Inventorying and IDing your tech stuff: quick tips

Inventorying Your Tech StuffLike all material possessions personal or business, tech stuff accumulates. It doesn’t actually multiply (except, perhaps, for the calculators) but it doesn’t take long to end up with a pile of stuff.

None of us want to end up on Hoarders. To keep A&E cameras from showing up in tyour driveway, it’s essential to be organized — which includes IDing and inventorying what you’ve got.

WHY IDENTIFY WITH ORGANIZATION

One reason is simply so you know what goes with what. Increasingly, power and data cables are near-universal — thankfully, nearly all manufacturers have moved to USB. Even Apple has standardized its device-side connector, so you can pack one Apple cable (“i-cable”?) for use with both an iPhone and iPad. But some devices still have proprietary data cables and AC adapters. Many battery chargers for digital cameras, for example, remain unique.

This means it’s easy to end up with a box — or boxes! — of AC adapters, wires, and assorted cords, and not be sure what goes with what.

Not to mention being able to find software CDs that went with devices. Yes, most of this is available online — but not always, or not always as usefully. For example, I’m trying to set up a Dell printer, and the file I downloaded from Dell was Zip files within Zip files, and seems to be “turtles all the way down,” never resulting in actual install files I could run.

Fortunately, I found the CD — amazingly, in the first place I looked. It’s easy to claim that a success for my organizing system, but there were at least three other places it could legitimately have been, not to mention somewhere within a foot or two of where the printer has been resting.

HELP INSURE YOUR GEAR

Another reason to ID and inventory your tech gear is for insurance purposes.

If you’re covering through a computer rider on your home policy, or getting a separate Business Office Policy (aka BOP), part of the policy cost depends on how much coverage you’re looking for.

And that, in turn, means knowing how much the stuff you’re insuring cost. Of course, if you do have a loss — easy to do, when you’re toting mobile devices around — it’s easier to make a claim if you have the item name, serial number, purchase price and date, etc. Tech support is yet another good reason — and one you’re likely to run into — to have this information easily at hand. Typically, the first product information you’re asked for when you contact Tech Support is the product name, serial number, and maybe when you purchased it.

For larger objects like desktop computers, printers, and flat screens, that information is often at the back or bottom, hard to get to without a fair amount of effort. That’s why I recommend copying this to a label or small piece of paper you then stick on front or side of the machine where it’s visible.

MAKE A LIST

Being organized starts at the beginning. Part of the challenge will be that, like travel luggage, over time, the stuff you’re organizing evolves, and so will how you do it.

Create a document or database to record acquisitions. I’m use a simple Excel spreadsheet with an easy-to-search-for name, since I only need to access it every few months. For example, mine is called DERN_INVENTORY_OFFICEGEAR.

The data I record for each item is:

o Item: Vendor/Product Serial/Key Number Purchased from

o Date of purchase

o Cost

o Estimated current value (updated every so often)

o Tech support phone number

o Warranty

o Misc notes

I’ve separated my items into Computers, Cameras, Audio/Video, and Phone/Mobile. . Give your insurance company a copy.

When you get a new techno-toy (or business purchase), once you’re sure you’re keeping it, add it to the list; when major updates happen, send a copy to your insurance company.

Consider printing this out, for when you need it and your computer isn’t working. If nothing else, make sure a copy gets stored in an off-site backup (such as a cloud backup). One of my friends puts his information into an email message and simply leaves it in his inbox.

For insurance purposes, you might also want to take (digital) pictures of your gear — being sure, of course, to save copies off-site or on the cloud.

LABEL AND BOX

Nothing beats a label to help you keep track of what the heck something is — and to help identify it as yours.

If nothing else, once you’re sure you’re keeping something, label its AC adapter. If this is the only tip you act on, you’re already ahead of the game.

If it’s just an AC cord, label that — so you can tell what’s plugged in on your power strip or UPS.

For the main device, put a label with the serial number (again, while it’s easy to get to), date you got it, and maybe also the main tech support phone number. This is particularly important for printers.

For any accessories that you don’t expect to use most of the time, put them in a baggie — and label that baggie, perhaps by putting some of the packaging with the product name in it. And then put that baggie into a labeled box, like “iPhone stuff” or “Digital camera stuff.”

And if you’ve got the storage space for it, consider saving the box and packing for your monitor — because if you do have to send it back to the vendor (which I did, for one of my flat screens), it will be difficult and/or expensive to get alternate packaging.

THINGS I HAVEN’T TRIED — YET

Now that I’ve got an iPhone, which should be able to work as a bar code scanner, I’m considering trying to use that as an inventorying tool.

The challenge is to find a bar code-driven database, either for my iPhone/iPad, or for Windows. It’s worth doing — not just for my tech gear, but also for stuff like my books and CDs and comic books.