More than eight out of ten mid-sized organisations have trouble keeping track of their physical assets, according to research carried out for asset management firm Touchpaper.

According to the report, while 90 per cent of organisations describe managing their assets as a critical priority, 84 per cent have difficulty maintaining an accurate, cross-departmental picture of their asset base, including computers, property and equipment. "Smaller businesses do have the information on their assets, but in lots of different places, so it’s difficult for them to have an overall view," said Marina Stedman, marketing director of Touchpaper.

The increasing priority of asset management is driven by worries about business risks including fraud - cited by 36 per cent of respondents - and unlicensed software proliferation, which concerned 15 per cent. Other issues included physical damage, the need for more effective utilisation of assets, insurance issues and the need to comply with a growing number of regulations.

The drivers for this regulatory compliance varied from sector to sector, but included the Disability Act (44 per cent), Freedom of Information Act (28 per cent), Federation Against Software Theft (50 per cent) and the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Act (24 per cent). “The latest is the WEEE Act, which has been put back a couple of times, but which makes organisations responsible for disposal,” said Stedman. "It hasn’t come into force in a great way yet, and a lot of companies are not taking heed of it, but we think there will be more pressure on organisations to audit how they dispose of assets."

The ability to get an organisation-wide view was hampered by the wide variety of methods used to manage and track assets. Accessibility of information was poor, with 41 per cent relying on a departmental approach which led to inconsistencies across the wider organisation. Other respondents complained of 'slow and antiquated' systems that needed updating, while 42 per cent said they were forced to rely on the finance department's purchasing system for information.

While all sectors saw managing assets as a significant challenge, it was seen as particularly vital by the councils surveyed, due chiefly to the targets imposed by the Gershon report and Comprehensive Performance Analysis (CPA) programme. Ninety per cent of councils said managing assets was high on their agenda, in contrast to the university sector where it was rated as a low priority.

"Councils are used to managing diverse assets – they may have hundreds of buildings, for example,” said Stedman. “Universities tend to be much more campus-based, but increasingly a lot of the assets they manage aren’t theirs – for example, student laptops which need to be put on the system."