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The other day, a colleague (who will go unnamed, of course) mentioned that the warehouse manager still entered product details manually when items were received, and packers would have to recode this information into the shipping system when it came time to ship.
They were almost proud of their low-tech operation. But it was the kind of pride that could stand only because they ignored all the customer complaints.
Some organizations insist that their inventory management need not go digital. In a way, they’re right: Inventory and warehousing practices existed before computers, and could continue to do so, if necessary.
Then again, employees could ride to work on horses, too. Sure, an employee on horseback would get from A to B...just don’t try it on the highway, and don’t expect to win any races.
Likewise, facilities that have not gone digital are at a severe disadvantage these days, compared to the competition. Information for each product and order either has to be written by hand or entered manually into a computer system—or else, not recorded at all. Even when computers are used, manual data entry means that the same information often has to be entered and re-entered into different systems (for example, inventory, then a shipping station, then accounting software, and so on).
Is this just a matter of needing a little additional elbow grease, then? Not at all. Manual data entry isn’t just slower; it is a step-change that limits the kinds of activities needed to stay competitive. By moving from manual data entry to automatic data updates:
Manual data entry is the worst option for keeping a warehouse or inventory database, right after “no data entry at all.” So what are better alternatives?
A slightly better alternative is to find ways to integrate various systems across the organization. For example, is there a way to integrate your WMS with your shipping stations? With the organization’s accounting software? (Even here, the type of integration matters. Integrating your standard ERP will be tougher than a software solution using APIs, for example.)
Even better would be finding a system that natively incorporates these functions from the start. Instead of piecing together software solutions and hoping they can “play well” together, a good warehouse leadership team will invest in a system that already has inventory, labor management, receiving, and shipping capabilities, and that is compatible with most shopping cart and accounting software “out of the box.”
The profusion of technology in logistics should not make us nostalgic for the days when a single inventory manager could keep all those order details and stock locations in his head. As scary and confusing as technology can be, not relying on it is even more frightening. Until humans can match the speed and precision of machines, manual logistics procedures will always be at risk.
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