The past few years (especially 2020) have taught us that modern professionals can do 99% of their jobs remotely.
While nothing can replace human connection, it’s incredible that many of us can perform all our job responsibilities within a single browser window. From team communications to accounting platforms to CRMs, the world of work has steadily moved to the cloud.
The inventory and warehouse management world is no different. In this post, we’ll explore:
- What is cloud-based inventory management
- The benefits of cloud-based inventory management platforms over local solutions
- What to look for when choosing a cloud-based inventory management software
What is Cloud-based Inventory Management?
You don’t need to look far on our blog to see swaths of posts about the intricacies of inventory management. We like to define it in the following way:
Inventory management is the aggregation, oversight, and optimization of all the processes necessary to maintain an efficient logistics workflow within an organization.
In other words, it’s managing all the steps required in getting a product from point A to point B quickly and cheaply.
This includes, but isn’t limited to:
- Purchase order creation and tracking
- Syncing data from multiple sales channels
- Safety stock and par level management
- Integrated barcoding systems
- SKU data organization
- Transportation tracking
The idea of inventory management software is to automate all the logistics that don’t require a human touchpoint. This automation empowers the humans behind the business to focus on high-level tasks like growth and strategy.
Now to add another modifier to the mix, we have cloud-based inventory management software. Which, as you may have guessed, simply means we’re moving all these operations to a cloud-based platform.
Yes, that means you can technically manage all your warehouse operations on a remote beach with your laptop. But before you book that flight to Fiji, let’s talk in more detail about the differences between traditional and cloud-based inventory management software.
Cloud-based vs. Desktop Software
If you were born in the ‘80s or ‘90s like me, you remember desktop software (sometimes called “local” or “on-premise” software). You purchased a big, oversized box with lots of manuals and a disc inside (first the discs were floppy, then came the modern marvel of the CD-ROM).
You went through a lengthy install process, configured your settings, and ran the application. Over the years, software began offering light functionality over the internet, but that was about it.
If you ever wanted to operate your software on another computer, you had to bring your disc (and a lot of patience) to the next machine.
This was the reality for many years until folks started realizing how inefficient it was for business.
Desktop software, while still necessary for high-level applications (video editing, CAD programs, 3D rendering, etc.), has largely gone the way of the dodo in the business world.
Internet speeds are faster and cost less than we could’ve ever imagined. Modern browsers can support dynamic, full-featured applications without a single local install.
In the world of inventory management, stock levels, lead times, and customer orders are ever-changing. eCommerce businesses need access to their data from everywhere — multiple warehouse locations, mobile devices, and in places without WiFi.
The benefits are manifold, but let’s look at some specifics of why you should use cloud-based inventory management software over desktop software.
Why Use Cloud-based Software?
Cloud-based Software Offers Data Accessibility
We can access almost all business-critical apps and platforms from our phones these days. Why should inventory management be any different?
In addition to the previously-mentioned benefit of having all your inventory and logistics data accessible from anywhere, another benefit of cloud-based inventory management software is that anyone can access that data (with proper permissions, of course).
This is especially relevant as your business grows and multiple employees need varying levels of access to your inventory database. Data accessibility is a prerequisite for efficient barcode scanning, wave picking, and ensuring all your employees are on the same page.
Also, if you ever move to a 3PL (third-party logistics) strategy where you’ve got physical distance between your product, data accessibility is of paramount importance.
Put simply, cloud-based inventory management platforms offer access to all your data from any location or device.
Fewer Costs are Associated With Cloud-based Software
Many SaaS (Software as a Service) cloud-based platforms operate on a recurring cost model. The user is effectively “renting” the software via a monthly or annual fee.
This may seem counter-intuitive. Wouldn’t it just be better to pay a one-time fee for local software? Not so fast.
It’s not just the software you’re renting, but the updates and support of the development team, customer support team, and state-of-the-art data security.
When you’ve got a local install, reconciling your inventory management data and building out warehouse infrastructure is all on your shoulders.
Cloud-based software solutions like SkuVault have teams dedicated to your success, security, and smooth user experience.
Cloud-based Software Provides Room to Grow
The amazing thing about most modern software platforms is not that only that users can run them in the browser, but that they’re near-infinitely scalable.
Your data is hosted and secured on servers maintained by the platform provider. These servers can be scaled up and down at will, so doubling your SKU count doesn’t break your system (like it may with an in-house or desktop system).
Further, if you have another warehouse, you don’t need to worry about the headache of reconciling two on-premise systems with one another to maintain data integrity.
Cloud-based software allows you to focus on scaling the business without worrying about technology hindering your growth.
Cloud-based Software is Convenient
With a cloud-based solution like SkuVault, you can equip your team with mobile devices (which can double as scanners), have all your information aggregated to one place, and access that information from anywhere in the world.
Imagine how many headaches this will save you. The convenience of this can’t be overstated.
You can be vacationing at a hotel, pop on to the hotel computer, log in to your SkuVault account, check up on your entire logistics pipeline, and then log off in time for breakfast.
Your entire business is available from anywhere without any annoying installs or local tech requirements.
Of course, the convenience extends to operations within the warehouse as well.
For example, SkuVault offers digital pick lists that your employees (or yourself) can access from mobile devices. You can distribute these lists to multiple employees (as in a wave picking scenario) and watch as scanned products are reconciled to the database in real-time.
Cloud-based Software Offers Greater Data Integrity
When businesses store large amounts of data locally, it becomes nearly impossible to keep that data consistent across multiple warehouse locations.
For example, let’s say an employee is fulfilling an order at Warehouse B while you’re on your laptop at Warehouse A which is 20 miles away. You can see the total stock levels and order fulfillment reflected within your SkuVault dashboard.
Good data integrity can help prevent stock-outs and ensure accurate stock numbers on all your sales channels.
Why? Because data is stored on state-of-the-art servers, not locally. This also means that in the case of a hard drive failure, your business’ data is perfectly safe.
Cloud-based Software Offers Top-tier Security
Security breaches can bring down businesses. This is especially true in the world of eCommerce and inventory management where businesses store customer payment data and personal info.
For local or on-premise solutions, you are entirely responsible for not only protecting your customer data but maintaining the integrity of your entire infrastructure. This includes protecting from bad actors within the organization.
Cloud-based platforms like SkuVault contract out server-side hosting providers that make it their full-time job to keep data secure and applications running smoothly with no downtime. In other words, we deal with security issues so you don’t have to.
What Should You Look For in Cloud-based Software?
What you need in a cloud-based inventory management platform may vary based on your goals. These core features should be absolute non-negotiables as you evaluate potential candidates.
You need a platform that centralizes data from multiple channels. This includes:
- Customer information and payment data
- Freight information
- Purchase orders
And all other mission-critical data. Your inventory management platform is like the hub of your logistics workflow. For that reason, it needs to be the single source of truth for all your logistics (and logistics-adjacent) information.
Integrated Barcode and Scanning Support
Implementing a barcode scanning system is one of the most powerful things you can do in your inventory management strategy. The best thing is, it’s also quite cheap. But don’t try to rig together a janky barcode scanning system with free tools like Excel.
SkuVault has scanning tools that not only integrate with all your inventory data but allow you to store valuable information within a single barcode.
For example, every new product you create in SkuVault can contain a SKU, serial number, lot number, and physical location. The platform then generates a single, custom barcode containing all this essential information.
All employees need to do is scan at key moments (ingestion, storing, picking, packing, shipping) and the database takes care of the rest.
Scanning is essential for mitigating human error in your warehouse. Cloud-based scanning tools give you confidence that your inventory data is consistent across multiple employees, locations, and devices.
Dashboards and Drill-downs
You can’t fix what you can’t measure. Thankfully, many cloud-based inventory management platforms offer high-level (dashboard) and low-level (drill-down) reporting and analysis.
Need to see a 30,000-foot view of how your entire inventory management operation is performing? No problem. SkuVault offers that in an easy-to-read dashboard.
Want to check in on a particular marketplace’s sales? Easy. You can drill down into particular channels, products, and even use that information to forecast sales in the future.
Reporting functionality is essential for ensuring a positive ROI in your business. There are simply too many moving parts to try to crunch those numbers in your head.
Robust Software Integrations
Businesses often require at least half a dozen separate software programs to stay running. Consider the following example of an inventory management technology stack:
- Accounting software (like QuickBooks)
- CRM platforms (like SalesForce)
- Point-of-Sale software (like Shopify)
- eCommerce platforms (like WooCommerce)
- Channel Management software (like Channeladvisor)
- Analytics software (like Lokad)
Your logistics pervade all aspects of your business — your accounting, your CRM, your email marketing, and more. As we said before, it’s the hub of your organization’s logistics and is constantly giving and receiving data to other parts of your business.
You need a platform that integrates with a wide swath of essential software. SkuVault, for example, integrates with dozens of platforms in the realm of accounting, channel management, CRM, and more. For a full list of integrations, check out this page.
Having a strong picking strategy is essential to good inventory management. We’ve written full guides on wave picking alone (and that’s just one picking philosophy).
Picking refers to the act of grabbing product from a warehouse and processing it into a single order to be shipped to the customer. Some warehouses prefer to pick by the order. Others prefer to pick by the product (especially when doing high volume).
Picking can be a huge source of motion waste if not managed properly. Mis-picks cause problems which almost always lead to poor customer experiences. Things grow in complexity when you start adding multiple employees picking for multiple orders.
The point is that you need an inventory management platform that supports whatever picking strategy is best for your business.
We’ve actually invented our own picking feature (we call it Hyper Picking) and devoted a huge chunk of the SkuVault platform to ensuring optimal picking efficiency.
Whatever platform you choose, make sure they have multiple advertised options for picking.
Lot or Group Number Support
This one gets a bit more advanced, but if you’re using a FIFO (First in, first out) or LIFO (Last in, first out) inventory management or accounting strategy, you need lot or group number support.
We’ve written on why these are so essential in this blog post. Just know that if you’re receiving products by the pallet or products at risk of expiration, your platform of choice must support lot numbers.
Even if you’re not currently selling anything with FIFO or LIFO needs, it’s never a bad idea to have that capability at your disposal (especially as you grow).
3 Best Cloud-Based Inventory Management Software Platforms for 2021
Quite frankly, SkuVault is the only inventory management system you’ll ever need.
Our cloud-based inventory management software allows you to:
- Sync your eCommerce sales channels
- Manage your inventory
- Generate comprehensive reports
- Integrate all your essential software platforms
- And much, much more
All within an easy-to-use platform. We’ve designed SkuVault to help you create better pick, pack, and ship processes so your customers receive the right products on time, every time.
This cloud-based POS (point-of-sale) centralizes inventory management, employee management, sales reporting & accounting across locations and channels.
ShipBob combines order fulfillment services and proprietary technology with built-in eCommerce inventory management software. With ShipBob, merchants are able to manage inventory control across multiple stores and fulfillment centers.
Let us show you how cloud-based inventory management software can transform your business and help you optimize and scale your eCommerce operations. With the right tools, logistics don’t need to be complicated. Reach out to our team for a live demo today.