THE CHALLENGE

From computer monitors to scan guns to printers to software, it can be a challenge to track the entire lifecycle of a given piece of equipment. Equipment migrates from one building to another without the knowledge of the IT administrators. The technicians need a system that is simple, sustainable, and integrated into their current process. 

 

Solving this challenge results with accurate budgeting, a reduction in multiple asset purchases, and Sephora would know with greater accuracy the landscape of their equipment (e.g. what can/not be redeployed). 

APPROACH & KEY INSIGHTS

I interviewed the managerial staff to determine the current workflow and what was need from the asset management process/system. I also performed contextual inquiry sessions with the technicians to determine their workflow. They wanted a system that had:

 

  • a way to scan the asset instead of manually typing in the serial number into an excel spreadsheet

  • a way to run reports for budgetary reasons

  • ease of implementation; will minimally disrupt the technicians’ current workflow

  • flexibility in integrating across a spectrum of assets and not just limited to one or two

  • cost containment

THE SOLUTION

I proposed and created a workflow that used their existing workflow as a basis, highlighted business decisions for the company to consider or be aware of and started the vetting process for vendors who could potentially provide a solution that was tailored to Sephora’s needs. 

CONTEXT & CHALLENGES

Sephora is a 4 billion dollar company that has seen double-digit growth for the past dozen years or so. The positives of that rapid expansion are evident; the downside includes the infrastructure not keeping up with the demands of the growth of the company. Much of the record-keeping is ad hoc and the systems are either few (spreadsheets are standard) or not user-friendly. Despite the size and age of the company, the pace of work at Sephora is more like a startup than a highly-structured, mature corporation. Therefore solutions must accommodate a quick and chaotic workflow. Documentation, like many places, is secondary in priority, the first being “GSD” (Getting Sh*t Done). Sephora realized that not having a robust asset management process/system was going to be a hindrance as the company ramps up to double in size over the next few years. 

 

As a side project, I was asked to find the best workflow for an asset tracker process, from the moment the asset arrives at Sephora to when it redeploys to another user, to when the asset retires from Sephora. I was also asked to help scope out the needs for features for an asset tracker, determine the best workflow and begin the sourcing process. 

 

I went in with the premise that it’s easier to work with the current behavior of the stakeholders and staff than it is to try and implement behavioral changes. 

DISCOVER

I used interviews and contextual inquiry for my research. I interviewed the asset director to determine what his and the team’s pain points were. I also interviewed his manager who manages the asset-tracking spreadsheet. From him, I discovered the current tracking flow and system and found his pain points. I then interviewed and followed around a few technicians to see how they tracked and logged assets out in the field. 

 

Questions of interest were:

  • What key features do each stakeholder group value?

  • Which features are necessary and which are “nice to haves?”

  • What is the current asset management flow, where are the rest points (when the asset stays in one location for an extended period)?

  • At what points is the flow most likely to run into issues? 

  • Is there an existing app/software package that can capture the top needs of all stakeholders or will the solution need to be built from scratch?

USER INTERVIEWS

I interviewed the asset director and manager what were their pain points and needs. The manager walked me through the current tracking process and the spreadsheet currently utilized to log all assets. This gave me a basis of understanding not only their needs but gave me foundational knowledge to understand how to speak with the technicians.  

CONTEXTUAL INQUIRIES

I followed technicians as they changed out computers, monitors, assessed printers and other devices. They showed me the system used to log technical activities and their pain points. They wanted an asset management workflow that is simple, scalable and integrated into their current logging system.

SYNTHESIS

From the contextual inquiries and interviews, my findings include: 

  • A scan gun (barcode scanner) is used to log new assets to reduce the amount of human error. However, once the asset deploys, the bar code is no longer used (inconvenient to get to since they are at the back of a large asset such as a printer) or at the bottom of a computer which is usually running and attached to a docking station when the technicians are in the field. Manually typing in the asset ID is time-consuming and highly error-prone. 

  • There are some assets such as monitors that don’t have readily identifiable features other than a generic model and specs. 

  • Assets such as monitors commonly grow “legs” as staff routinely move screens from one location to another in an attempt to set up dual monitors, without first consulting IT. 

  • Life in the field for the technician is chaotic. The asset tracking system must not add more to the chaos. It must be easy for the technicians to use and must provide information so that they see the value in using the system while in the field

  • The asset tracking workbook is an Excel worksheet that is manually updated. Moving to a database would allow for more flexibility in recording data

  • Consistent documentation in the field is the biggest challenge 

  • The new system must have a reporting capability to assist with forecasts and budgeting

IDEATION & ITERATION

Based on the synthesis above, I brainstormed and sketched workflow solutions. I also identified areas that could be made more efficient. In the meantime, I compiled the final list of requested features/functionalities for the asset management system. 

 

From most to least important:

  • Is integrated / can be merged with the current technician tracking system.

  • Can directly scan both a bar code and QR into the asset management system. Barcode can be used with a standard scan gun for when a multitude of assets arrive, are deployed and retire. The QR scan used for the Desktop Analyst team on their smartphones while operating in the field. 

  • A user-friendly interface for the user as well as for the administrator

  • Reporting features: ability to easily and quickly pull our data from their system as needed

  • Upgrades to the system are integrated into our package (won’t need to ‘pay to play’ for future updates)

  • Free training (preferably online videos)

 

Disaster Recovery considerations: 

  • Company has been around for a few years; not a fly-by-night operation

  • For less-well-known companies: verify that customer base uses the product

  • Their primary and backup servers are reasonably far enough from one another to some assurance of redundancy

 

I spoke with the IT manager and the technicians regarding the workflow to determine feasibility. After a couple of sessions, I presented the final version of the solution to the IT head who initially requested this project. 

 

I then proceeded to make inquiries to companies who have existing asset tracking solutions to evaluate for fit. My evaluation of the solutions included sitting through their demos and exploring their sandbox. 

 

I also interviewed lead administrators of the current technician work order system to see how we could integrate their current system with any asset tracking software we might pursue. 

SOLUTION & DELIVERABLES

Proposed process/flow

  • The process/flow was designed to be simple and removed foreseeable barriers to increase the probability of sustainable implementation. The key was not overhauling the current system; it was to tweak the current system in the right places to minimize disruption to the technicians’ current workflow.

  • The tweaks include:

    • When the asset is ready to be deployed, the asset is labeled with a unique identifying sticker. Deployment is the first time a new asset is taken out of the box. Labeling before deployment may mean going through the trouble of repackaging the device. The identifying sticker is linked to the device’s manufacturer serial number (how the devices are currently being tracked) within a database.

    • Asset management system must have an app component that integrates into the device records. The technician can use the app as a recording device (as opposed to carrying around a computer or paper notepad).

    • Whenever a tech goes out into the field, instead of looking on the back of computers for a serial number or logging into a computer to find the computer name, they simply scan the QR/barcode to either retrieve or update the device records while in the field.

    • When the device is returned (staff termination or the device expiration) the accompanying sticker is scanned, and the status/condition of the asset is recorded.

    • When the device has reached the end of its lifecycle, and a stockpile of similar devices is ready to be shipped back to the manufacturer for recycling, the technicians use a scan gun to record all the assets to record its exiting.

 

Proposed tracking sticker

  • Part of the proposal was to create tracking stickers that had a QR code with matching barcode and “manual” code. 

    • The barcode is designed for the scan guns currently being used by IT when large shipments of assets arrive (example: a 200 laptop order). Scan guns work much more quickly for large quantities of items than QR scanners. It is anticipated that scan guns will be used two or four times during a product’s lifecycle: when it first arrives, when it is deployed to the user, when the asset is returned to IT, and when the asset is marked to be disposed of. 

    • The QR code is designed for the technicians in the field. While the scan guns operate more quickly than QR code readers, they're clunky and require being tethered to a laptop with the appropriate software. A QR reader app that is integrated into an asset management software is much more convenient for the technicians while in the field and therefore more likely to be used. The QR code is expected to be used whenever there is a technician call, a manual upgrade, or if the asset is being moved to a different location (e.g. from one workstation to another).

    • The “manual” code is the numbers at the bottom. This is a worst-case scenario for when technology fails, and neither the QR code nor the barcode is scannable for any reason. 

  • The sticker is designed as small as possible. Dimensions are 5/8” x 1 3/4” The bar code and QR codes are large enough to be read by their respective readers and the small size allows for IT the freedom to position the sticker on a variety of devices, from industrial printers to laptops to the back of smartphones. To reduce the wear and tear of the stickers, they are laminated. 

  • How the stickers fit into the workflow: The stickers are pre-created, roughly 10,000 stickers purchased at a time, each with a unique identifying number. Having a stack of pre-created stickers increases the likelihood that the stickers will find its way onto the asset (as opposed to printing out the stickers on an as-needed basis). 

 

Write-up

  • Discussing the pros and cons of the workflow and the decision process of coming to the workflow.

  • Areas to be aware of when deciding on an asset management system

 

While the department was prepared to custom build a system, I recommended to them that doing so would require that they troubleshoot any issues or bugs in the system. It’s better to set a list of desired features and capabilities and find a system that best fit their needs. I was asked to find, evaluate and source potential systems and perform a test run (play in their sandbox). I continued working on sourcing an off-the-shelf solution until I left the company. 

USER FLOW

Technician user flows were mapped out to ensure they fit within the process flow by validating with the technicians the flow was feasible for them.

ASSETS

Delivered the final asset sticker mockup, to be sent for duplication and printing on laminated stickers.

WRITE-UP

A write-up discussed the process flow decisions and what to look for when evaluating and choosing a SaaS management solution.

LEARNINGS

Challenges

  • The biggest challenge was sourcing the software and miscommunication with the vendors who was not interested in speaking with anyone outside of the Sephora IT department. It required the intervention of IT on my behalf before the vendors responded to emails and phone calls. 

 

Good Stuff

  • I really enjoyed the elegance of the process flow. The fact that there was minimal changes and yet can create a significant impact on the process is exciting. 

 

Key Metrics

  • I left the company in November at which time I was told that the funding for implementing this project would come from their 2017 budget. While they are ready to implement, the team currently lacks the bandwidth. 

TESTIMONIALS

“Wow, you helped clarify how to think about approaching this problem."

Orlando Correa, Sephora IT Manager

“This is really great work and I will use this to build a case to include this in the budget next year."

Kirk Long, Sephora IT Director

© 2016-8 by LJY Studios Design Reasoning

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I live in the beautiful San Francisco Bay Area in  Northern California. Feel free to contact me via the form or social media.

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