26 September 2019

Your warehouses contain the lifeblood of your business; your inventory. In an ideal world, the stock you hold would move through your warehouse and be replenished seamlessly, with no time to erode tight profit margins.

But managing inventory can be a complex task, especially if you have multiple warehouses or branches to stock. Procurement levels, lead times, seasonal demand, shifting stock costs and market competition all make for difficult inventory and cash flow optimisation.

What every warehouse needs is a way to achieve effective inventory management practices that cut costs and boost profitability – in the form of rugged mobile computers.

The inventory replenishment problem

The perfect inventory consists of enough stock to capitalise on fluctuating demand at any time, without excess that could hang around costing your business money. It’s a very fine line to tread, and there are many variable factors that complicate it further. Unexpected delivery disruptions for your suppliers can lead to knock-on stockouts and unhappy customers, while forecasted surges in demand can fail to materialise and leave you with an expensive surplus you eventually have to discount, increasing the risk of stock obsolescence.     

Knowing when and how much to replenish your inventory is key to achieving business growth. It’s not easy though and it can be expensive; excess stock is said to cost a business an additional 25-50% a year.

Centralised vs decentralised inventory management

The issue is compounded with each warehouse your business has. Whether stock is the same across each site or not, each warehouse functions as a microcosm of your total inventory. Multiple sites mean multiple local inventories, presenting a business with a choice to make between centralised and decentralised inventory management. Should each warehouse manage replenishment based on its own stock movements, or should stock orders be generated by head office without input from each location?

While there are pros and cons of both approaches, decentralised inventory management arguably facilitates more accurate and tailored stock control practices. Warehouse teams at each site can manage stock levels to reflect and react to changes in demand in their own area - geographic and/or remit-wise - whereby a centralised replenishment process can lack the same agility. To achieve successful decentralised inventory management, each of your warehouses must have a way to track their own stock levels meticulously and in real time.  

Rugged mobile devices enable optimum inventory management

This on-the-ground inventory visibility is made possible through rugged mobile solutions; handhelds, tablets and vehicle-mounted computers that enable each of your warehouse teams to register goods in and out of a live digital inventory in seconds via barcode and/or RFID.  Operational anywhere on the warehouse floor, rugged mobile devices can display an item’s movement history at the tap of the touchscreen, as well as providing an up-to-the-minute view of local inventory at any time, helping to reduce surplus stock, free up space and reduce overheads.

But even though decentralised inventory management via rugged mobile devices offers precise stock control in each warehouse, it doesn’t mean the information is siloed. Each device is connected to a central software infrastructure, feeding up-to-date inventory data to and from head office and enabling access to vital operational data to and from other sites. In the capable hands of your teams, rugged mobile computers form a network of real-time stock level information across your warehouses, so you can see both micro and macro inventories at a glance. This visibility allows you to react quickly to unexpected challenges and better predict surges and drops in demand, thanks to historical data.

Inventory is just one area of warehouse and manufacturing management where rugged mobile devices can boost efficiency and cut costs. Find out more by getting in touch with our expert team today.       

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