Written by 6:00 am Feature, Service Operations

Inventory management in field service is hard to get right

Paul Adams of Solarvista looks at one of the most important, yet often mis-managed areas of field service, inventory management…

Leading edge practitioners have long recognised that effective visible inventory management and stock control are very different from simple inventory reduction. As a result of a sophisticated inventory management system, a world class cost-effective service operation can differentiate itself from the competition, lower costs and drive up customer satisfaction.

There is continued pressure for service to produce the right part in the right place at the right time and to do so at the lowest possible cost to the business. Consequently this effective inventory management has become a fundamental issue in achieving the right level of customer service and paramount to competing effectively in a fiercely competitive market.

As the true value of accurate and effective inventory management becomes apparent however, many companies have realised that a totally effective logistics operation is difficult to establish without the proper mechanisms in place.

The right approach.

The traditional tools and skills are struggling in some businesses to meet the service level demands of customers; with the financial imperatives faced by all businesses, more must inevitably be done with less.

One of the most important factors when considering managing your business’s inventory is to know how to achieve equilibrium between having enough inventory and yet not having too much.

Inventory is an expensive part of any business and not just accounting for the purchase cost but all other associated costs such as storage, handling and insurance. Reducing stock also reduces the risk of damage, obsolescence, theft and deterioration, which could potentially become expensive.

By ensuring that the business has a fully competent system that can order appropriate quantities required for specific jobs, it is therefore reducing these costs as well as the risks associated with carrying surplus stock.

Technology, technology…

Operational strategies supported by effective technology solutions, processes and infrastructure will allow the service organisation to deliver cost efficiently, while improving margins and increasing the resilience of the operation to face up to any potential market difficulties. Offering optimum levels of service and providing competitively priced services will position the business to take advantage of upturns in the market. The business should be able to live up to the promises made on its behalf, and deliver cost-effectively increasing customer satisfaction, retention and margins.

Normally the challenge to achieving this type of operating solution is that most service companies are working within an existing infrastructure where they are continually changing “on the run” to keep up with the shifting environment. Using a fully integrated service management solution enables a business to create an infrastructure that is designed to be able to accommodate continual refinement, and able to keep up with the shifting environment, at times even anticipating it to allow positioning ahead of the competition.

The improved use of communications should be seen by the business and customers as a positive move to provide better information about customer needs and requirements to both. The target is to minimise the fixed cost element of the operation keeping it variable where possible minimising overheads and creating high flexibility to deliver customer satisfaction.

Conclusion

Through systems integration the business is able to support the customer requirements by understanding customer requirements and providing support across the whole operation.

The ability to out-do competitors and sell cost effective solutions to customers requires differentiators, and these will come from an integrated systems solution enabling the business to have in-depth knowledge of customer requirements provided by top quality staff throughout an effective operation supported by a fully integrated technology solution.

There are a number of inventory management systems, although it is worth conducting some research and being sure to choose a package that is right for your business; the benefits of such a system will far outweigh the costs.

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