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
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?
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.
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.
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.
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
In addition to ease of use and collaborative design, inventory management software provides a
number of other benefits, including:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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’
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:
For more information, visit our website:
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.