Inventory management can be a complex operational task. Many factors determine inventory accuracy, and the more real-time data you have, the easier it is to identify bottlenecks and drive efficiency. Luckily, technology can now play a leading role in streamlining processes, enabling automated inventory management.
Many organizations have adopted this type of automation. For those considering it, you’re probably wondering what it looks like in real-world scenarios. In this post, you’ll find insights and practical examples of how automation supports inventory management.
What Is Automated Inventory Management?
Automated inventory management uses technology, including robotic process automation (RPA) and intelligent process management (IPA), to provide real-time visibility into inventory.
With this technology, most businesses track and organize stock, supplies, and sales. An automated system allows you to manage inventory in real time and make business-critical decisions quickly. This approach to inventory management also supports a resilient and proactive supply chain approach. In addition, using it can facilitate greater visibility and efficiency.
Next, we’ll look at all the benefits of automated inventory management.
Automated Inventory Management Enables New Possibilities
When strategically automating inventory management, your organization can realize numerous benefits that contribute to revenue, meaningful work for employees, and a competitive advantage. Those include:
- Processing orders and customer delivery more efficiently
- Meeting inventory demand fulfillment
- Accessing real-time data on inventory in your warehouse
- Tracking tasks related to inventory management
- Achieving greater accuracy in stock transferring records
- Combining multiple locations reporting for visibility over the enterprise
- Enabling flexibility to respond to ever-changing market variables
- Removing manual processing and the human errors that result from it (mistakes like these account for 5 percent of inventory inaccuracy)
A lack of automation means organizations must depend solely on employees to track stock levels, related sales, financial data, and supply chain activity. In such cases, employees must physically count items and monitor multiple data points. This type of work can be overwhelming and time-consuming. If they’re busy doing these activities, they have less time to be strategic in their roles. Automation can remove these barriers across many different industries.
What Industries Can Best Leverage Automated Inventory Management?
The following verticals have the most to gain by deploying automated inventory management.
The manufacturing sector was hit hard by supply chain issues in the past few years. As a result, many are returning to manufacturing products in the U.S., reshoring and nearshoring as insulation mechanisms. In 2022, U.S. manufacturing output (increased production for durable and nondurable goods) rose by 4.7 percent over the previous year.
The industry has widely adopted automation in many areas, including physical robots on the line. However, it still faces challenges on the administrative side. Inventory management falls within this bucket, and automation can accelerate and improve processes here.
Inventory management is the backbone of e-commerce operations. With real-time data facilitated by automation, shoppers know if an item is available now, out of stock, or coming soon.
Brick and Mortar Retail
Automation is critical for what’s on the shelves and can proactively alert decision-makers about shortages and overflows so they can act on this quickly.
Medication and medical supplies are inventory items that operations professionals must manage. Having them or not can literally mean the difference between life and death. Automation can streamline processes and provide a more sustainable and consistent method of keeping hospitals stocked.
6 Use Cases for Automated Inventory Management
Now let’s look at specific use cases from these industries.
Automating Order Entry
Manufacturers often have fluctuations in demand. In peak times, it can be a race to manage all orders. A shoe manufacturer client of ours had this issue and previously added more staff during its busy season. By leveraging RPA, the manufacturer automated order entry and saved money on labor while improving accuracy.
Supplier Status for Buyers
Ashling customer Oshkosh Corporation manufactures emergency, industrial, defense, and postal service vehicles. Oshkosh came to us with an inventory bottleneck. Buyers had to send up to 150 emails per day to check on supplier fulfillment. These tasks required many hours, keeping them from being productive in other areas. The solution was to automate this process. As a result, the buyers had more time to develop alternative suppliers.
Hospital Operations Medication and Supply Inventory Management
Hospitals require massive amounts of medication and supplies to treat patients. The operations arm must manage stocking, ordering, and logistics, often manually. The larger the facility, the more challenging these processes become. Automation technology eliminates the manual aspect and supports overall operational efficiency.
Grocery Store Inventory Management for Online Orders
Grocery stores pivoted during the pandemic to offer delivery and buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS) options. However, just because a customer orders something doesn’t mean it’s in stock. Real-time availability provides a better experience for shoppers and less work for those picking the items, who may otherwise have to find alternatives or manually update information.
Adopting RFID to Drive Accuracy
The bulk of warehouse operations budgets go toward labor. Unfortunately, those workers aren’t providing the most value they could if they’re stuck with manual auditing. Introducing automation related to RFID tracking reduces the cost associated with auditing, ensures more accuracy of inventory throughout the stream, and enables workers to focus on higher-level needs to support the business.
E-Commerce Order Fulfillment in Real Time
By automating e-commerce inventory management, companies can be very specific about availability and when an item will arrive. Consumers expect this clarity, as the largest players in the space emphasize these points. When shoppers are confident that they’ll receive an item in time for holiday gifts, special occasions, or other time-sensitive needs, they’ll be more prone to make a purchase.
What Are the Future Benefits of Implementing Automation?
Automation has many advantages across industries. The future of automation for inventory management includes having real-time data and being able to act on it to improve sales and reduce costs. As automated inventory management matures and evolves, organizations can streamline end-to-end processes, gaining efficiency in inventory operations. One of the most important outcomes of these automation-assisted workflows is more meaningful work for employees.
Automated Inventory Management Facilitates More Meaningful Work for Employees
When you deploy automation, as in the use cases described above, it benefits your operations and employees. Here’s how automation can create more meaningful work for employees.
Automation smooths out the bumps in the process. Those “bumps” are manual, repetitive tasks that are essential but don’t necessarily require human interaction. In these scenarios, RPA uses software robots to relieve your staff from doing these tasks.
When you add AI to the mix with IPA, automation delivers insights and analysis, allowing your employees to make better data-based decisions. They can critically think through inventory management challenges and focus on continuous improvement rather than being burdened by mundane tasks.
All this leads to more meaningful work, which matters significantly for today’s workers. They embrace technology and understand how it enhances the work environment. As companies turn to automation, they’ll also be able to attract and maintain new people to the industry because it’s modernized and optimized. For example, manufacturing jobs today are not as physical or monotonous as they were a few decades ago. Now, the industry is speeding toward digital transformation and adopting automation and other advanced technologies. Those are much more attractive jobs.
If your business offers meaningful work, performance and satisfaction rise. Increased meaningful work can result in 50 percent less costly turnover and a 56 percent increase in job performance. It can also reduce absenteeism related to poor mental health that comes with less meaningful work.
You can learn more about automation and how it supports meaningful work by downloading our guide, How Automation Plays a Key Role in Meaningful Work.