Inventory management and technology – this is a match made on earth (writing ‘heaven’ here would have been a major exaggeration). Online & offline merger of everything – from inventory to customers to business operations to vendors – is the key. And it is happening across, quite religiously. But what more to expect in this inventory world in 2020 & beyond? Let me note a few. You may also want to add in comments section.
The Omnipresent Cloud
Undoubtedly, inventory is the dearest asset of retail or wholesale businesses, be it small, medium or large sized. And real-time inventory visibility & tracking is always a big challenge, and a definite area to be perfected and updated over time. A system that has all data in one place, which is accessible to you in real-time and highly secured, is the right way out to solve major inventory issues. Cloud applications are hence replacing the on-premise applications that are highly prone to errors and eat away a huge resource cost.
Cloud computing refers to storing and accessing data & programs over the Internet instead of computer’s hard drive. The ‘cloud’ is a metaphor for the Internet.
While large-sized enterprises can afford a private cloud, subscription-based cloud models are a to-go-for thing for small & emerging businesses. Taking a leap forward for cost efficiency, operational swiftness and a robust bottom-line? Why not! A definite overhaul of inventory management systems through cloud migration by all size and forms of businesses is most prone to happening.
Big Data & the thing that is ‘The Internet of Things’
‘Big data’ and ‘IoT’ are different and hot terms, which go pretty much hand in hand.
Big Data represents massive amounts of human-generated data, which is a result of variety of sources – social media, transactions, enterprise content, emails, etc. The Internet of Things (IoT), on the other hand, turns things into smart objects or machines.
Imagine your products in warehouse or stores being chipped with tiny sensors and you can track its movement on your phone through internet. Sounds similar to controlling room AC temperature from your phone? Control is the word here! These sensors or devices are connected to the internet or each other to collect and transmit data. This information can become Big Data when it is combined with information from other sources, analytics of which can be used to device useful inferences and insights. IoT is seeping deep into inventory management operations like warehousing, shipping, retail stores, etc, helping businesses not only react when they occur but predict and fix them beforehand. Tiny tags and embedded chips bolted into inventory racks will become a norm soon.
Hybrid Warehousing – Hybrid Shipping
If you are in the e-commerce or retail business, you would know that warehouse management is a crucial part and an obvious cost center. You also must have often come across the term dropshipping. Dropshipping is an order fulfillment method that allows businesses to sell without owning the inventory. Instead of purchasing and storing the inventory in a warehouse, you partner with a third party, usually a wholesaler, distributor, or manufacturer to fulfill orders directly to your customer. While another model is the traditional warehousing and shipping. There are various pro & cons affixed to each model of shipping. But we see a growing trend of sellers adopting a hybrid approach where you can hold part of your inventory and get the rest of it drop-shipped. This approach lets your customer reach grow multi-fold with you being able to offer a plethora of products, reduce your warehouse costs, and generate less or no headache.
What is to be warehoused or drop-shipped is a tricky plan and asks for a good market understanding. But going hybrid can save a significant amount of money that is wasted in under-stocking and over-stocking.
More and more sellers will be adopting this system, so that they store less, sell more.
Omni-channel Inventory Control
Customers now are super customers. They demand instant quality, quantity & availability which strains sellers to deliver great value at bottom costs. They have learned to expect little conveniences like being able to go on your online store to look up whether a particular item is in stock at the store nearby and reserve or purchase it. As a seller, how if you are able to record a sale at one store and fulfill the transaction at a different store that has available inventory, for quicker fulfillment? Obviously, having such an omni-channel business is a serious accomplishment. But a successful one actually requires a major operational upheaval and a streamlined omni-channel inventory control.
It becomes a sort of mandate to reconcile your digital and physical inventory count, and to ensure that your stock data is up-to-date across channels. For customers, apart from availability and access, it is also very important that they find parity in prices & discounts across channels.
A customer will leave upset if he/she checks out your store for a gift to be sent to someone, and tries to book the same at your online counterpart for quicker fulfilment, but changes his/her mind seeing higher price in either of the channel. Hence an omni-channel inventory control platform is becoming a prerequisite.
More and more businesses are now going for RFID devices that enable accurate and quick tracking of products and their specifications in their facility.
Handheld devices that emit corresponding signals will connect with the chip installed in the products to retrieve location, quantitative or qualitative data or any stock movement.
This is very important because overstocking can cause items (particularly perishable products) go bad, and under stocking can result in delayed shipping times and hence lost customers. Not just that, stock security can be assured and any theft can be tracked. The coming year will see extensive use of RFID across business types and sizes. And why just businesses, RFID technology seem to be now partnering with nature as well. RFID based tracking system is employed to prevent trees extinction and deforestation in few places in few parts world. This enables the detection & identification of cases of illegal logging of trees and hence preventing risks of species distinction and deforestation threats. Nature, after all, is a priceless inventory.
Inventory Management On The Go
Long time ago, we had apprehensions when we realized that we could shop online or book tickets in a few minutes. And now it seems a norm. From office work to daily communication (social media or email) to shopping to accessing any form of data – sleek tablets and smartphones are our facilitators. And so an obvious escalation of usage of mobile devices in business operations is universally expected and now accepted. Asset and inventory management software which previously catered to just desktops and equipment specifically designed for business operations, is now available for use as apps on our mobile devices. Employees are able to access, collect and analyse management data on their own personal devices, and simultaneously can take proactive inventory management measures.
The Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) trend has raised the standards and is slowly bound to become a norm in inventory management.
Blockchain, The Smart Key
Blockchain is all over the internet and is quoted to be the most important technology invention, only after internet. It is a kind of revolution in data base and transaction management. Blockchain itself is a decentralized record of digital data or events of transaction that take place between two parties.
Many users may access, inspect, or add to the data, but cannot tamper it, hence allowing high security and transparency of data and making it easier and safer for businesses to work together over the internet.
Now imagine of its potential to transform the inventory management. From conducting payment and audits to tracking inventory and assets, Blockchain technology will facilitate greater supply chain efficiency than ever before. Every time a product changes hands, the transaction can be documented, creating an indestructible history of the product, from manufacture to sale. This could radically reduce time delays, added costs, and human interventions error that plague transactions today. Users can set up ‘smart contracts’, which get fulfilled automatically when the necessary conditions are met.
Warehouse Get Their Robots
Robots might, very slowly & steadily, replace humans in the warehouses. Automation is already well-established in businesses across the world, but for most, it is limited to workflow automation in increasingly advanced warehouse management systems. The situation is changing with more and more MHE manufacturers welcoming robots to their warehouses – for accuracy, to avoid spoilage and save human costs.
Robotic solutions offer the ability to introduce automation into data center operations without the call for any major structural revisions. The speed of businesses embracing robotics shall however be very slow, and very limited.
The real turning point in the warehouse robotics trend will arrive when technology vendors master the art of robotic picking, where robots are able to pick orders from conventional racking. Advancement in robotics warrant pretty deep attention, for this year and coming years.
Change is inevitable, obviously.
And yes, change is the only constant, too. So it is always in the best advantage for everyone to adopt the changes and remain in the race. No doubt about that, right? The best thing businesses can do is to remain open to these new possibilities and keep their organization running as effortlessly as possible.
Write us in the comment section for what you think are upcoming trends in inventory management.