I Am Inventory – Manage Me

February 28, 2011

Have you ever wondered what it feels like to be a piece of inventory? To travel along a conveyor belt and periodically have your bar-code scanned? Well, that was my experience last week. I repeatedly whizzed down a chute (or several), then edged forward behind other inventory items waiting to be scanned.

Explanation: I spent 4 days at a ski resort (Whiteface, near Lake Placid, NY). And please don’t misunderstand me, we had a terrific time, great skiing on the 1st 3 days in particular, and the lines were not bad at all. But it does feel kind of like living on a production line. The lift passes here (and at many resorts these days) are bar-coded – and the lift attendants scan your ticket with a handheld to ensure your pass is valid. This approach also facilitates issuing a single pass for a flexible, multi-day purchase (such as ski any 4 days during a 6 or 7 day period) – the first scan each day uses up one of the four days.

One downside of this is that it can cause bottlenecks when a lift gets busy, specially when it’s really cold and the scanners (machine and human) are affected by the temperatures, resulting in multiple attempts to scan a single skier. It seems to me that here’s one instance where RFID technology, perhaps combined with turnstiles may in fact be a more cost-effective technology, reducing the number of people involved in the process.

Has anyone out there seen RFID used to track human “inventory”?

Business Software spending outlook

February 15, 2011

There’s an interesting take by WMSG on the outlook for technology spending in 2011 in this article.

In summary, he sees an uptick in spending in almost all areas of the typical warehouse-based company, with the exception of RFID. I was particularly interested in the intersection of two of the author’s sections, namely “Small and Medium Businesses are Driving WMS Purchases” and “ERP Vendors Gaining Ground in the Warehouse”. There’s a connection here: many smaller business do need the top-end sophistication provided by a dedicated WMS, but do need the productivity gains inherent in a properly implemented integrated ERP system with solid inventory management tools.

I find the take of RFID interesting. I recall reading many predictions back in 2005 that Wal-Mart would drive RFID to the point where every wholesaler and distributor would have no choice but to adopt the technology by 2010. Well, it’s now 2011 and not one of the 12 inventory management software customers I polled for this post has even reached the “intention” stage for RFID.

Business Software: Don’t Ignore Tech Support

February 9, 2011

When choosing business software, the availability and quality of the helpdesk / support department are frequently overlooked. Yet we’ve all heard the complaints and retold the jokes about technical support. You call for help with your software, and after waiting on hold for 45 minutes, you get asked a bunch of questions by a technician who’s clearly never been face to face with the software you’re calling about. After 10 minutes on the phone with this tech, you’re placed on hold again, and the next person you speak with starts from scratch. “At least this person seems to be vaguely familiar with my software version,” you think – but turns out “vaguely” was the operative word.

I’m not sure why business to business software companies – those who develop complex business software systems – think that using junior staff to provide front line technical support for all types of issues is a good idea. In fairness, there does seem to be a slow trend away from this approach. But if you’re using a robust manufacturing package or a powerful wholesale distribution software system, chances are that when you have a problem, it’s (a) complicated and (b) urgent.

Blue Link Technical Support - Quick ResponseSo how about this for a revolutionary concept: you call technical support, and the person you speak with is completely familiar with your software, understands the issue first time, and is able and willing to connect via the Internet immediately and look directly at your screen as you demonstrate the issue. And – believe it or not – they even provide a practical solution to your problem!

Yes, this type of person costs more – much more – in terms of salary than the junior person. And yes, that does mean that the rate per hour you’ll be charged will reflect that higher cost. But which option do you think most people would select:

  1. Pay a lower hourly rate to get support from someone who will take much longer to NOT provide a solution, or
  2. Pay a higher hourly rate to get support from someone who will provide a solution in a shorter period of time?

Surprisingly, in North America, a slight majority appears to prefer option 1 – at least until they’ve tried to obtain support for the first time. Hopefully you’re not going to fall into that trap.

So how much does Inventory Management Software cost?

February 1, 2011

As mentioned in my previous post, I was recently interviewed by Alexandra Tambellini of Capterra. Her now published post – Know Thy Warehouse – very nicely sums up some key considerations that many people neglect before starting the look into new or improved wholesale distribution software.

As a corollary, I should point out that you also need to be realistic and pragmatic in what is in fact achievable within your budget. Which brings us to a crunch question: how do you determine your budget? I find that many companies seem to start off with an arbitrary budget, based on what they feel they should spend – without using any real world frame of reference. Such companies sometimes end up spending, say, $20,000 on a system that doesn;t really work for them, because that was their budget based on a preconceived notion; whereas a $40,000 system would have provided a terrific solution and a springboard to growth and profitability.Download ERP Software Pricing Guide

There must be a better way to establish a budget for a new system.  I’ll be examining this over the next few weeks on this blog, but first you tell me your opinion:

How do you determine what your budget should be?

Read more about the cost of inventory management.

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