As supply chains become ever more complex and as customers expect more seamless service than ever before, keeping track of inventory can be a stressful task for small and medium sized businesses. Quite simply, clipboards and spreadsheets are not cutting it anymore. Many SMEs are choosing to download inventory software or better still, migrate to a cloud-based solution. But how does an SME which has long been reliant on paper-and-spreadsheet based stock control get ready to make the change? Here are five of our top tips.
Identify Your Inventory Management Needs
Before implementing an inventory management package, your leadership team should be able to clearly identify the business’ inventory management needs. Doing this involves mapping out each stage of the supply chain in your business’ control and identifying decision points at each stage. Leveraging previous performance data (even anecdotal information) can help you identify the areas where your inventory management currently falls short. For example, does your business routinely experience stock outs, or does it tend to waste a lot of unused inventory?
Develop Sound Inventory Principles
Inventory management software is not a panacea for underperforming inventory control. Strong inventory management processes are needed to ensure that inventory management software is a success. To get ready for inventory success, SMEs should develop a set of guiding principles that ensure that inventory moves through the supply chain efficiently and reliably. Once a map of the supply chain has been developed, your business’ leadership team has a chance to set out how each stage of the process should, ideally, operate.
Deciding on a Preferred Solution
SMEs are spoilt for choice when it comes to inventory management software with many cloud-based options available. Deciding on the particular solution is an obvious sign that your business is ready to implement, although the actual process of selecting an inventory management package can be difficult.
Important questions include whether your preferred solution supports real-time inventory control as well advanced tools such as barcoding and mobile sales. Understanding the likely cost of your chosen platform will also be important; are you proposing to spend a large amount of capital upfront (and to depreciate that over time), or to opt for a regular subscription payment to ensure constant access to the latest technology? Consider trying your preferred solution before you commit.
Securing Stakeholder Support
Once you have identified your business’ inventory needs and identified a preferred solution, you will need to get both leadership and the business at large on board. In practice, a certain degree of evangelism is required here – particularly in the context of an SME which has long managed inventory in the traditional way. Likely questions will range from practical concerns (such as whether the system will be simple to use) to the likely return on investment (ultimately a function of your past inventory performance but generally positive). It’s unlikely that everyone in the team will be on board at first – the prospect adjusting to a new system can be stressful, but explaining the advantages of transitioning can often ease this.
Implementing a Transition Plan
Having a comprehensive plan to manage the transition is crucial, both to manage risk and to maintain staff morale. Implementing cloud based inventory management software is usually straightforward, although hiccups occasionally occur. Your transition plan should identify how your team will handle any inventory errors during this time and – just as importantly – how you can prevent mistakes from occurring in the first place. This could be as simple as ensuring that data entry and output from the new system is double checked for the first week or fortnight that the system is operating.
If the tips above describe your business well, it’s likely that you are well placed to upgrade to a cloud-based solution.
Article by Melanie Chan in collaboration with our team of Unleashed Software inventory and business specialists. Melanie has been writing about inventory management for the past three years. When not writing about inventory management, you can find her eating her way through Auckland.