- What is mobile device inventory management?
- The difference between web-based and native inventory apps
- Common problems with outdated inventory management systems
- Pros & benefits of mobile inventory management
- Real-world examples of businesses using mobile inventory
- The big takeaway on mobile inventory management
Inventory management is foundational to the success of your supply chain strategy. Fast and efficient control and oversight are required to maintain profitability. Yet many companies struggle. With so much information out there about inventory management best practices, it can be hard to determine what steps to take to make improvements.
Mobile inventory systems are a proven “must-have” solution for enhancing materials management. According to the 2022 Digital Inventory Report, 58% of supply chain companies already use mobile devices for inventory management. Expanding rapidly, the market for such solutions is poised to continue growing by $1.78 bn through 2026.
In this guide, we will explore mobile inventory management, how it works, what the benefits are, and its extensive capabilities.
What is mobile device inventory management?
Mobile inventory management refers to using mobile devices and software to process inventory. Workers equipped with barcode scanners, smartphones, or tablets record stock movements, updating the system of record from point-of-work.
Unlike handwritten or typed information, data is captured quickly and accurately with little effort.
The flexibility to process inventory from anywhere is powerful. Equally powerful is the ability to manage materials across multiple locations—anywhere in the world—without work interruptions or lost data.
More advanced technologies like mobile barcoding further simplify and accelerate daily operations, allowing for automated inventory management workflows, from consumption of raw materials to cycle counting to picking items for order fulfillment.
Another key advantage is the ability to interface with enterprise business systems without complicating your technical landscape. Intelligent data sharing with ERP platforms, Industry 4.0 devices, RFID, and industrial computers ensures true, holistic transparency.
Compared to manual handling, mobile inventory management delivers higher performance at much lower cost, enabling your operations to hit critical warehouse KPIs.
The difference between web-based and native inventory apps
When it comes to mobile inventory software, you generally have two options: web-based apps and native apps. So what’s the difference?
Web-based apps: greater compatibility, lower functionality
Web-based mobile apps offer versatility and compatibility across mobile and desktop devices. Mobile devices only need a web browser to access and interact with the system of record. Mobile inventory management software can be easily deployed to multiple operating systems and devices without having to tailor apps to each—a design once, deploy everywhere methodology.
However, web-based inventory systems can’t take full advantage of a device’s hardware capabilities.
Native apps: greater functionality, lower compatibility
Native mobile applications are built for the operating system and device, so they can leverage the full capabilities of onboard hardware. The additional advantages of native apps are many:
- Optimal performance and battery life
- Device feature utilization (camera, GPS, etc.)
- Electronic signature collection
- Offline capability
To name a few.
While native apps run at faster speeds, they often must be designed separately for each OS and screen size. That is, unless the platform can automate the design process.
Low-code mobile app platform: best of both worlds
A mobile framework like the RFgen Mobile Unity Platform can negate the drawbacks of traditional native app designs while capitalizing on all the advantages. Mobile supply chain applications created with the platform’s built-in Mobile Development Studio can be designed once with low-code, then automatically scaled to multiple screen types, devices, and operating systems.
The end result is cross-platform flexibility with minimal effort.
Common problems with outdated inventory management systems
If your warehouse operations use manual inventory control or old inventory software, then you likely struggle with a wall of challenges. Using outdated processes hamper smooth operations, eating up precious time, resources, and manpower—even in ways you may not realize. Inefficiency leads to cost overruns and disgruntled customers.
According to the RFgen Digital Inventory Report, obsolete material handling methods are responsible for the top 5 challenges facing inventory management today.
Examples of manual inventory management methods include:
- Paper tickets, checklists, or printouts
- Data entry into spreadsheets or systems of record (e.g., ERP software)
- Tribal knowledge / human memory.
Some of the top inefficiencies from manual handling include:
- Very low accuracy: Manual inventory rarely exceeds 60% accuracy.
- Wasted productivity: Workers may spend 2/3 of their time walking around looking for stock.
- Cost bloat: Mispicks alone cost $400,000 annually, according to Honeywell.
Outmatched in accuracy, speed, cost, and complexity, manual operations simply can’t compete in a digital world.
If you are wondering about the effectiveness of an old solution, obsolete or insufficient inventory software can be just as bad as manual handling. A modern solution is crucial.
Some of the most common problems businesses face with outdated inventory management systems:
- Lack of inventory visibility. Do you know how much stock you have on hand and where it’s located?
- Inaccurate stock accounts and compliance issues. Can you trust that your stock levels are true? Are you compliant with traceability requirements?
- Costly errors and mistakes. How do you stop bad data from entering your ERP and driving up overhead?
- Time-consuming. How can you handle more SKUs when you struggle to find enough hands?
- Outdated hardware. Does failing hardware cause operational headaches?
- Enforcing management models. Can you ensure that rules are being followed for control models like EOQ, IPQ, and ABC Analysis?
- Poor insight into sales data. Do you know which SKUs turn the fastest? Can you effectively forecast appropriate stock levels?
- Disjointed systems and processes. Does a patchwork of ad-hoc technologies cause extra work and constant maintenance?
- Manufacturing limitations/capacity issues. How long does it take to pivot when priorities suddenly change? Do you have enough raw materials for your projects?
- Injuries and safety hazards. Does your bottom line suffer due to worker fatigue and injury claims?
With so many problems stemming from inadequate inventory control, it’s a wonder that these ineffective practices persist. More often than not, it’s because they are overlooked as areas for improvement. Mobile inventory could be the answer.
Pros & benefits of mobile inventory management
The benefits of mobile inventory management systems are many—with few drawbacks. Adopting mobility generates transformative improvements in accuracy, speed, quality, and cost not achievable by traditional methods. All types of inventory can be tracked seamlessly.
When it comes to weighing pros and cons, instant material movements and effortless data management are hard to say ‘no’ to.
Better supply chain visibility of stock
Not knowing your stock levels may seem like an inconvenience, but the impact to your operation is significant, both upstream and downstream. Mobile barcoding records every transaction instantly and accurately, so you always know stock amounts and you can trust those numbers match reality.
Visibility prevents delays and expenses from stock-outs, back orders, double/re-ordering, and work stoppages. Optimal replenishment thresholds can be automated. Ordering and planning become streamlined and more predictable, further reducing costs down the line.
At the core of effective inventory management is accurate, efficient data collection—essential for good data hygiene. Barcode software captures instant, 100% accurate inventory transactions for receiving, put-away, inventory counts, warehouse transfers, re-ordering, picking, packing, shipping, and delivery.
Paperless handling and built-in data validations ensure stock levels are true, up-to-date, and free from errors. Mobility enables you to run a lean warehouse with optimal inventory flows.
Mobile inventory management acts as a force multiplier for your employees, increasing productivity by 30%. More work can be completed at higher quality in less time with fewer staff. In short, productivity-boosting tech is a must-have for facilities with chronic workforce shortages.
Minimizes manual labor
With ERP-extending tech like mobile barcoding, employees can interact, record, and transact right from the device in their hands. Workers spend less time handling paperwork, counting stock, and walking around looking for items that may not exist.
Eliminating paper also drastically cuts down on administration work and overhead.
Cuts on time
Time-saving goes hand-in-hand with productivity. Mobile barcode scanning reduces the time it takes to transact inventory to just seconds. An employee can run an instant mobile inquiry to find an item’s location instead of searching physical shelves for the next 30 minutes.
The best inventory apps also allow for time-saving picking strategies, like batch picking, wave picking, zone picking, and more, without creating traffic jams. Backend automation can further simplify the intricate flow of goods.
These time savings increase efficiency and throughput, leading to fewer bottlenecks and better facility flow. That’s money in the bank.
Decreases hardware costs
Using industrial-grade or ruggedized mobile devices can greatly reduce your total cost of ownership (TCO) per device. Some operations elect to use consumer-grade devices, but barcode scanning is slow and hardware lifespans short. Industrial devices frequently remain in service for 5 years or more.
Allows for multiple stocking models
Enforcing rules for various stocking models is complex. But intelligent software can automatically track movements and assign tasks based on these rules. Whether you need to follow accounting rules like LIFO or FIFO, or blend inventory control models like Economic Order Quantity (EOQ), Inventory Production Quantity, or ABC Analysis, mobile software can render complicated workflows simple.
Accurate, real-time information capture helps resolve discrepancies and wash away dirty data. Reliable inventory metrics enable collaborative forecasting to improve working capital, clearly separating fast-moving stock from underperforming inventory.
Reliable data about sales, inventory turns, and demand translates to better planning. Better planning means optimized labor and asset utilization, carrying costs, and reduced losses. The outcome speaks for itself.
Cloud-based & On-premises
More companies than ever are moving to cloud software. SaaS (Software as a Service) simplifies the development and maintenance of the system, relieving internal IT staff of significant burdens and ensuring software is always up-to-date.
Managed services can further lighten workloads by taking over the full lifecycle and maintenance of your solution.
Not every operation can move to the cloud for security reasons, and that’s okay. 49% of supply chain companies don’t plan to migrate. Look for mobile solutions that fit your ideal deployment model, in the cloud or on premises, or a hybrid of both.
Buying a solution off-the-shelf may seem like a cost-effective option. But what happens when it comes time to modify the solution to accommodate a new business need?
Leveraging a low-code development platform is one way to retain ownership over your mobile solution. Maintaining, modifying, or creating mobile apps becomes fast and simple, even for internal staff that aren’t expert coders. This way your solution never becomes obsolete.
Keeps your business operations relevant
Here the benefits are two-fold. In addition to providing operational agility, mobile inventory apps also help with talent acquisition.
These days, nearly everyone is familiar with mobile devices and how to use smartphones and tablets. Integrating mobile hardware and apps into your warehouse no longer requires a big learning curve. In addition, younger Millennial and Gen Z workers are more likely to take jobs with businesses using mobile solutions because they are already familiar with intuitive touch technologies.
Advanced inventory tracking
Going beyond basic inventory control apps and barcode RF scanning, truly robust mobile solutions provide next-level capabilities for materials management. Some of these include:
- Batch tracking by license plate, lot or serial number, and expiration dates
- Automatic raw material consumption and traceability into finished goods
- Bulk moves between bins or warehouses
- Intelligent put-away, replenishment, and picking
- Offline data collection and field mobility
- Integration with ERP, QMS, WMS, and ASN
Safety and ergonomics
You may not realize that mobile solutions are ideal for improving ergonomics and safety. Handheld mobile devices equipped with long-range scanners cut down on repetitive movements and unnecessary stretching, reaching, climbing, bending, twisting, or other unsafe positions. Better ergonomics also reduces overall fatigue and improves morale.
All of these benefits reduce worker compensation claims, which goes a long way to lowering overhead costs.
Common tasks best handled by mobile inventory control
When it comes to continuity, mobile inventory management is king. Integration with your ERP seamlessly connects material flows inside and outside the four walls to form an unbroken digital chain of custody. Multiple facilities around the world can collect data simultaneously without getting trapped in information silos.
To make this happen, mobile inventory must take over the following activities:
Receipts are the bread and butter of inventory management. With mobility, employees scan barcodes to enter items into the system instantaneously.
Without mobile scanners, workers must write down product information to be later manually keyed into an office computer by someone else. Nimble operations like cross-docking and raw material consumption are next to impossible.
Mobile inventory tech ensures live data and nimbleness for all material movements. Say goodbye to data entry for PO receipts!
Processing inventory transactions
Another core component of material handling is the processing of inventory transactions. For onsite staff, this means smooth put aways of received stock, transfers of items between bins, issuing to orders, and order fulfillment for outbound logistics.
Equipped with mobile apps, workers can transact materials in seconds without error or time delay.
For field services, where challenges with visibility, accuracy, and effort are greatest, this is especially helpful. Instead of waiting until the end of the day to turn in a spreadsheet or piece of paper, your employees can interact with the ERP as each transaction occurs.
Auditing stock levels reaffirms accuracy. A mobile app for inquiries and cycle counting keeps out human error and miscounts, reducing losses. Items can be found with a touch of a button.
When verifying stock levels offsite, such as with vendor-managed inventory (VMI) or consignment inventory, real-time mobile access goes a long way to simplify complexities. Delivery confirmation and GPS tracking add extra layers of transparency.
Reviewing inventory reports
Once information has been collected, the record is always there. Generating inventory reports becomes much quicker and the results more exact, making room for optimized revenue-to-cost ratios. Combining mobile data collection with a visualized report or dashboard provides invaluable insights for decision-making.
Managing work orders
Mobile work order management equips technicians and warehouse staff with on-demand access for completing work orders. Work order software greatly accelerates plant maintenance and MRO with:
- WO tracking and assignment
- Mobile digital inspections
- Issue materials to a work order
- Spare parts and consumables consumption
- Automatic task reallocation
- Access digital work order documentation
- Attestation questions and checklists
Filling out inventory and asset forms
Well-designed mobile apps simplify ERP forms. For example, a 12-page data entry form can be condensed down to a handful of prompts that include only the information required to complete the task—a huge time-saver.
Checking asset status and specifications
Digital control goes far to reduce losses from misplaced and under-utilized fixed assets. Millisecond barcode scans enable oversight anywhere in the enterprise without vanishing into thin air.
With mobile asset tracking software, users can also check equipment in or out, record condition, status, and even who used it last. Keeping preventive maintenance up to date becomes much more efficient and far less costly.
Real-world examples of businesses using mobile inventory
Mobile inventory in food & beverage
SunOpta, a pioneering manufacturer of sustainable plant-based foods and ingredients, implemented shop floor mobile solutions throughout their operations. Mobility equipped SunOpta with greater flexibility and speed while upholding the highest level of food quality and safety.
- Thanks to mobile barcoding, SunOpta can:
- Unify data collection for multi-ERP, multi-site operations
- Trace food ingredients throughout production and order fulfillment
- Increase plant utilization and operational agility
- Maintain and configure the solution in-house
Mobile inventory in aerospace & defense
Mobile defense industry solutions helped aerospace-defense contractor CarlisleIT rocket to success. Automating data collection facilitated digital transformation in material handling for the company. A cascade of benefits followed, including:
- 99%+ accuracy
- 40% faster material movements
- Automated cycle counting
- Increased productivity with fewer employees
Our raw material accuracies with RFgen are above 99%, up from the low 90s. Mistakes have completely disappeared.
– Jim Necci, Warehouse Manager,
Carlisle Interconnect Technologies
Mobile inventory in distribution
When it comes to distribution, companies like Life Extension found that scalable mobile inventory solutions greatly accelerated efficiency and throughput. Replacing paper with real-time digital records and mobile devices enabled:
- Pinpoint accuracy
- Item- and lot-level traceability
- Optimized order pick & pack
- Mobile barcode generation and label printing
These use cases are far from comprehensive. Mobilizing inventory management can benefit any industry or business that handles a lot of materials, from bins full of nails in a remote warehouse to computer workstations spread across a corporate campus.
The big takeaway on mobile inventory management
If there’s any big takeaway from this guide, it’s that mobile inventory management transforms businesses. Rapid speeds, supply chain oversight, and dexterous operations are a must for today’s cutthroat markets. Achieving those goals requires collecting accurate, crystal clear data.
For ERP users, mobile barcoding solutions extend inventory control to wherever your people work. Whether your business runs on Microsoft D365, SAP ECC or S/4HANA, Oracle, Deltek Costpoint, or multiple systems, mobility could be the technological answer to cost and bottleneck woes.
In our four decades as one of the industry-leading pioneers in mobile software, RFgen experts understand the challenges facing supply chains today. Reach out today to learn how mobility
solutions can make your daily operations easier, faster, and more effective.