Katrina disaster confirms need for real-time inventory and asset management

For private citizens, government agencies, and the corporate world alike, Hurricane Katrina taught many harsh lessons in August 2005. One is the need to plan, as made painfully apparent to Wink Companies LLC, a multidiscipline professional engineering and design firm. Now headquartered in Baton Rouge, Wink's former New Orleans headquarters was flooded, and one wall was all that remained of a Bi...


For private citizens, government agencies, and the corporate world alike, Hurricane Katrina taught many harsh lessons in August 2005. One is the need to plan, as made painfully apparent to Wink Companies LLC , a multidiscipline professional engineering and design firm.

Now headquartered in Baton Rouge, Wink's former New Orleans headquarters was flooded, and one wall was all that remained of a Biloxi, Miss.-based office. Wink aggressively mobilized to take inventory of losses and file insurance claims while struggling to get up and running again.

“When I joined the company in 2003, it had done one prior inventory of assets using an Excel spreadsheet and mailing labels, and wanted me to do it again,” says Russell Carter, purchasing manager. “I resisted, as that approach only provided data—not information.”

Following considerable flooding and loss after Hurricane Katrina, Wink Companies, a Louisiana-based professional engineering firm, launched a full-scale inventory and asset-management solution to establish the proper corporate insurance it had been lacking.

Carter proposed an automated asset management system, but the undertaking was deemed too daunting given the resources and budget required, so it was pushed out. Digging out from Katrina proved just how vital such a system is to the health of a business. Calculating losses in New Orleans involved the time-consuming task of tagging and tallying “junk.” It took three weeks just to inventory IT equipment. Doing the same in Biloxi was even harder. There, everything literally had blown away.

“We found one server two blocks away in a ditch,” Carter says. In the end, Wink realized it had underinsured a quarter of a million dollars in computer assets in Biloxi by almost half. Fortunately, the Biloxi office operations only represented a small fraction of Wink's overall pre-Katrina assets.

“Four months after the storm, I sat down with the CFO to develop a proposal for asset management, and criteria other than [basic] disaster recovery,” Carter says. “The company had been in business 35 years, and Katrina was the only disaster we'd ever faced.”

Management approved implementation of Track4000 and Inventory4000 asset management solutions from Real Assets Management International (RAMI) to support accurate calculations of insurance limits, and enable comprehensive equipment life-cycle management and asset utilization in day-to-day operations.

“You have to keep everything current so it's not just a picture of one moment in time,” says Angie Ogden, an asset control specialist hired as a project lead. The team worked with every department to develop procedures for capturing and updating information as Wink adds assets and personnel to keep up with 25 percent annual growth. The RAMI solutions also enable Wink to hold off on purchasing additional equipment until it is justified.

“One thing all executives appreciate is the leasing report on our obligations,” Ogden says. “IT appreciates keeping track of how many laptops we have, such that if one is no longer assigned, it can be reallocated. Accounting appreciates our ability to research an invoice, and break bills down and organize them by department and location.”

Wink chose RAMI because it provided the most complete package for Wink's needs. RAMI's solutions provide a comprehensive repository of all asset information, descriptions, and history. The database can be downloaded to handheld units for generating bar-code labels when tagging new equipment for subsequent auditing and updating.

“We no longer have to guess at the replacement value of our equipment,” Carter says. “Instead of buying $4 million worth of insurance for headquarters, we know we need $3.3 million. The difference in premiums on that adds up to a whole lot of money over time. We're confident now that we're not over- or underinsured.”

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