This is the second blog post in a short series to help guide you through the process of purchasing an inventory management system or asset management system. You can find the first post that goes into the differences between assets and stock inventory, understanding your needs for a system, creating an initial checklist for your buying journey, and a sprinkle of terminology that should help you to better understand some of the nuances in the industry. Without further ado, let’s jump in and figure out how to find the right vendor for you.
How do you search for the right partner and how do you know if they have the right solution?
Where to look?
Certainly a Google search on keywords such as “inventory system,” “asset tracking software,” and “barcode scanners” will bring up several different vendors. You can also look at barcode community sites, social media discussions, trade associations, events and resellers.
On the surface, many products and solutions look the same. Probe a little deeper, though, and you will discover key differences that should be considered prior to making any purchase decisions.
Start with a live demo
The best way to see what any system can do is to have a live demo, and make sure it’s a one–on–one demo. If there are a lot of different companies on the call, it is hard to find out exactly how your specific needs will be addressed. Avoid a video–taped demo. If it is the only type of demo available, it’s best to assume that whatever the video shows is exactly what is offered by the vendor. If your inventory management needs aren’t addressed in the video, call the vendor or schedule a live demo so they can address your needs and answer any questions you have directly.
What are the important questions you should be asking in regard to the technology? For example: How often does the company upgrade their inventory system? Is it cutting edge and feature rich? What does the system interface look like?
The User Interface
In the age of mobile technology, smart phones and tablets, our expectations about what the system’s user interface should look like have changed. We expect it to be friendly, intuitive and easy-to-use, and look similar to the solutions we are accustomed to using in our daily lives.
When participating in a live demo, you will see several different types of system user interface options: ribbon-based, tree-based interface, Quick Start Guide, lifecycle-based interface, or the Windows-like tile interface.
Ribbon and Tree-Based Software Interface
Ribbon-based and tree-based are the standard interfaces with the menu bar on the top or the drop down menu on the left hand side of the screen (see example images).
Lifecycle-Base Software Interface
Lifecycle-based, which is considered best of breed, is unique because it allows you to predict what the next click will be — from when the product is received until it is issued out or disposed of.
Windows-Like Tiles & Quick Start User Interface
The Quick Start guide on the main interface provides a quick step-by-step tool used to track and manage inventory with minimal training. There is also the tile interface, similar to the Windows operating system user interface, with a menu of tiles and each tile represents a function or a specific feature.
Ask the vendor if you have the ability to personalize the system’s interface. Select the user interface that you are most comfortable with, change appearance colors, and determine whether you want interface settings to be available or not to ensure your team is trained and using the same settings.
The Database: Local vs. Hosted
It is important to know whether you want to host your own data locally or have the vendor host it for you. If a vendor hosts your database, you will have the ability to manage your inventory with mobile handheld scanners, as well as smartphone devices and tablets.
How flexible is the software?
Make sure the system captures what you want to track. For example, you may need a budget code added to the “receive” form, or you may need your inventory or assets to be associated with a particular department.
Is it scalable?
Can the system grow with your needs? For example, a modular–based design can be beneficial because you only purchase what you need, when you need it. This makes it possible for the system to expand as your organization grows and evolves.
When you license a module, or choose a specific option to use within a solution, you will also get updates and upgrades. If you have certain future needs that aren’t directly addressed in the demo, make sure there is a module or option for that, otherwise you may find yourself spending more money at a later date to have the module built for you.
GOOD TO KNOW . . .
A modular–based design can be beneficial because you only purchase what you need, when you need it. This makes it possible for the software to expand as your organization grows.
Ask these questions before you buy:
- How does the system collect data?
- Are you capturing all the data you need?
- Are the barcode scanners or smartphone devices verifying the assets or inventory each time you scan?
- Once the data is collected, can it be transmitted to the application via Wi-Fi, 3G/4G/Lite cellular connection or USB cable?
- Can you assign how to track: by box, case, drum, or vial? Or, maybe you need to receive by the case, but within that case you want to show there are 24 pieces?
- Do you need to modify the barcode labels and configure the labels per item or per case? Is there a feature for that?
It’s important to know which features are already included in the system and which ones are not. Ask the vendor if adding these features in the future will be billable or if you can do it on your own at no cost?
1st post in this series: How to Choose an Inventory Management System
2nd post in this series: Find the Right Inventory Management System Vendor
3rd post: Barcodes Vs. RFID