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Optimized supply chain control: a guide to ERP-driven inventory management

Optimized Supply Chain Control: A Guide To Erp-Driven Inventory Management

What is inventory management in the supply chain?

Inventory management is an integral function within the supply chain ecosystem, a complex network of interconnected stakeholders- suppliers, manufacturers, logistics providers, distributors, retailers, and customers, involved in the production, handling, and distribution of goods or services.

Inventory management involves supervising and controlling the ordering, storage, and tracking of raw materials used in production and the management of finished goods.

Effective inventory management helps businesses cut the costs associated with holding excess inventory or understocking, ensure adequate inventory levels to meet customer demands, promptly and accurately fulfill customer orders, and maintain sustainable business practices.

How does inventory management work?

Inventory management can be divided into three phases to ensure efficiency and accuracy in handling stock.

The first stage involves the procurement of goods or raw materials from suppliers, followed by the systematic management of storage of these goods in a warehouse.
The second phase focuses on maintaining the inventory. It includes regular stock checks and balances to ensure that items are readily accessible, easily traceable, and can be efficiently moved around to optimize storage space.
The final stage involves ensuring the availability of finished products for sale upon receiving orders.

To streamline their inventory management operations, businesses use various mechanisms such as barcodes, PLCs, RFID, carousels, serial numbers, SKU numbers, and more for tracking and data collection.

Why is effective inventory management crucial?

Inventory management is a multi-faceted process critical to business health and operational efficiency.

Effective inventory management supports a lean, strategic approach to business operations, directly contributing to improved financial performance and customer satisfaction.

Robust inventory management ensures that companies can meet customer demand without the costly overhead of excess inventory or risk obsolescence and waste of resources.

Robust inventory management facilitates faster, more reliable order fulfillment, enhancing customer satisfaction and loyalty, and delivers businesses with the operational agility to quickly respond to market changes and supply chain disruptions.

Key challenges in inventory management

Demand forecasting accuracy
Cost control
Demand variability
Supply chain disruptions
Distributors and suppliers management

Demand forecasting accuracy

Inaccurate demand forecasting leads to stock management issues: understocking or overstocking, each with its concerns.
Understocking can result in unfulfilled orders, missed sales opportunities, and delayed shipments, damaging customer satisfaction and potentially leading to complaints. Overstocking, especially of perishable goods, can lead to inventory write-offs and may force Retail businesses to resort to heavy discounts or promotional offers to clear excess inventory, resulting in lost revenue and wasted resources.

Cost control

In today’s economy, the prices of raw materials and finished products are not always in sync, making cost control challenging for many companies. With supply chains spread across the globe, controlling costs becomes even more difficult, especially when working with limited budgets. With companies struggling to manage unforeseen external variables, this can lead to calculated risks becoming riskier propositions that strain budgets.

Demand variability

Consumer demand tends to fluctuate during specific peak and low demand times ( holidays or marketing campaigns). However, broader economic factors like downturns, inflation, or changes in consumer preferences can disrupt these patterns and cause mismatches in inventory, increased operational costs, and significant financial losses. Implementing adaptive demand planning strategies is crucial to handle such disruptions effectively

Supply chain disruptions

Supply chain disruptions can occur for reasons like natural disasters, geopolitical events, and supplier conflicts. These disruptions can impact the chain of events that leads to securing inventory. Disruptions in shipping routes may cause delays in importing or exporting products, which can affect sellers and distributors. Proactive management and real-time monitoring are essential to mitigate these risks and maintain operational continuity.

Distributors and suppliers management

Managing multiple suppliers complicates inventory management due to varied lead times, quality standards, and reliability. These differences can lead to inconsistent supply levels, creating challenges in maintaining a balanced inventory, disrupting production schedules, and fulfilling customer orders on time.

Industries that require effective inventory management

Manufacturing
Retail & ecommerce
Logistics & warehousing

Manufacturing

Manufacturing units heavily depend on effective management of supply chain processes and inventory to maintain Just-In-Time (JIT) production schedules, minimize carrying costs, and avoid capital immobilization due to overstocking.
By optimizing inventory levels, manufacturers can effectively manage production costs, plan material requirements, and streamline production workflows. This reduces production bottlenecks, streamlines supply chain logistics, and sustains production continuity.

Retail & ecommerce

The retail and e-commerce industry relies on strategic inventory management to align stock levels with varying consumer demand and purchasing patterns to ensure timely order fulfillment.
Inventory management systems assist retailers and e-commerce businesses in maintaining optimal shelf stocking and ensuring the handling of seasonal peaks to enhance customer retention and sales conversions with dynamic inventory updates and rapid order processing. Synchronizing inventory processes in physical and digital channels is called omnichannel inventory alignment.

Logistics & warehousing

In logistics and warehousing organizations, like distribution or storage centers, inventory optimization is critical for maximizing warehouse space utilization. To reduce fulfillment errors and improve delivery lead times, these companies use inventory management systems supported by Warehouse Management Systems (WMS) to deploy inventory management practices that enable precise stock-keeping unit (SKU) tracking, efficient order picking, and accurate inventory forecasting.

Logistics &Amp; Warehousing

Main elements of inventory management

Demand forecasting
Product classification and segmentation
Inventory control
Inventory management systems

Demand forecasting

Demand forecasting helps manufacturers, retailers, and distributors reduce wastage and stockouts by delivering insights that help determine precise replenishment volumes for raw materials and finished goods based on analysis of historical sales data, real-time market trends, seasonal fluctuations, and predictive models.

Product classification and segmentation

Product classification and segmentation mean prioritizing items based on sales velocity, perishability, storage requirements, and demand variability. Segmentation entails grouping similar items to improve inventory handling and accuracy.

Inventory control

Inventory control methods help businesses monitor and regulate their stock:

  • Minimum order quantity (MOQ): The smallest amount of a product a vendor is willing to sell in a single order. MOQ helps businesses to plan inventory replenishment accurately.
  • Economic order quantity (EOQ): EOQ is a formula that helps businesses assess the optimal order quantity by factoring in demand rate, holding cost, and other related metrics.
  • Just-in-time (JIT) inventory management: This practice minimizes holding costs by synchronizing stock replenishment with actual sales demand, focusing on the timeliness of stock replenishment to reduce holding costs by restocking only when there is sufficient demand.
  • Safety stock management: Maintaining extra stock to safeguard against sudden demand spikes, particularly during peak seasons, ensuring consistent supply chain performance.
  • Abc analysis: This helps classify your inventory into three groups: A, B, and C. These groups are hierarchical, and products are grouped under these classifications based on revenue value, sales metrics, etc. This helps prioritize inventory management resources for items that are of high value.
  • Ved analysis: VED stands for Vital, Essential, and Durable. As such, products and items are classified under these three groups to prioritize management efforts according to stock items’ criticality and turnover rate.

Inventory management systems

Inventory management systems are typically EITHER integrated within ERP software or delivered as standalone systems.
Unified ERP systems that encompass inventory management offer superior benefits compared to standalone inventory management solutions due to their multi-module design, which enhances the functionality of the inventory management component.

The role of ERP in supply chain management

Enterprise Resource Planning is a comprehensive platform for managing all aspects of a business’s operations, facilitating seamless coordination between various supply chain activities, from procurement and inventory management to logistics and customer service.

An ERP system centralizes data from different functions, offering 360 visibility into every stage in the supply chain and enabling real-time insights and data-driven decision-making.

Modern ERP systems offer a scalable infrastructure that supports businesses in adapting to fluctuations in global supply chains, and empower businesses to proactively prepare for shifts in market dynamics and leverage opportunities.

How do ERP systems enhance inventory management in the supply chain?

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Improved demand forecasting

ERP systems extract data from modules like sales, Manufacturing, CRM, and business intelligence to correlate insights with inventory status. This enables businesses to anticipate demand and prepare for necessary inventory level adjustments.

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Streamlined procurement processes

An ERP system simplifies registering new suppliers, managing existing ones, and ensuring that raw materials are purchased on time. By automating payments and invoice processing, there are fewer chances of conflicts with suppliers, which has a direct impact on how quickly products can be delivered to their intended destinations.

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Enhanced inventory visibility and control

An advanced ERP provides real-time visibility into inventory levels. It helps control product movements across the supply chain, from tracking stock in transit to ensuring timely delivery at its destinations.

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Optimized warehouse management

Warehouse management involves storing products and raw materials until they are needed in various locations, such as retail stores, shipping counters, or manufacturing units. An enterprise resource planning (ERP) system optimizes warehouse space utilization to ensure stock is placed and moved efficiently based on schedules, storage conditions, expiry dates, frequency of use, sizes, and other relevant factors.

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Reduced stockouts and overstocking

Enhanced inventory visibility and access to demand forecasts enable effective planning for managing existing stocks - automatically replenish stock when demand increases and safely store it in warehouses when demand declines.

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Improved efficiency and cost savings

The centralized framework of ERP systems drives informed decision-making based on comprehensive analytics, resulting in significant cost efficiencies and sustained operational productivity across the supply chain.

How to identify the right ERP software to improve supply chain management

Identifying the right ERP software for your business doesn’t have to be complicated. Start by analyzing your company’s strengths and weaknesses. Then, identify any supply chain and inventory management issues. Create a list of questions to ask potential vendors about how they can help solve those problems. Choose a vendor who can offer customized solutions that address your pain points. It’s also important to ensure you can access training and support after purchasing. Lastly, ensure your ERP vendor has a strategy to future-proof the infrastructure by updating and improving it as technology evolves.

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