The Pitfalls of "Smart Number" Asset Identifiers


Jonathan Thomas


BMOC is frequently in a position to help the institutional clients it serves with facilities asset inventory, asset registry, and asset data collection. We frequently run into legacy smart numbering asset identifier approaches. A “smart number” is an asset identifier that incorporates some basic information about an asset such that it can be rapidly understood by the staff fulfilling the work order. Such a number typically includes a location (building or room) identifier, a part code of some sort that indicates mechanical composition, and a sequence. An example is something like “B1234-AHU-004” which would indicate the fourth air handling unit in building 1234. A subjective routing sequence is also common.

An alternative to the smart numbering approach is, what we call, “simple serialized”. This is simply applying the next number up in a series. The process would be to have a roll of high quality, pre-printed labels with you and apply labels as you inventory and collect the data on the facilities assets.

We strongly recommend the simple serialized approach over smart numbers for the following reasons:

  1. Smart numbering costs 2.5 times the simple serialized approach because you have to inventory the asset twice (once to develop the number and then again to apply the label) and then there is a higher likelihood for error so you may have to inventory it again. If it costs this much more to implement, then it costs this much more to maintain.

  2. Smart numbers typically need to be produced in the field. Such label making systems typically produce a low quality label that has about a 5 year life cycle. The label should survive the full life cycle of the asset, which is typically 20-30 years. This includes heat, moisture, impact, and, most of all, sunlight.

  3. The simple serialized cost less to produce and require less planning prior to ordering. Also, most of our client’s staff costs the institution over $100 per hour fully loaded. Having them perform a menial task like label printing is not cost-effective.

  4. You are less likely to have to reprint labels due to errors like typos or overlaps with past data.

  5. Simple serialized provides the same value as smart numbers. Since the defining characteristics of the asset are stored in the Asset Description in the CMMS for either approach, the descriptive information in a smart number becomes redundant information.

  6. Simple serialized numbers are inherently scalable. Smart numbers require planning and research to develop new codes for new technologies. I have seen lists of 40 part codes turn into 60 within months.

Smart numbers were more relevant in the past before the availability of information via mobile devices. You can now produce a work order which clearly displays all of the needed information to locate the asset and identify the work without the use of the short codes woven into the smart numbering.

Moving from smart numbers to simple serialized numbers is easy. You simply leave the old assets alone. When they get replaced, incorporate simple serialized for the replacements. For any new assets, apply the simple serialized approach.

BMOC will support and has supported either approach. Some of our favorite clients use smart numbers. We recommend against it, but still serve them well.