Inventory management is an ongoing process (as opposed to a project which has a beginning and an end) of monitoring the constant flow of stock keeping units (SKUs) into and out of supply. The goal is to prevent the inventory from becoming too high (cost), or so low that the operations of the company are in jeopardy (service levels.) (Barcodes, 2011)
Elemental management of inventory requires balancing the three key aspects of stock control: lead time, buffer stock and record keeping.
An inventory manager needs to know how long it takes for a vendor to process an order and make a delivery of goods. he/she also needs to understand how long it will take for those materials to transfer out of inventory in the normal course of business flow. With these two time frames determined, the manager can calculate when to place an order and how many units to order to keep production running smoothly. (Barcodes, 2011)
Buffer stock is the maintenance of a few additional units above the minimum number required for normal production flow. This cushion serves to minimize the probability of interrupted production due to a lack of essential parts at various stages of production. Maintaining buffer stock for raw materials, work in progress, and finished goods inventory helps keep the production lines flowing. (Barcodes, 2011)
A well-run manufacturing enterprise will keep accurate records of inventory at all stages of production for control and tax reporting purposes. From an operational standpoint, the most important of these is the accurate maintenance of the finished goods inventory which facilitates informing sales personnel of available merchandise ready to ship to customers. On a basic level, this requires posting the production of newly completed goods to the inventory totals as well as subtracting the most recent shipments of finished goods to buyers. From these basic concepts, the inventory management craft has developed into a highly complex process. (Barcodes, 2011)
Two recent trends in advanced inventory management are "demand planning" and "inventory optimization." Both of these techniques require sophisticated software and careful implementation to achieve the desired results. Practitioners are attempting to get as close as possible to the mythical "just in time" for the work-in-process inventory in a manufacturing environment.
David Essex of Search Manufacturing observes that, while modern inventory management theory attempts to improve inventory forecasts by focusing on the demand side, some managers who have already deployed inventory management and planning software will take the next step and add a multi-echelon inventory optimization tool to achieve the best inventory levels and locations. "This type of software can provide a quick return on investment by helping to reduce inventories and manufacturing costs." (Essex, 2009)
Other analysts take an opposite view believing that inventory optimization can only advance the ball so far and propose that further gains in inventory management will require a comprehensive demand planning strategy. In that regard, the latest thinking is shifting away from planning based on historical sales and shipment data and toward real-time analysis and visibility which is called "demand sensing." (Essex, 2009)
The latest trend is to capture on-going demand at the point-of-sale. Companies that have tried to sense changing levels of demand using order or shipment data have realized superior results by examining POS data on a frequent basis, most often weekly. Other software vendors have concentrated on introducing demand planning modules for analyzing special situations, such as product promotions and new product launches. (Essex, 2009)
Essex's research leads him to consider that the next step is to bring everything under the purview of a sales and operations planning (S&OP) framework. S&OP extends the reach of demand planning and analysis to include inventory as well as the supply chain personnel that handle it. But basic S&OP ought to be the first step, experts say, because the technology won't work well unless underlying business processes are brought under control. "A lot of the benefit that an S&OP process provides is having some kind of discipline in your work process. That discipline needs to exist before you put in a software product that's designed to optimize it." (Essex, 2009)
S&OP is nothing new; it was in vogue in the late 1970s. "All these things that are old are becoming new again." Another "old friend" that is making the rounds is vendor managed inventory…