In warehouse management, where the constant movement of goods is the norm, effective inventory management is pivotal. Fast-moving operations can’t afford to wait when technical systems go offline.
That’s why most inventory management processes need a way to continue moving materials, regardless of connectivity state to enterprise systems. Supply chains turn to offline inventory software to fill the gap. And as companies continue to move away from on-premises ERPs to cloud-based ERP systems, the need for disconnected inventory control is growing.
In this article, we will spotlight the benefits and challenges of running inventory management offline in warehousing and production, as well as common off-network scenarios and available offline solutions for major cloud-based ERP platforms.
Understanding Offline Inventory Management in Warehouses
Offline inventory management in the warehouse or on the shop floor refers to activities conducted while not connected to the system of record, usually the enterprise resource planning system (ERP).
While many legacy technologies once operated offline, today offline inventory management involves software solutions that backstop ERP transactions. This way, if an issue arises with network connectivity, materials continue to flow through the supply chain.
Disconnection states vary, but most commonly refer to interrupted connectivity with Wi-Fi, cellular data, and enterprise business systems, like the ERP system itself. Each off-network scenario comes with its own challenges. A mobile device that loses signal because a worker is scanning barcodes in a freezer requires a different solution than a situation where the ERP is offline for maintenance.
Common offline inventory scenarios include:
- Unreliable internet connectivity
- Limited Wi-Fi coverage
- Lack of device cellular or Wi-Fi signal
- Roaming tasks with periodic connectivity
- Disconnected state from ERP system
Why Warehouses Still Need Offline Systems
Even amidst digital evolution, warehouses still use offline inventory management systems to some degree. This makes sense if you consider that supply chain operations must operate at higher capacity and greater volume than ever before.
Not having offline support in place means work ceases when network connections drop. Unreliable network connectivity and data drops in dead zones necessitate re-work, leading to frustration, lost productivity, and reduced inventory accuracy. ERP environments running in the cloud become unavailable when internet access is lost.
However, not all offline software solutions are created equal.
Types of Offline Inventory Solutions
While mobile solutions don’t necessarily need an offline inventory management app, they can provide backend stopgaps that switch between online and offline states automatically. End users experience no disruptions to their work.
Knowing what types of supplemental offline ERP software are available is helpful to understanding how best to solve for common offline scenarios.
Here at RFgen, we specialize in architecting best-in-class offline mobility solutions for major ERP platforms. Our offering includes:
- Field services mobility solutions for deliveries and work outside the four walls.
- Offline data collection for mobile devices that have unreliable network connectivity—or no connectivity at all.
- Continuous Availability for ERP disconnected states. When connectivity to the ERP can’t be maintained, RFgen Continuous Availability ensures round-the-clock business continuity.
Advantages of Offline Inventory Management in Warehouses
For warehouses situated in areas with inconsistent internet connections or need continuous 24/7 continuity, offline inventory management solutions have many appealing advantages:
- 24/7/365 business continuity for inventory operations
- Freedom from dependence on Internet or Wi-Fi connectivity
- Increased oversight over remote warehouse activities
- Preservation of data collected locally on mobile devices
- Improved cash flow with faster invoicing and reduced waste
- Enhanced productivity and inventory accuracy
- Reduced overhead costs
Having a robust offline solution in place can be immensely helpful for many use cases. For example, when workers need to interact with ERP information for field maintenance, on delivery routes, in freezers or far-flung regions, or when collecting data from multiple locations across a large geographical footprint.
For organizations with cloud software and a low risk tolerance, loss of internet access won’t result in a costly stoppage.
Downsides of Offline Inventory Management in Warehouses
Offline inventory management is not without challenges. Attempting to transact inventory offline without an adequate offline solution in place causes further issues.
The major drawbacks of insufficient offline inventory control include:
- Drop in Accuracy. Transacting inventory while disconnected from the ERP puts data out of sync with the system of record.
- Restricted Accessibility. Working offline typically restricts access to critical data, such as for technicians in the field that need information about maintenance parts.
- Potential for Data Loss. Mobile devices that drop connectivity while in a freezer or outside Wi-Fi range are at risk of losing locally collected data. This means re-work, errors, and lost productivity.
- Added Complexity. Even with offline technology in place, data reconciliation and extra technical systems further complicate your ERP environment.
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The Best of Both Worlds: Hybrid Inventory Management Systems
Taking into account the benefits and challenges of offline inventory management, modern supply chains are turning to hybrid systems that amalgamate online and offline advantages. Hybrid inventory systems allow warehouses, distribution centers, and factories to operate continuously without worrying about network interruptions. Organizations can gain all the advantages without the drawbacks.
What is a Hybrid Inventory Management System?
A hybrid inventory management system melds the benefits of online and offline systems, offering data storage both locally and on the cloud. In the case of ERP mobile offline software, the platform can dynamically switch between real-time data exchange, offline data collection, and occasionally connected states automatically.
Why Consider a Hybrid System?
As we’ve seen, not having an offline solution in place is problematic. A hybrid system affords flexibility, control, and continuity not achievable with purely online, cloud-based, or offline inventory control.
By solving offline challenges, organizations can mitigate risk and profit loss due to downtime. Whether your operations use on-premises or cloud-based ERP environments—or a blend of both—hybrid solutions help round out digital continuity.
Offline Inventory Control Without the Drawbacks
Even as warehousing and manufacturing move toward cloud software, offline inventory management maintains its significance, offering unique advantages. However, understanding both the benefits and challenges of offline inventory control is vital for organizations to make the right decisions about their inventory management practices.
The bottom line is that most enterprise supply chain operations need some type of offline control software solution. The best offline inventory management software will enable seamless operational continuity without the drawbacks of less robust offline solutions. While no solution is universally perfect, being informed about each one’s strengths and weaknesses can guide your business toward optimization, resilience, and profitability.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Offline inventory management in warehousing and manufacturing involves using software solutions that support continuing operations without the need for internet, cellular, Wi-Fi, or ERP connectivity. Data can be stored locally on devices, servers, or third-party enterprise systems until connectivity is restored.
What are the benefits of offline inventory management for warehouses?
The benefits are numerous. The top advantages include: 24/7/365 business continuity for mission-critical supply chain operations, freedom from dependence on network or ERP connectivity, increased oversight and visibility over remote facilities, no lost data from disconnects, improved cash flow, reduced overhead costs, enhanced worker productivity, and increase inventory accuracy.
What challenges do warehouses face with insufficient offline inventory management?
Challenges include a drop in inventory data accuracy, restricted accessibility, the potential for data loss, and added technical complexity.
What is a hybrid inventory management system?
A hybrid inventory management system combines the benefits of online and offline systems. It offers local and cloud-based data storage for increased flexibility and control. The best hybrid inventory management systems will switch between real-time and offline states dynamically so end users can work without interruption.
Why should warehouses consider a hybrid system?
A hybrid system provides the advantages of offline and online systems, including anywhere access to data, maintaining data accuracy and synchronization, and 99.9% system uptime.
What is the best offline inventory software solution for SAP?
While you can get SAP Fiori offline capability to some degree, the solution is custom-made and not truly offline. To run SAP offline for inventory control, leveraging an enterprise mobility platform such as RFgen Mobile Edge™ to fill the gap is the way to go. RFgen offers the best SAP offline solutions on the market, even for SAP disconnected states.
What is the best offline inventory software solution for Oracle SCM Cloud?
To run Oracle offline for inventory control, you can fill in that operational gap with an enterprise mobility platform like RFgen Mobile Edge™. RFgen’s Oracle Fusion Cloud SCM offering includes the best Oracle offline solutions on the market.
What is the best offline inventory software solution for Microsoft Dynamics 365 F&O or SCM?
You can augment Microsoft D365 F&O with offline inventory control using an enterprise mobility platform like RFgen Mobile Edge™, which enables you to transact inventory with Microsoft Dynamics 365 offline.
Is there a type of offline solution for mobile devices that can’t connect to cellular, internet, or Wi-Fi?
Yes. RFgen offers a robust “fat client” solution that enables mobile devices to store data locally until connectivity is restored.
Is there a type of offline solution for workers out in the yard or field?
Yes. RFgen offers an offline mobility solution for various disconnected states. In addition, field services mobility software can add functionality like GPS and Google Maps integration, as well as DSD and signature confirmation.
Is there a type of offline solution for when my ERP is disconnected, unavailable, or down for maintenance?
Yes. RFgen offers the only truly offline Continuous Availability solution that enables 24/7/365 business continuity. Cloud ERP users gain leverage Continuous Availability for scenarios where the online platform is not available due to Internet access issues.