A Pennsylvania company has introduced software that uses bar-code technology to help banks and other large companies track their physical assets.

MSS Software Inc., Malvern, Pa., developed the software, called Asset Property Management, for the U.S. Coast Guard in 1989 to help them track their computer equipment, furniture, and other office items.

"Normally when people check what's supposed to be in their office, they take out a paper and pencil and make notes," said Carl R. Heinlein, a vice president at MSS.

"Discrepancies are inevitable," he added.

Tracking Problems Abound

Mr. Heinlein said that banks, with their considerable investments in furniture and computer equipment, are particularly prone to tracking problems.

"Faxes get moved. Computers get stored. It's hard to have a total picture" of the location of equipment, he said.

With the property-management software, the physical property that a bank needs to track is labeled with a tag that contains a printed bar code similar to those on consumer goods.

After the asset tag is affixed, a record of the item is entered into a data base in a personal computer.

When the company needs to audit its assets, inventory personnel use a portable data entry device with a bar-code reader. Auditors can enter the current location of each item manually or by scanning bar codes affixed to doors, for example.

After this information is captured, it is loaded into a personal computer.

In addition to identifying location, the software's reports indicate whether the code was entered manually or scanned.

"This function is important if you have 25 guys checking the inventory of a warehouse," said Jack Kaufman, assistant data processing facility manager for the Coast Guard in Seattle. "If someone keys the code in by hand, we know that he might be copying numbers off a list or, worse, taking the property."

For the past three years, the Coast Guard has used the system primarily for inventory checks and asset management.

Mr. Kaufman indicated that the Coast Guard is developing new applications for the product in the shipping area.

"Anything we receive in shipping gets a bar-code sticker slapped on it, so we know what it is and when it arrived," Mr. Kaufman said.

"This way there aren't problems trying to understand handwriting of figure out where a box went."

The Coast Guard is testing a similar application to track the flow of incoming mail, he added.

Ms. Sullivan is a freelance writer based in New York.

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