If you handle inventory, then you know that inventory must keep moving for the business to stay profitable. Under normal circumstances, materials are transacted against the digital system of record over a network connection of some kind. But sometimes that connection gets interrupted, and data can no longer be communicated to the system.
Warehouses must have a strategy for processing inventory during this time—aka, offline inventory control.
The Meaning of Offline Inventory Control
In today’s warehouse setting “offline inventory control” doesn’t refer to old-fashioned software that operates locally versus in the cloud. Instead, offline inventory management is more commonly associated with strategies for keeping inventory moving while networks or software systems are having connectivity issues.
Understanding Offline Inventory Control
Most warehouses have experienced work interruptions due to connectivity challenges. Maybe your mobile devices lose signal when they go out of Wi-Fi range in the yard or a distant corner of the warehouse. Maybe your workers operate in the field or in dead zones, like walk-in freezers or remote areas. Or maybe your cloud-based ERP system loses internet connection or is offline for maintenance.
In each of these cases, your staff loses access to the system of record. To keep inventory flowing, they must work offline and asynchronously.
Sometimes network drops happen unexpectedly and data gets lost. Data collected must be collected again.
Other times, disconnection from data systems may be expected. Factories operating in parts of the world lacking first-world infrastructure may become disconnected from the company’s tier one ERP system daily. For other use cases, such as oil platforms working offshore, operations must expect and plan for a brief window each day where connectivity is available.
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Traditional Offline Inventory Control Strategies
Forced to work offline, warehouse teams usually fall back on manual offline inventory control methods. Traditional offline strategies may include:
- Paper printouts and checklists.
- Physical inventory counts, cycle counting, and extra stocktakes.
- Recategorizing by type, demand, or seasonality.
- Keeping excess safety stock (just in case).
- Utilization of extra staging areas.
Disadvantages of Traditional Offline Inventory Control
The drawbacks of traditional offline inventory management are many. Asynchronous efforts make extra work for everyone. Manual counts mean accuracy plummets. Reconciling different records wastes time, draining productivity. All the while, these issues make operations more inefficient, sluggish, and costly.
In short, to avoid the disadvantages of working offline, warehouses need to leverage technology to support offline materials management.
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Modern Offline Inventory Control Strategies
Successful warehouses use software solutions to support disconnected scenarios. These solutions range from basic on-device storage of data to highly advanced continuous availability solutions.
If you’re using mobile inventory software, adding off-network mobility solutions can enable offline data collection without discrepancies or loss of information.
Regardless of the specific technology used, the solution should solve for the specific connectivity challenge. For example:
- Accelerated cycle counts that don’t wait on a response back from the ERP after each scan.
- Fat-mode mobile software clients for on-device data collection in areas lacking wireless or cellular signal.
- Sensitive locations where cellular connections are prohibited, such as hospitals and areas storing explosive materials.
- Offshore operations for oil and gas or underground activities, as in the mining industry.
- Mobile field services software for field technicians, maintenance activities, direct store deliveries (DSD), and signature confirmation.
- Disconnected states with the ERP, such as lack of internet connection to cloud services, or while unavailable during maintenance.
One of the great benefits of using a mobile inventory solution is that it makes offline activities seamless for warehouse and field staff. Operating offline appears identical to working online in real time.
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Advantages of Offline Inventory Control Software
Just as the drawbacks of manual offline inventory control are many, the pros of offline inventory software are numerous. In fact, software that enables seamless online/offline inventory management solves most offline challenges while creating additional benefits, such as:
- Business continuity for supply chain operations.
- Continuous productivity and data collection.
- Fewer errors, reconciliations, and data drops.
- Reduced overhead costs and customer complaints.
- Less time wasted re-doing already completed work.
Perhaps the best part about implementing offline inventory software is the fact that these solutions quickly pay for themselves. Certain enterprise mobility platforms like RFgen Mobile Edge™ can easily be configured to run in multiple offline setups, switching between them automatically as needed.
For a relatively small initial upfront cost, the ROI and operational efficiency gains are significant.
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Technology is the Best Strategy for Offline Inventory
In an age of hyper-digitalization and cloud-based software, it may seem archaic to consider strategies for managing inventory offline. But internet and network connectivity is a double-edged sword. Requiring technology systems be always connected in the warehouse leaves room for disruptions when connections are interrupted. That’s why inventory control technologies for offline transactions are necessary to ensure work continuity. And when it comes to implementing inventory control best practices, having software pick up the slack seems like a no-brainer, especially considering the low cost and enormous benefits.