X

Modern Manufacturing

How to Increase Inventory Accuracy across your Supply Chain

John Klinke
Director, Oracle Industry Strategy Group

Guest Author: Oracle Partner RF-SMART

When it comes to managing inventory, there are key indicators you can use to determine the efficiency of your supply chain. Whether you’re a manufacturer or retailer, a large multinational or growing start-up, it’s in your best interest to achieve high inventory accuracy - and as quickly as possible. In doing so, you’ll improve your customer satisfaction rate, and ultimately, your bottom line.

WHY INVENTORY ACCURACY MATTERS

Accurate inventory boils down to having a reliable, up-to-date view of your stock – whether it resides in a warehouse, manufacturing site or retail store. But it’s not enough to only have this information available for office staff and selected individuals; for a seamless and connected supply chain, every worker that interacts with your inventory should have real-time visibility of your stock. The impact of this can quickly spread:  

  • Quicker Order Fulfillment - From the minute a new order comes in, staff need timely and reliable data to accurately pick, pack and ship the relevant products. Your level of inventory accuracy will determine how quickly these tasks can be carried out – and how prone they are to errors. The ideal scenario is for a worker to determine the location and quantity of any given product at a moment’s notice. Ultimately, inventory accuracy will be a significant factor in governing how quickly your customer receives their purchase. As you’ll already know, delivery time is a crucial factor for any competitive business, and it has a tangible effect on customer satisfaction, as well as retention.
  • Efficient Warehouse - At an operational level, having visibility of accurate data means that staff can carry out day-to-day tasks in a more productive and efficient manner. A common pain point from the warehouse floor is workers having to spend unnecessary time walking back and forth in search of items that were misplaced, out-of-stock or have now expired and are no longer fit for sale. With inventory accuracy, these challenges can be mitigated.
  • Reliable Stock Counts - The relationship here is somewhat cyclical – by counting stock correctly, we gain accuracy, and with greater accuracy, we can count more efficiently. The trick to facilitating this is getting the correct technologies and processes in place. If your current method involves pausing warehouse operations and delaying order fulfillment to perform counts, you’re leaking efficiency. Solutions like mobile data collection can give you the power to count designated zones at a time whilst keeping your operations up and running. And by counting more regularly, closing the warehouse for grueling annual stock takes becomes a thing of the past. 
  • Cost savings – Cost savings are inevitable when you have a more productive workforce that can fulfill orders with greater efficiency (it’s estimated that mobile data collection can boost daily productivity by up to 35%) and accurately. Your team is doing more with less mistakes – saving time and money.

BARRIERS TO INVENTORY ACCURACY

It can be challenging to move away from routines and practices that are embedded in your operations. One common example is the use of manual paper-based processes. Many businesses still record goods received at the warehouse on paper first – then manually input this data into their ERP. In doing so, they create two opportunities for human error: jotting down incorrect item information when goods arrive and entering inaccurate data into the ERP later on.

This practice contributes to the overarching issue of poor visibility. The bottom line is that if you can’t accurately record and retrieve inventory data in real-time, problems are likely to arise throughout your supply chain. 

WAYS TO ACHIEVE GREATER ACCURACY

The first step towards inventory accuracy is understanding your existing processes. By identifying where inefficiencies already exist in your operations, you can create a strategy for tackling and optimizing the relevant factors. 

  1. To start with, determine the number of touchpoints you currently have for each product during its journey through the warehouse; your goal is to minimize these to as few as possible. The more times you interact with a product, the more likely it is to be misplaced or incorrectly recorded in your ERP. If you’re using paper-based processes to track your inventory, working to decrease the number of touchpoints is a good way to temporarily reduce the risk of human error.
  2. Another important step is to ensure that item names, numbers and descriptions are consistent in all places they appear. For example, if the information on a pick slip doesn’t match the label on the product or storage bin, workers will have to spend more time looking. They may even pick the wrong item by mistake – resulting in a return and poor customer satisfaction. 
  3. A more advanced way to uniquely identify items is through barcoding. By applying barcodes to your products (and their respective storage locations), warehouse pickers can quickly and accurately correspond them to the items on their pick slips. With this option there is no room for ambiguity, unlike item names and descriptions. 

MOBILE INVENTORY MANAGEMENT

The next step is implementing a mobile inventory management solution. In practice, this involves using handheld devices in the warehouse and on the shop floor, which allow workers to scan your stock at every touchpoint. From receiving, to counting, to picking and shipping – mobile inventory management lets you feed real-time data into your ERP at every stage of the journey. Workers can immediately look-up item quantities and locations, helping them pick and pack orders more efficiently, and sales and support teams can provide customers with accurate product information faster – increasing satisfaction.

Most importantly, mobile inventory management will allow you to eliminate error-prone paper-based processes, saving you time and money. By using the handheld devices as soon as stock enters the warehouse, workers no longer need to perform manual counts or data-entry, significantly reducing the risk of human error. Mobile solutions are also much more intuitive and easier to navigate than comprehensive ERP systems, meaning they can be adopted by warehouse and shop floor staff very quickly. Training becomes a faster process - especially as employees no longer must learn to use multiple systems.

THE ADVANTAGES OF THE CLOUD

Whilst mobile inventory management addresses many of the functional challenges obstructing inventory accuracy, without fluid access to inventory data, the risks for human error and manual processes still linger. This was the case for Oracle customer Albelli. With significant growth projected for the coming year, this European manufacturer and e-retailer needed a scalable solution that would support their expansion.

Albelli decided to switch from an on-premise ERP to Oracle SCM Cloud, simultaneously implementing RF-SMART’s mobile inventory management solution. They knew that by migrating to the cloud, they would no longer have to worry about data back-up’s or limited accessibility. As Oracle SCM Cloud can be accessed from anywhere with an internet connection on a multitude of devices, Albelli’s team could now respond to live issues in the warehouse at any time of day without the need for a VPN. Through leveraging these benefits, they can now support a two-day delivery window for their customers. 

CONNECTING MOBILITY ACROSS YOUR SUPPLY CHAIN

So, what would a cloud-based mobile inventory management system look like for you? It’s clear that greater connectivity can have a significant impact on your balance sheet - but how does it impact your supply chain?

  • Distribution - From the point of receiving goods, workers use handheld devices to scan stock as it enters the warehouse. Product information immediately updates in Oracle and will continue to do so with every subsequent touchpoint. When putting items away, your mobile inventory management solution will suggest the preferred location for storage based on the integration to Oracle SCM Cloud. With picking, you can pre-select pick paths and preferred locations. Packing and shipping activities are also logged, meaning you can accurately update your customers on the status of their orders. All of these efficiencies will result in cost savings, greater productivity and higher customer satisfaction.
  • Manufacturing – Wondering how mobile inventory management can enhance your ability to produce goods? For a start, solutions like RF-SMART allow manufacturers to track every stage of the assembly process. Tasks can be categorized into stages of completion, and all components used in the build can be recorded. This enforces best practices whilst maintaining a real-time record of quantities produced.
  • Label Printing - It’s often the case that businesses work from several data sources, making it complicated to combine content for product labels. On top of that, multiple printers are usually in use at the same time for different purposes - each with their own template requirements. Both of these factors provide frustrating limitations that make label printing far more difficult than it has to be. You can overcome these challenges with the help of integrated label printing. This technology grants businesses the power to print labels from their ERP as well as third-party systems – all from one interface. Existing printers can be connected to form a network. These solutions also offer drag-and-drop design tools that are much easier to use than most native printer applications. By opting for consistent labelling and a more connected printing solution, businesses can achieve higher inventory accuracy and efficiency.

TAKING THE FIRST STEP

Supply chain technology can help you achieve a more connected enterprise – but whether it’s worth the investment and effort of changing your business practices is up to you to decide.

If you can relate to any of the challenges we’ve covered, it’s worth exploring what steps you can take to improve your inventory accuracy. From operational best practices to implementing technology, it comes down to embracing change that is proven to benefit your business. 

About RF-SMART
RF-SMART is a global leader in mobile inventory management solutions with over 35 years of experience. Working directly with Oracle’s Product Team, RF-SMART developed a real-time application that delivers functionality for Inventory, Manufacturing and PAR Management for Oracle SCM Cloud. To date, they have improved accuracy, productivity and profitability for over 800 cloud customers worldwide.