Accurate inventory counts in field inventory environments face several challenges:
- Limited to no connectivity
- Inventory is transient and typically in motion
- Field users are experts in their industry, not necessarily in inventory control
- To meet regulatory compliance, some industries require routine audits of field inventory
By definition, field inventory can be everything from tools or project materials on a construction site to medical devices needed in an operating room. The challenges in common are field inventory items tend to be in motion and oftentimes in environments where there is limited to no connectivity.
Generally, those handling field inventories are on site for a specific purpose. For example, field service technicians are on-site to service equipment like HVAC units or industrial equipment. Another common example is oil and gas operators who are called out to maintain field equipment. While these workers are all trained specialists in their respective fields, they must rely on the availability of parts and tools to get the job done. It’s also important to remember these specialists are not necessarily trained for material handling like warehouse or manufacturing workers tend to be.
Additionally, field inventory often exists in low to no connectivity environments, potentially making it more difficult to communicate information across needed parties. Traditionally, this has presented communication challenges from the field user to the back office, calling into question the state, location, and authenticity of certain field items.
Businesses which are heavily reliant on field inventory need to address these challenges to optimize inventory accuracy, maintain regulatory compliance, improve productivity, and generate greater revenues.
Cycle counting is a method of monitoring inventory that has proven successful in warehouse environments, and enterprises are now turning to inventory management technology to realize the advantages of cycle counts in the field.
One such solution is Cloud Inventory®, a digital inventory management solution for manufacturing, warehousing, and field inventory. Cloud Inventory’s low-code Field InventoryTM applications are designed to provide real-time accurate field cycle counting capabilities with the configurability to meet enterprises’ unique inventory needs in the field.
What is Cycle Counting?
Cycle counting is a method of checks and balances by which companies confirm physical inventory counts match their inventory records. This method involves performing a regular count and recording the adjustment of specific products. As a company conducts cycle counts over time, they will eventually have counted all their goods.
This process lowers costs and frees up working capital. A continuously updated account of inventory ensures orders are met on-time and in-full and reduces the need to spend on safety stock. Cycle counts also avoid costly downtimes while increasing accuracy and compliance. A company can focus on counting items in a specific location or focus on counting specific high-value or high-concern products, such as sale items, while continuing to generate revenue from other operations that do not involve that area or product.
Cloud Inventory Brings Cycle Counting to the Field
More and more businesses are focusing on getting inventory outside of the four walls of the warehouse and storing it closer to the end point of use. The question for businesses that rely on this constantly moving field inventory is how to conduct frequent, accurate inventory counts outside of a stable warehouse environment. In addition to connectivity issues and the frequent movement of field inventory, workers in the field, such as service technicians, medical device sales representatives, and delivery drivers, are not primarily focused on inventory counts. This means that field cycle counting technology needs to not only provide real-time accuracy, but also offer an intuitive user experience and quick, simple execution. Cloud Inventory’s Field Inventory solutions were designed with these goals in mind.
Cloud Inventory uses mobile-first technology and automation to conduct field cycle counts. Users capture and record field inventory data using barcode or radio frequency identification (RFID) scanners. The low-code platform enables personnel to personalize easy-to-use applications and gain visibility and control of inventory across the supply chain. Utilizing the cloud, the technology can work offline to track inventory in low to no connectivity environments, also known as Inventory in the WildTM.
Field cycle counts can be conducted by location, item, lot, or serial number using Cloud Inventory applications, so an up-to-date accurate assessment of inventory in the field can be completed according to a specified cycle count schedule. Offline capabilities prevent downtimes and communication delays on field locations, items, and lots that need to be scanned. The result is focused, routine cycle counts that track targeted segments of field inventory while allowing other inventory to continue to flow.
What to Consider When Implementing Field Cycle Counting Solutions
To realize the benefits of field cycle counting, several factors should be considered.
First, companies need to determine an acceptable level of variance between recorded inventory levels and inventory counted with a field cycle count. For example, companies counting high-value items such as specialized medical devices will need to aim for lower levels of variance by conducting more frequent counts. Companies with a high volume of lower-value field inventory may be more comfortable accepting a higher degree of variance and conducting fewer field cycle counts and recounts.
Second, companies may want to consider blind cycle counts, which involve scanning items at a particular location without any information on which items, lots, or serials are expected to be found at that location. Inventory is frequently moved in field environments, and blind counts can be helpful in identifying mixed items at a particular location. In addition, companies in project-intensive industries such as engineering, construction, and industrial service can choose to use a net sum count to cost their projects on an ongoing basis as a variety of items are used.
Finally, personnel responsible for cycle counting in the field will need to be trained on proper counting procedures and resolving discrepancies. Training and conducting cycle counts will require personnel to shift attention away from their primary responsibilities in the field, such as repairs or sales. Management should address this by scheduling counts to maximize productivity while maintaining accuracy. Implementing intuitive mobile applications and scanners, as well as automation capabilities, should optimize user adoption and minimize the need for personnel adjustment and training required to conduct field cycle counts.
Field cycle counting faces challenges and a variety of factors need to be considered to implement the optimal strategy. Companies need to consistently track inventory in motion in low to no connectivity environments with technology that can be easily adopted by field personnel. With a low-code platform that accurately tracks Inventory in the WildTM, Cloud Inventory is helping companies meet these challenges and extend the advantages of cycle counting beyond the four walls of the warehouse.