How to achieve real-time inventory transparency by taking ERP mobile (and how to do it right)
The best laid plans…we all know how it goes.
An ERP solution represents a large investment and aspirations for these systems run high. In exchange, manufacturers, warehouse managers and others enduring complex ERP implementations expect to gain full transparency into their operations, all the way down to what’s in every bin in every warehouse location.
But do ERP solutions naturally result in such accurate, up-to-date inventory information? Based on almost an entire career advising manufacturers about technology, we can confidently say, “No, they don’t.”
Don’t get us wrong, ERP systems certainly facilitate inventory and warehouse management. But it’s difficult to use a monolithic piece of software to tame inventory processes in action. The sheer bulkiness of most ERP systems is a barrier to up-to-the-minute insight.
If you know us at all, you probably know we’re talking about the dang kiosks.
ERP software typically requires a large screen and powerful workstation, and as a matter of basic physics, those don’t travel well on forklifts or in employees’ pockets. As a result, a lot of materials relocation, pick-and-pack and other activity happens without being simultaneously recorded. The relevant data only enters the ERP system later—sometimes not until a quarterly inventory count is completed.
In the meantime, leaders and planners steer the company based on data that could be days, weeks or months out of date. That wasn’t so bad when the pace of business was slower and supply chains less complex. But in today’s environment, lack of real-time inventory information puts companies at a distinct disadvantage. And do we even need to mention the fast-changing situation that is COVID-19?
However, with ERP apps for manufacturing—to integrate with and take Epicor mobile, for example—companies can finally get that clean window into inventories that they’ve been dreaming of.
Benefits of Inventory Visibility Reach Far and Deep
Manufacturers recognize that it’s vital to have an accurate picture of the company’s stocks of materials, parts, components and finished goods and to feed this information into the larger supply chain management function and the rest of business operations. That way:
The procurement team can tell what runs out fast and negotiate cheaper, bulk purchasing contracts and avoid those expensive rush order “fire drills.” (Or vice versa, they’ll know what gathers dust, so they can buy smaller quantities and spend less warehousing them.)
The production management team can see what’s coming off the line, adjust their forecasts and planning and even hunt down waste to trim costs.
The sales team can determine what finished goods are ready to go so they can make the right fulfillment promises to the customers they deal with each day.
You get the idea. These are among the advantages of real-time inventory management but it all starts with the data—and that means with the warehouse and the shipping/receiving docks.
ERP mobile apps link activities in these locations to the central ERP system. Ideally, mobile ERP uses task-specific, secure, barcode scanner-enabled interfaces for smartphones, tablets, or even wearable devices to enable data entry, updates, and search by employees on the go. For example:
A Purchase Order Receipt app can empower receiving teams to quickly track arriving materials being sent to inventory.
A Finished Goods Receipt app can then let warehouse personnel know when products are ready to store prior to sale, and additional apps to track shipped orders, returns and other changes can keep those product inventories up to date.
In addition to opening the ERP to a flood of information directly from the warehouse floor, these tools make handers’ jobs much easier. No more conducting materials searches from a kiosk and forgetting the bin number on the way back. No more tracking inventory on paper forms when a quick barcode scan is enough to enter more information than the manual processes ever allowed. And those weeklong physical inventory counts—the ones literally nobody enjoys—can often go away, too.
The end result is a more efficient and productive warehouse, plus better data to drive decisions at all levels of the organization. Hard to beat that!
Best to Keep It Simple (Seriously)
The old K.I.S.S. mantra is a good one for mobile ERP. Jamming full ERP capabilities into a single mobile app just isn’t the best way to go. A forklift operator, for instance, may only need location search and product scan capabilities; extra tabs and buttons for reporting, analytics and other features essential to a production manager will only confuse matters.
At Bezlio, we recommend a modular approach. We build discrete apps designed for specific functions and customize them to align precisely with a company’s existing processes and information needs. This not only makes the resulting ERP mobile apps more job-focused and easier to train employees on, the phased, task-by-task implementation lowers risk and tends to reduce total cost as well.
We’ve put together a step-by-step guide to a modular ERP mobile roll-out. Check out that link to find out how you can digitize your first warehouse management process in about two hours.
If you can dream it, you can improve your ERP flexibility and real-time data availability. That’s worth finding a couple of hours in your schedule for, right?