A good inventory management system can play a vital part in the smooth running of a business – and getting it set up properly can make all the difference. Here we break down what to look out for and where to spend your time when getting started with one of these systems.
And to give you a clear idea of what to expect if you choose a cloud-based software option, we’ll give you some examples of how Unleashed helps with the process of setting up your inventory system.
What hardware requirements are there for an inventory management system?
Before moving on to the software itself, it’s important to make sure you’ve got the right hardware – so order it early on if you don’t have it already. That way you’ll avoid a situation where your software is ready to go but you don’t have the physical assets to use it.
Another important choice you’ll have to make when you’re deciding on what hardware to purchase is: Should you use a cloud-based or an installed inventory system?
One major difference between the two is that for installed inventory systems you will need to run your own servers, which can be pricey.
The cost of renting servers will vary depending on your needs, but for a small business this will usually cost between US$100–200 a month. Alternatively, if you purchase your own server this could cost anywhere from US$1200 to more than $10k – again, depending on your needs.
The major benefit of using a cloud-based option is that these costs don’t apply – and that you don’t have to house and maintain your servers.
Below we answer your most commonly asked questions about the hardware and internet connections you need to set up your inventory system.
What computers will I need to run an inventory management system?
Regardless of whether you opt for a cloud-based SaaS system or an installed system, you will need computers to run your software.
Most inventory management systems don’t require the most high-tech computing systems to operate, but some minimum specs are:
- Windows 7 or later
- Google Chrome or Microsoft Edge (Your system may not be optimised with other browsers)
Do I need a tablet for my inventory management system?
As an inventory-based business, it’s common for the office to be in a different place to where the inventory is kept. So having a portable solution to manage your inventory opens up a lot of flexibility for how you manage this.
Many inventory management systems have features that are designed for use on portable devices – especially newer cloud-based options.
In the case of Unleashed, for instance, an iPad running Google Chrome can operate the system as well as make use of the Mobile Sales App. This allows users to access Unleashed from their warehouse, and make and post orders to the system while on the road.
What internet connection will I need?
To use a cloud-based system you’ll need to be able to access the Cloud, which means you’ll want a stable – and preferably speedy – internet connection.
If you want your staff to access your inventory system on tablets around the warehouse, you’ll need to ensure you have sufficient wireless coverage in this space. Adding extra routers will help with this – it will make jobs easier for your staff, and mean you get more value from your inventory management system.
Do I need barcode scanners?
A barcode scanner is a useful tool that can help increase efficiency while reducing the impact of human error. They can be used for quickly scanning products during a stocktake, receipting in purchased goods and populating shipments.
Barcode scanners are available at office supply and tech stores and these are priced from around $100 – again, the barcode scanner you choose will depend on your business’ needs.
Do I need to use printers?
You’ll need to print barcodes if you’re using this sort of system. Again, you won’t necessarily need a top-of-the-range printer for this – a simple laser printer with Avery standard barcode labels will often work fine.
The most commonly used barcoding systems are:
- Code 128
To use these systems, there are a number of free barcode generators you can find online that allow you to print in each barcoding format.
Now we know what physical hardware is needed for your inventory system, we’ll turn our attention to training. After all, a great system can only be useful in the hands of people who know how to use it.
How do I learn the ropes?
The support you get while learning the ropes of your new inventory system will vary depending on your provider. Again, this is an area where using a cloud-based inventory management can be beneficial for new users.
Unleashed gives you an example of how your SaaS provider might help you get set up. Unleashed provides all new accounts with managed onboarding – and it’s here that the bulk of the heavy lifting is done where training is concerned.
We have a team of dedicated onboarding specialists that take you and your staff through all of the functions of Unleashed from start to finish. This takes place through a series of online video chat sessions spread out over the course of 3 months – with occasional check-ins along the way.
These sessions allow you to explain your individual needs and workflows to the onboarding specialist, who can then give targeted advice on how to achieve them using the system.
Once you’ve got the basics down and are live with your system, it’s common to have questions about new processes or to need a refresher on some of what you’ve learnt so far.
At Unleashed, this is where our Customer Success Plans (CSPs) come in, which give users access to a range of information and support services. There are two CSP plans available to customers with different support available in each: Essential (a free plan) and Standard (a paid plan).
Key features available in one or both of these plans are:
- Customer Support: Speak to our team of support staff via email, telephone or live chat
- Customer Success Portal: A comprehensive library of walk-through videos, help files and step-by-step guides
- Success Webinar Programmes: Access to long-form videos that dive deeper into the advanced functions of the system
- Unleashed University: A great tool to quickly get new staff up to speed with step-by-step learning plans designed to provide a full understanding of all the system’s features
What staff are needed to run an inventory management system?
So what sort of personnel does an inventory management system require? This is one of the great benefits of a cloud-based SaaS solution when compared with an installed system.
When using an installed or ‘perpetually licensed’ system, it’s much more likely you’ll need on-site IT specialists – meaning you’ll need to employ IT and operations staff.
With a cloud-based solution, a large portion of that load is taken off your staff – from when you’re setting up your system and receive onboarding assistance, to ongoing maintenance of and upgrades to your inventory software.
What will I need to install my inventory system?
The installation requirements of a cloud-based inventory management system are relatively low – especially compared with the alternative of using installed software.
This is because with SaaS software you won’t need to set up expensive elements like your own data security and web hosting framework.
When installing a bespoke installed system, the implementation process can often take many months before the business goes live with their inventory software – and the fees associated with such a drawn-out installation process regularly stretch into the tens of thousands.
How long does it take to go live with Unleashed?
With a cloud-based solution like Unleashed, we aim to get new customers live with the system as soon as possible – which is generally around 1 month into their time with us.
We then use the remaining 2 months of onboarding as a Q+A period to make sure that everyone has a chance to ask questions and get the most out of the product.
What do I need to do to go live with my inventory system?
The most important aspect of going live with an inventory management system is making sure that all of the data in your system is correct.
At Unleashed, first we make sure that all of the required product data is set up. This means we need to know the stock on hand, purchase and sale prices, and any important shipping information, such as product dimensions and weight.
After this we upload customer and supplier data, followed by any information regarding assembled or manufactured products.
Next, general settings and extra system information – such as pricing tiers, product groups and taxes – are added.
Lastly, any integrations you wish to use are connected and tested.
With all inventory management systems – realistically speaking – it’s best to have at least one person who can follow the implementation process all the way through. This person will be trained and helped every step of the way and will champion the implementation process – and can act as a point of reference for the rest of the team.
In this era of digital reliance, having an inventory solution is a great step to take – but by integrating other applications with your inventory software, you can also manage a number of other areas of the business using cloud-based systems.
Here we’ll go over some of the other functions you can manage using cloud-based solutions, and what applications you can use for these processes.
The last two years have been huge for eCommerce, with online sales now accounting for almost 20% of retail sales worldwide. As a result, more and more businesses are looking at selling online to reach a larger customer base than they could through traditional methods alone.
When you integrate an inventory management system with an eCommerce platform, real-time stock updates are pushed through to your eCommerce store, so that you never sell something you don’t have.
Once a purchase is made, the integration populates the contents of the order into a sales order – including the products purchased and the customer details provided – and this is then fulfilled via the inventory management system.
Many eCommerce integrations are designed to be as plug-and-play as possible, and with the help of onboarding support they can be paired in a matter of minutes.
Some of the most common eCommerce integrations you can use with inventory software are:
As the majority of businesses will be using an accounting system to manage their books, it’s important to find an inventory solution that’s going to allow communication between the two.
An accounting integration allows your business to get the full value out of real-time value tracking – as all purchases, sales and stock movements are sent over as they are created.
This is a massive time-saver, as it eliminates the need for manual data entry. By having this process automated it also removes a lot of the opportunity for human error – thereby reducing the need to go back and correct mistakes, which is also time-consuming.
Some accounting integrations to check out include:
Lastly, you can also consider API integrations. This is one of two types of integration available:
- ‘Native’ integrations: These are designed and maintained by the inventory management software provider
- ‘Third party’ (API) integrations: These are developed externally – usually by the third party provider – and can be connected using the system’s Application Programming Interface (API).
Most inventory management systems tend to focus their native integration efforts on accounting and ecommerce integrations – but this does vary depending on the provider.
By using an API to connect them, businesses are able to incorporate a much wider array of software. When benchmarking inventory management options, be sure to find out whether each provider allows open API communication with their system.
If you’re using a third-party integration, it’s important to note that API integrations are not created by your inventory provider – and this means you’ll have the responsibility of overseeing and supporting the connection between the systems. Businesses should plan for this accordingly and ensure they have the right staff expertise to manage this.
A range of services can be connected with an open API, including:
- Customised dashboards
- Inventory forecasting applications
- Customer relationship management (CRM) Systems
- Advanced shipping tools
- Expanded eCommerce options
What are your software requirements?
Now that you have an idea of what software’s available to you and how to implement it, let’s look at what you’ll want from your inventory solution.
Getting specific with the software functions that matter to your business will help to narrow down your choices, so here we’ve listed four of the key software features we see businesses looking for in their inventory solution.
1. Stock Management
The key challenge for a product-based business is keeping on top of your inventory, and the best way to go about solving this pain is to choose a system with a robust set of inventory management features.
There are two main parts to stock management that need to be tracked by an inventory system:
- Stock on hand (SOH) for your products
- Stock value
Having a system capable of tracking these figures eliminates some of the key difficulties associated with stock management, such as:
- Over- or under-purchasing products
- Incorrect pricing
- Unaccounted stock
- Selling out-of-stock goods
- Managing wastage
- Understanding the true Cost of Goods Sold
2. Unlimited usage
The last thing you want after putting in the effort of setting up your system is to run into a usage cap for exceeding a certain number of products, customers or suppliers.
Systems with usage caps can often be cheaper – but if a system isn’t able to grow with your business it’s unlikely to be a good fit long-term.
3. Reorder points and low stock alerts
When there are so many actions that can affect product stock levels, keeping track of what needs reordering without an inventory management system can lead to mistakes.
A system that allows you to set up reorder points and low stock alerts will be much more efficient than one that just presents raw stock-on-hand numbers. These reorder points can also be set up to account for the lead time required for products to reach the warehouse – so you’re never caught out again.
When comparing inventory solutions, it’s helpful to have an idea of the kinds of reports you’d like to see. This is because the depth and customisability of reporting can vary greatly from one provider to the next.
Some helpful reports to look for in your inventory system include:
- Transaction enquiry: A breakdown of what items have been included in each sales order over a given time period
- Stock on hand enquiry: A snapshot of the stock on hand for all items in the business as well as low stocked item alerts
- Margin enquiry: This shows how much profit is made on each sale
- Invoice enquiry: An overview of all invoices paid and unpaid
That’s a general overview of the key features you’ll be looking for in your inventory system. For a more in-depth look at what inventory software can offer, you can take a look at our article detailing the 19 best inventory software features.