What is inventory management software?
Inventory management software is a digital system that stores data on parts and supplies, enabling real-time insights on quantities and fulfillment needs. For the maintenance industry, these systems leverage barcode technology to track parts in a facility to increase repair speed and equipment uptime.
The first versions of inventory management software were developed in the 1980s on the heels of the retail industry migrating to standard barcode readers and the adoption of the Universal Product Code (UPC).
Inventory management expanded in the 1990’s when Toyota subsidiary, Denso Wave, invented a two-dimensional graphical code system called Quick Response (QR) codes. Migrating from one-dimensional codes (UPC) to two-dimensional (QR) codes allowed for more complex information to be stored. This included a full audit trail across the entire supply chain (from manufacturing to sale to repair). Starting in the 2000s, with smartphones creating mass adoption of QR codes, inventory management software expanded well beyond retail to become standard operating procedure across several industries.
Note: Even with the growth of QR codes, UPC barcodes are still in circulation, primarily in the physical retail space. Many companies use both UPC and QR codes and software like UpKeep supports each type.
How different industries use inventory management software
Manufacturers rely on inventory management software to assemble the necessary parts for complex product builds while property management companies use the software to ensure supplies are on hand for maintenance repairs, whether it’s light bulbs, door hinges, or plumbing supplies. For facility and office managers, inventory management is used to stock sufficient supplies for IT support, office productivity, and employee safety.
Inventory tracking and management is a core feature of computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS). Maintenance teams need the right parts on hand to increase repair time and minimize equipment downtime. Inventory management in a CMMS can be setup to recommend particular parts for a given repair as well as automate notifications when parts need to be re-ordered.
The relationship between inventory management, CMMS, and ERP software
For large corporations, inventory management is a standard part of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) where parts and supplies are one of the largest investments, alongside its workforce and locations. ERP is critical for maximizing revenue by reducing the expense of unnecessary parts and ensure enough stock is on hand to meet employee productivity and sales demand.
Traditionally, companies used a CMMS for managing maintenance tasks and a separate ERP system for inventory management. Now that CMMS inventory management has become more sophisticated, many companies are integrating the two systems and finding the combined insights particularly useful for capital planning, forecasting, and reducing deferred maintenance.
Popular inventory management features
Code generation and scanning
It's important to have a system that can read barcodes and generate new barcodes on its own. This ensures all parts are accounted for and captured in a system to associate the parts to locations, assets, and work orders. Capturing these associations allows parts managers to perform an audit that shows how, where, and when the part was used.
In terms of scanning, many CMMS products have mobile scanning features that let maintenance workers scan barcodes with their smartphone.
Being able to generate POs directly in your CMMS empowers everyone in the organization to take an active role in inventory management. It also tracks which vendors to use for ordering specific parts. PO fulfillment can be setup to automatically update part quantities in the CMMS.
Every company uses supplies in different ways and standardizing inventory data requires data customization. Think through all the associated values that would be helpful to include such as location, category, cost per unit, vendor, and minimum quantity. Then add these values to your CMMS and include them in .csv files when importing new parts.
You can manually add inventory item by item or perform a bulk upload of new inventory with a .csv file. This is an important feature for organizations that have hundreds of parts and are adopting a new CMMS.
Achieving world class maintenance requires organizations to do more than focus on immediate repairs and preventive maintenance. They must organize all areas of the operation that make performing this work possible. One of these areas is inventory, and with inventory management software, organizations are more likely to have the parts they need, when they need them.