If It Pleases The Court…

VAR NCode Systems, Inc. helps a U.S. Federal Bankruptcy Court improve asset tracking through automatic identification and data collection.

The U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Central District California (Los Angeles), is the largest federal court of any kind in the nation. With more than 500 employees at five courthouses in California, the federal court had difficulty keeping track of its assets.

The court worked with NCode, a San Dimas, CA-based VAR, to install a bar-coding system. The system identifies and tracks assets, and uploads the data to one database for all of the federal courthouses. The system uses IntelliTrack software and Top Gun bar-code scanners manufactured by Percon (Eugene, OR) to track assets in the court system's warehouse and at each courthouse.

Initially, the bankruptcy court used a proprietary system created by its own management information systems (MIS) team. This system allowed employees to collect data relating to the assets, but it gave few options beyond that point.

"Our original database was little more than an electronic note-keeping system," explained Marla Wilson, assistant manager of integration for the courts. "Ten to 12 teams of two people spent two to three days each year tracking each asset valued at $250 or more. These were items such as desks, computers and copiers. The process was a huge, horrible, ordeal. The teams would write down each asset's ID, which was printed on a sticker found on each item. The handwritten information was manually entered into the database. The process was time consuming, impossible to keep up-to-date, and subject to human error. Because of the cumbersome paperwork, employees would move items from office to office without filling out the proper forms. "We were more concerned with increasing functionality than we were with cost," she added. "We needed an accurate list of where assets were located."

About two years ago, the federal court implemented a bar-code tagging system to speed up the process, explained Wilson. "We bar-coded every asset that we wanted to track," she said. "But, we continued to write down each asset and number because we found that the database wasn't sophisticated enough to handle the scanned information. We needed the combination of hardware and software to create an effective solution."

Discovering The Need For A Solution
NCode learned about the court's need for a solution through Percon in early 1997. The federal court needed to track approximately 16,000 fixed assets. The court wanted to:

  • track assets in the warehouse and at each courthouse,
  • store information in one central database that could be accessed by multiple users at all sites in real time, and
  • attach a dollar value to each asset.

NCode sold the solution to the federal court by proving efficiency through testimonials, said Dennis Torres, sales manager at NCode. "Bar-code scanning eliminated the need to write down all of the information, and the errors associated with the manual process," he explained. "Our solution made sense. We were awarded the contract because we suggested a cost-effective solution, and the on-site demonstration we performed gave the court a clear picture of what to expect from our solution."

Since the purchase had to be approved by the federal court system, funding took about four months, Torres said. After the installation received approval, Wilson spent six months traveling from division to division gathering information on how each courthouse tracked assets in an effort to prepare the database.

"The hardest part of the installation was making employees comfortable with the new technology," explained Wilson. "It's often difficult for a person who isn't computer literate to trust automation. I needed to gain each employee's confidence and let each one know we were going to provide a system that would make it easier to find assets or enter asset information." The installation was completed in approximately six weeks. Wilson helped customize the Top Gun portable data-collection terminal and the IntelliTrack inventory-control software. Torres and Wilson also spent 1 1/2 days training employees at each courthouse. Follow-up training was also conducted over the phone. The total cost of the installation was approximately $9,000.

Data Entry Becomes More Efficient
On the system's maiden run this January, Wilson said two employees at the largest branch of the court tracked 2,500 assets in 12 hours. The previous system required two to three days. Each item was scanned, and the information was retained in the handheld computer, then uploaded to the IntelliTrack database in batches. "While employees are getting familiar with the system, our teams track the assets. But, that will change over time," said Wilson.

Now, if the Santa Ana courthouse places an order for 15 computers, the order is placed through the system at the main federal building. The Santa Ana location can tell when the order was placed and received because of its rapid access to shared data.

When new assets are tracked, a bar code is immediately attached, and an employee scans the item, entering it into the database. "With the new system," Wilson added, "employees can identify a discrepancy in the database. An item can no longer be in more than one place at the same time. We can also customize the database if we want to make changes. We have already modified some of our reports to simplify data retrieval. The IntelliTrack software gives us the flexibility to move data around as we see fit.

"We have the flexibility today to meet our needs," she added. "This installation has been an efficient and effective means of handling our asset-tracking dilemma. "Our return on investment really came through avoiding the need to hire extra staff to track assets," explained Wilson. "Since we are a government agency, we were more concerned with compliance issues and functionality than traditional measurements of return on investment."

Nancy Senger