November Blog ImageA customer recently told me “I shouldn’t have to go to someone to see what’s in my inventory. I should just be able to access a system to see it.”

The implications to this observation are many, including…

  • Does someone need to start counting items to create a baseline inventory?
  • When was the last time that the inventory was updated?
  • Have the assets been moved since the last inventory?
  • Does increasing the number of people to perform my inventory improve the accuracy of my inventory?

My last blog emphasized that the process should be understood before the technology is selected. Now I’m taking the next step to explain how technology can be integral to the process. We start with the process of inventory. Let’s talk about how smart integrated technology can enable you to access a system to see a snapshot of what’s in your inventory.

Steps to Inventory Success
First ensure that uniformity exists when identifying assets in the inventory process. Assets must be marked using a standardized approach to ensure that the identifying technology such as scanners or RFID readers can scan, interpret, and store the machine code on the item. In this case I like to use the receiving dock as a key point of entry into the visibility of assets. When an item is received into stock, an asset tag must be applied or if you’re lucky enough to have asset tracking standards further up the supply chain, you can read the existing asset tag as it comes into your custody. This is exactly what our US military is doing. When a contract is awarded to the supplier community, per contract requirements the supplier identifies the asset using a IUID (2D barcode) with a standard construct to encode the IUID.

So what’s required to make the inventory process a reality? To start, evaluate how and where technology can benefit the process by improving technical accuracy, as well as saving both time and resources. Incorporating barcode scanners, RFID readers, or mobile computers to enable the electronic transfer of asset data into a software application is essential to streamlining the inventory process. The software application can record, manage, and track asset identifiers for inventory, track and trace, and/or compliance. Take the time to define the data that identifies your asset’s characteristics to give you the visibility you will need long-term to manage your assets. If an existing or new asset doesn’t have an ID or a mark, having printer hardware to print ID tags or procuring pre-printed asset ID tags to apply to the asset as it arrives to the dock is crucial for inventory accuracy and visibility. Once assets are identified and captured using automatic identification technology and stored in a software application, an organization can realize the vision of the introductory statement of just “being able to access the (inventory) information from my system.”

Leveraging Your Data
What’s the point in seeing what you have in inventory? It’s not always as obvious as it sounds. You might want to know what stock you have on hand and that you’re still above the stock thresholds for reorder. You might want to see readiness levels for equipment that needs to be packed and shipped to support your customer or a mission. You might have to address a product recall for items that were identified as faulty or counterfeit. Your process should be reviewed and choke points identified. It can’t be assumed that an item received at a dock is moved to a shelf. Assets can go through many locations and alterations before their resting point on a shelf or in storage. In all of these scenarios, capturing and accessing accurate data is essential to optimize the performance of your inventory and your organization.

As assets are transferred throughout a facility, an event should be captured at each point of transfer by scanning the machine readable code (RFID or barcode) on your asset. Each event records a transaction in the software and stores it in a database, relating the asset ID to the event for asset traceability. The event could be the movement of an asset from one location to another, or include a change in ownership or condition. It could also be an updated readiness level after an inspection or a simple acknowledgement that an asset still exists in the expected storage location during a cycle count. Events are unique to your process. Once you’ve captured and stored these events, you have asset traceability. Tracking an asset tells you where the asset is currently stored, tracing an asset tells you where the asset has been.

Technology and Process Coexist
Let’s recap this scenario incorporating technology into the inventory process. Scanning your asset as it comes through the receiving dock is the beginning of asset visibility within your organization. Automatic identification technology provides the capability to track and trace an asset everywhere it travels or is stored. By choosing the right hardware and software and inserting the technology into the process of managing inventory, you’ll never have to go to “someone to see what’s in your inventory again”. Your system will leverage your accurate data and have your information at the ready.