Here are three features that every company will rely on their inventory control software in the future.

Good inventory control is all about having the right product in the right place and at the right time. And thanks to the ecommerce boom, which is expected to hit $4.5 trillion in sales(opens in new tab) for the B2C sector and $1.2 trillion(opens in new tab) on the B2B front by 2021, the need for reliable inventory management procedures has grown significantly over the past few years.

As companies strategize on how to best procure and position inventory in a way that meets their customers’ changing demands, many of them are using inventory control software to streamline the process while saving time, money and manpower. In return, those companies get more accurate inventory records, better vendor relationships, reduced errors, improved operational efficiencies and enhanced customer service.

Encompassing all aspects of a firm’s inventory management process—including purchasing, shipping, receiving, tracking, warehousing, storage and reordering—inventory control software provides accurate inventory counts, automates supplier management and product reordering, and provides data that can be used for good decision-making.

As inventory control software continues to evolve, vendors are adding new features and capabilities to their solutions. Here are three that benefit a broad range of companies across all industries:

  1. Vendor managed inventory. In today’s fast-paced fulfillment world, more retailers are relying on their distributors and/or manufacturers to manage their restocking needs, fulfill orders as soon as a product hits the “reorder” point and keep products on their shelves. Gaining visibility into this process is cumbersome and time-consuming without an inventory control system to provide high levels of visibility into demand forecasts and other key data points. A supplier that’s left to “guess” at its customers’ vendor managed inventory (VMI) needs, for example, could wind up with too much of its own inventory in stock. This, in turn, increases that supplier’s physical space needs and bumps up its inventory costs—all expenses that will be passed along to the customer.

    An inventory control system which accounts for VMI allows companies to manage and report across hundreds of different locations. Whether they run multi-location inventory or want to leverage advanced features (e.g., reorder points, lead times and seasonal cycles), a system which offers visibility into VMI will provide: accurate reporting, accurate profit and loss, VMI stock location replenishment data, and improved sales.

    By handling the VMI process, inventory control software helps both the supplier and customer improve their current inventory management processes, provides demand forecast visibility and enables more efficient ordering, scheduling and labor usage. These “wins” translate into lower carrying costs, better asset utilization (i.e., trucks and other vehicles) and fewer stock-outs.

  2. Mobile inventory control. Working “without wires” has become mandatory for managers and employees who need to be able to navigate the warehouse or DC floor without having to be tethered to a cable or cord.

    This trend is making its way into the inventory control realm, where barcoding systems, radio frequency identification (RFID) and other wireless technologies are helping workers more efficiently manage inventory in fast-paced fulfillment environments. NetSuite’s mobile inventory control solution also supports companies’ product traceability requirements—a layer of complexity that not all systems can handle.

    As this trend continues to mature, expect to see barcode scanning and other technologies helping to significantly cut down on the amount of time spent cycle counting and conducting year-end inventory counts.

    Using automated data entry solutions, for instance, companies can accurately track and make decisions about their inventory, which will be based on ongoing counts generated by mobile inventory control systems. By combining mobile devices with barcode scanners and inventory control software, for example, companies can eliminate paper while leveraging automated data entry to make the best decisions across all of their locations.

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  1. Artificial intelligence and machine learning. By making machines work and react like humans, artificial intelligence (AI) is working together with machine learning (ML) to help companies automate their operations and free up human labor to focus on more important projects.

    Considered futuristic in the inventory management realm, AI and ML will continue to make their way into inventory control software. Right now, for example, distributors are already using chatbots combined with analytics solutions to confirm order status from their manufacturers. Taking that concept a step further, ecommerce sites will incorporate AI-enabled chatbots that provide real-time customer data on: what’s currently in stock, how much those items cost and the supplier’s shipping policies.

    The employee who once staffed that chatbot can then be reallocated to another position, thus improving overall labor utilization. Artificial intelligence will also help companies make more out of their existing warehouse space, cut production costs and improve their demand forecasting—all of which will help them improve their inventory management, customer service and bottom lines.

All the Right Moves

The need for good inventory controls isn’t going away. In fact, it’s becoming a strategic imperative for more and more companies as the pace of business speeds up and as customers become more demanding. Future-forward features such as AI, VMI, and mobile device integration can greatly improve the efficiency of inventory management.

Using a solution like NetSuite allows companies to consolidate their inventory systems into a single, integrated warehouse inventory control solution. Completely integrated with NetSuite financials and customer relationship management (CRM) capabilities, the solution provides complete visibility into all demand and supply measurements across the entire organization.