Tracking Assets Digitally: Making Key Management Easy
This article was previously published in Housing Management and Maintenance Magazine, June 2019.
“How hard can it be?” thought Sam Spicer, Customer Service Manager at Curo,
Bath’s biggest Housing Association. Sam reviewed the process for tracking
the company’s 5,000 property keys, quickly uncovering that key management
is actually a very tough job, taking his colleagues hours every day. Alan
Hume, manager of the Private Sector Leasing (PSL) service within
Edinburgh’s Link Housing Association knew the problem only too well,
observing his own team struggle to keep their key cabinets up to date.
Keys are notoriously hard to control. The safety and security of residents
and their property depend on keys being well managed; a critical process
for all Housing Providers. “With modern data protection requirements, to
write the address on a key would be unthinkable” says Sam.
There had to be a better way
Sam consulted industry peers at a conference, and was surprised that most
were still using spreadsheets and paper logbooks for tracking their keys,
but all acknowledged it was far from ideal. “Spreadsheets and paper weren’t
cutting it for us” says Megan James from Link. “It was just too difficult
to maintain and prevent mistakes”.
“We couldn’t face any more spreadsheets”, agrees Sam. “The best spreadsheet
we could design had 13,000 rows!” Curo had previously adapted a library
book tracking system for their keys, but it wasn’t a perfect fit.
Why spreadsheets and logbooks make key management hard:
- It’s difficult for more than one person to use them at once
- Everyone fills them out differently, making reporting hard
- There’s no detailed history of who’s done what
- Reconciling of written records takes time (and money)
- Finding information is slow- often relying on alphabetical sorting
Contactless Technology is ideal for key tracking
Most of us are used to tapping our credit cards at the checkout. It turns
out this idea works really well for tracking keys as well. By embedding a
tiny chip into a key fob, a simple tap on a reader or phone lets you
identify a particular key and issue it in a matter of seconds. For both
Curo and Link, this was the answer they were looking for.
“Contactless fobs make it so much faster and more accurate to record who
has a key” says Simon Bex, Curo’s Key Manager. “It’s improved security as
there’s no risk of written key tags falling into the wrong hands”.
Sam loves that he can check keys by tapping them on his phone: “If I forget
what key I need then I can simply look it up on my phone and check it out
at the same time” he says.
The team at Link took the contactless idea one step further, using purpose
built “kiosks” to create a self-service experience for issuing keys, very
like the machines at the supermarket. “I just have to scan my ID on the
kiosk, and it lets me search for the key I need, and I just zap it to sign
it out,” says Megan.
Purpose-built apps make it easy for everyone
“With a bit of research we found an app that covered our needs” says Sam.
In the smart phone age, we expect specialised apps that both fit our needs
exactly and make our tasks easy and intuitive. Curo’s digital system needed
to reflect the real world subtleties of their daily work. For example, they
needed to precisely catalogue the multi-property Master Keys protecting
their vulnerable sheltered accommodation residents. They chose Keyzapp
because it naturally handled the nuances of their process.
At Link, keys are tracked at the building’s reception, as well as by the
operational teams sitting some distance away. “Seeing what’s going on at
reception without leaving my desk makes life far easier” says Megan.
“Before, I would spend a day a week checking keys in folders at reception.
Now I’ve got all that time back.”
The right technology changes the game
At Curo, introducing digital key management has dramatically reduced the
training requirement for new team members. “We were previously reliant on
two people who knew the key system inside-out. Now, it’s easy for anyone to
find what they need.”
“Having late keys chased automatically by text message saves a lot of time”
says Simon. “I love that I can see what’s out of place and fix it before it
becomes a problem. Misplaced keys can take an hour or more to track down,
now it almost never happens.”
In addition to the one day per week Megan saves, Link calculate that in the
6 months since they went digital, they’ve saved over £10,000 in unnecessary
lock replacement and administration cost.
The teams are now looking at applying the same principles to the other
small assets they manage, like lockboxes and maintenance tools.