Inventory Management Buyers’ Guide: Signs That It’s Time to Switch from Spreadsheets to an Automated System

Understanding how inventory management software can benefit your business, comparing it to the manual spreadsheet-based system you are using now, and listing the pros and cons of each system can help you assess whether inventory management software is the right choice for your business.

Raco Industries
Raco Industries
Inventory Management Buyers’ Guide: Signs That It’s Time to Switch from Spreadsheets to an Automated System You may be at a crossroads where you need to decide if you should continue to manage inventory data manually or switch to an automated process that allows you to access information from mobile devices. Your system of collecting data, entering it into a spreadsheet, and manually generating reports may have worked well up until now, but spreadsheets will only take you so far. What happens when you need to go further? As your business grows, using spreadsheets for inventory management may become more time consuming, and you could face pressure to find quicker, more efficient processes to reduce labor hours. Your business may even be losing customers to competitors that have real-time inventory management systems that let them access data, update inventory, and deliver without delay. There is an alternative to managing inventory records manually without moving directly to a full business management platform: inventory management software. Understanding how inventory management software can benefit your business, comparing it to the manual spreadsheet-based system you are using now, and listing the pros and cons of each system can help you assess whether inventory management software is the right choice for your business. Inventory Management Buyers’ Guide: Signs That It’s Time to Switch from Spreadsheets to an Automated System 2 Spreadsheets are great tools for a variety of business tasks. Businesses throughout the vast majority of industries use spreadsheets to accomplish mission-critical work such as scheduling, basic accounting, tracking sales, or managing a customer database. Furthermore, using spreadsheets is not exclusive to small businesses. Large enterprises, even those with sophisticated business management software, may still occasionally turn to spreadsheets for one-off tasks. There are two characteristics of spreadsheets that make them particularly attractive to many users: Familiarity. Management and employees are familiar with spreadsheets and how to use them, and the company-created spreadsheet format often becomes a part of standard operating procedure. Low cost. When you purchase a basic software suite for office computers, spreadsheets are usually included. How Are Spreadsheets Helpful? Spreadsheet Limitations Although spreadsheets are a common, useful tool, they have limitations. There are some characteristics of spreadsheets that prevent them from providing the ideal solution for inventory control. For example: They are static. As soon as you enter data and print a report from a spreadsheet, there is a good chance that is probably already out of date. In the time it takes to manually generate a report, a field worker can easily sell extra materials, a sales representative may push a rush order through, or copies of new purchase orders can land on your desk. Because spreadsheets require all updates to be entered manually, they never truly allow you to have real-time view of your inventory. 3 Spreadsheets are not collaborative. Only one person can enter data into a spreadsheet at one time. If multiple people on your team are responsible for entering data, it is possible that individuals will have to wait their turn to access the spreadsheet. This puts businesses with geographically dispersed teams at a particular disadvantage. Without data entered in a timely fashion, staff in other locations will remain uninformed of changes, and it is possible that when team members print reports, they may each have a different version depending on when the spreadsheet was last updated. They are time consuming and error-prone. Manual data entry requires labor hours and is susceptible to human error. Errors on an inventory spreadsheet can lead to delays in order fulfillment or bad business decisions — both of which can cost a company money, or perhaps even customers. Spreadsheets do not hold users accountable. When multiple members of your staff make changes to a spreadsheet, it is usually not apparent which person made a particular change. It can be difficult to track down the source of an error and to find the right data. Poor scaling. As organizations grow, data is more distributed. Spreadsheets do not adapt well to the needs of a growing company, and staff may struggle with inventory visibility as the business adds field service workers or establishes new locations. 4 Inventory management software, like spreadsheet programs, is a tool that can help you track and manage inventory. Unlike spreadsheets, however, it provides you with real-time inventory information. Inventory management software that is web-based (as opposed to software that is installed on each device) gives users access to the solution from virtually any computer or mobile device — including personal devices. All that is needed is an Internet connection, along with a user ID and password. Easy to Use, Easy to Tailor to Your Business The idea of migrating to new technology and having to train your employees — and yourself — on how to use new programs can be intimidating. But there is inventory management software that is designed to be easy to use — from the moment you open the program, you will notice that it looks a lot like the spreadsheets you use now. It can be tailored to your needs with user-defined fields and column headers in your internal business language that you and your staff are accustomed to. Because of the software’s similarity to spreadsheets, there is minimal investment required for training. Collaborative, Up-to-Date Recordkeeping Another benefit that you will immediately recognize is that inventory management software is collaborative. Unlike a static report from a spreadsheet, multiple users can simultaneously access and update inventory in real time. For example, a field worker can log in and enter information on how much landscaping material was transported for use on a job site. Then, other workers who log in will be able to view this updated information and determine the amount of that material remaining, giving them the data they need to make decisions in the field. In addition, managers in the office have the update immediately — they don’t have to wait until the field worker returns to let them know how much of the material was used. The Pros of Inventory Management Software 5 Additional Benefits In addition to ease of use and collaborative design, inventory management software provides a number of other benefits, including: Accountability. Because inventory management software requires users to log in, you can track who made changes to inventory data as well as check the time the changes were made. Validated input. Inventory management software can require that certain fields have an entry before the user can logout, unlike spreadsheets, which require the user to remember to enter vital information. This ensures that important information is never accidentally omitted. Barcode support. Some inventory management software includes barcode support. For example, if employees in your warehouse use Zebra barcode scanners to enter data into a spreadsheet as materials are received, doing so in an inventory management program will allow the data to automatically populate within the proper columns as the items are scanned. Reporting. Inventory management software enables you to create reports for different departments of your company, tailored to present the information in a format that makes the most sense to them. You can also provide reports to customers to meet their specifications. The reporting process can also be preset to your specifications and timeframes, effectively automating report generation and saving you time. 6 Alerts. Inventory management software can provide alerts when stock falls outside a preset maximum or minimum for that item. This helps you to avoid over ordering as well as running out of materials or stock. Worry-free deployment and maintenance. Using web-based inventory management software, delivered by the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model, requires little maintenance. The user is not required to install new infrastructure to run the software or arrange for IT support because the software is delivered via the Internet. In addition, the software is automatically updated without the need to manually perform updates or purchase a new version. With any new technology, there will always be a downside. There is a cost for the software, and web- based inventory management software requires a monthly fee. Although it is a relatively small cost, it will mean adding a line to your budget, which is not necessary if you use spreadsheets. Another con may be the need to get buy-in from your staff to switch to new technology. Buy-in is always a factor in how smoothly the transition to a new solution will proceed, and it is necessary to ensure your employees will use and benefit from the new solution. Overcoming the Cons The downside to inventory management software is minimal, and it is relatively easy to overcome. You will most likely find that the cost for inventory management software will be more than offset by labor savings, lower inventory carrying costs, and a more efficient operation. Employee buy-in is usually easy to achieve through a demonstration of inventory management software, highlighting how the solution will provide employees with mission-critical information they need to make their jobs easier, provide better customer service, and to help them make smarter, more informed decisions. The Cons of Inventory Management Software 7 Once you weigh the pros and cons of manual spreadsheet-based processes and inventory management software, you can make an informed decision for the best method of inventory management for your business. Conclusion About RACO Industries RACO Industries is an industry-leading integrator of business solutions across barcoding, card, and GPS applications. From device configuration to network provisioning, equipment staging, kit delivery, solution implementation, and ongoing support, we make sure the solution addresses your business’ unique needs. About Zebra Technologies Zebra makes businesses as smart and connected as the world we live in. Zebra tracking and visibility solutions transform the physical to digital, creating the data streams enterprises need to simplify operations, know more about their businesses, and empower their mobile workforces. For more information, visit our website: www.zebra.com For more information, visit our website: www.racoindustries.com To help you finalize your decision between continuing to use spreadsheets or to automate inventory management, the experts at RACO Industries are ready to provide you with the information you need.
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