn’t make an impact in the business world.
Football teams could attach barcodes or QR codes to each piece of equipment—every jersey, cleat, or shoulder pad—and scan them when a player hands them off, or when they come out of the wash, or when they’re presented back to the player on game day. No more wondering where the helmet you could have sworn you just finished polishing has gone off to—you know you signed it out to the quarterback, or put it on the shelf. When there are 53 helmets to worry about, the capacity for error increases, and that can be costly.
There have been enough scandals in recent years about the whereabouts of underinflated footballs, or regarding the providence of “game-worn” merchandise that is then sold off to collectors, that this system could have real value.
The same can be said for businesses that don’t use some kind of automated tracking process for their inventory and assets. Though it may seem more cost-effective to go gritty and old-school like the Raiders or 49ers, the opportunity cost is no longer worth it. Businesses lose too much to human error (a near certainty in almost any situation, since humans are far more fallible than computers when it comes to counting), excess labor hours, and loss (both intentional and unintentional) to not use an automated system.
In so many ways, businesses have embraced the technological revolution for “front-of-house” use: Communicating with cell phones and apps, teleworking tools, and digital training and onboarding techniques. But, like the NFL, that revolution seems to often get held up before it can reach the asset and inventory aspect of things.
It’s time to let the machines do what they do best: Keep things organized, in the cloud (or a local database), and let the humans score the touchdowns and close the deals. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself more like the Cleveland Browns than the New England Patriots of your field.
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