Small business inventory control software?
December 15, 2005 2:59 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for recommendations for inventory management software (Windows) for a small engineering company.

We'd like:
- ability to access inventory database from multiple computers on a network
- Venders, customers, invoicing, purchase orders all integrated
- Parts are flagged to reorder when stock levels get low
- Create assemblies from other sub-assemblies
- Ability to serialize certain parts, including some parts inside assemblies
- Ability to receive assemblies for repair and track the replacement parts that have been added to that assembly.

I found a pretty promising package here but I'm not sure it can do those last 3 things.

We'd probably be able to talk the big man into shelling out around $500 to $1000 for this.
posted by jacobsee to Work & Money (13 answers total)
 
I haven't worked with any small business packages, although I have written a few for small businesses because they ran into the same problems.

You might consider looking for something that falls under the heading of "MRP" rather than just inventory software, because that's where you'll find those last three features.

(As an aside, not to shill, but I've been thinking about writing a generalized windows inventory package after writing a few specialized ones (I have a degree in supply chain management), and I love beta customers. Feel free to contact me via email in profile.)
posted by SpecialK at 4:09 PM on December 15, 2005


Any MRP packages that you'd recommend?

And does that stand for "Material Requirements Planning" or "Manufacturing Resource Planning" or both?
posted by jacobsee at 4:24 PM on December 15, 2005


I use it in the context of the latter, but you'll find both used.

And no, I unfortunately can't reccomend anything aimed at small business. It's a hard market to write software for because everyone's requirements are different.
posted by SpecialK at 4:33 PM on December 15, 2005


I've looked into something similar, sans assemblies; IMO, you'll have a hard time finding something this robust for so little money. As SpecialK suggested, everyone's widgets need something different, or the process is just varied enough that "one size won't fit all."

Second of all, what accounting software are you using? What kind of network environment? In lieu of part tracking, how big are these parts? Is everything created there / any markings on the parts? How many parts per day, per week? If you use "manual" data entry vs barcodes, you are going to wage the potential loss in productivity.

If the parts do in fact have a barcode (you can buy the zebra printers if you want to do this yourself) you'll have to budget for a gun / make sure it'll interface with whatever you go with.

Also, how much will the data conversion cost? (multiple programs: ar/ap, inventory, assembly, client database, lead db, etc.)

Ideally, you'd use a flavor of SQL (mysql is free of course), in lieu of integrating all this. I'd suggest you do some fierce, SPECIFIC requirement gathering (you've done some of this already) Have a good understanding of how you want this to work / how it will 'really' work. Everything is great on paper, however something like this reaches far greater than simple inventory (in regards to integration.) Lastly on this point, it sounds as though someone there (you?) will be implementing this. I wouldn't expect a turnkey solution at this price, but watch someone prove me wrong with a link ;)

Possibly, you could find a smarty pants code monkey with some hardware knowledge, that could create a db that bridges the gap between your existing "systems / software."

If you want to start from scratch, I'd be more realistic in terms of the money you can / will spend. I know it's trite, but a quickly worked out ROI might assuage "the big guy's" complaints of the overall cost.

As a final suggestion, you might consider filling in a form RFP on a couple websites (geared towards small biz ideally) and have people call you, once you're solid on your requirements.

If money is the biggest issue, it is probably worth your while to save for something your company can afford, and suits all of your requirements. Try to plan for 10 years down the road. If this is done well the first time, with growth and time, it's possible to avoid incurring the expense you're realizing right now.
posted by AllesKlar at 5:50 PM on December 15, 2005


expense = wasted time sorting through info that is willy nilly across software / on paper, as well allowing you to carry less inventory, if applicable. Bzzzzz.. can you hear it? That's right synergy ... a certain je ne sais quoi, that is evident in 2+2=5
posted by AllesKlar at 5:56 PM on December 15, 2005


this is a small company -- 7 people. right now our invoicing involves manually editing wordPerfect documents, so we're essentially starting from scratch with an integrated system. our accountant is out of state and handles payments, but we do purchase orders and invoicing.

we have a basic Windows network and we'd have 2 to 4 users involved with managing the inventory.

right now we're just getting to the point where it's becoming hard to know when we'll run out of a long-lead-time part that will affect an order that we need to get a better system implemented but it doesn't need to be too fancy.

and yes if any custom-implementation needed to be done that would be up to me but i really don't want to add another thing to my list!

so i'd still be happy for any more recommendations for shrink-wrap software that might suit our needs....
posted by jacobsee at 6:34 PM on December 15, 2005


Perspective is helpful. This might be worth investigating: Compiere ERP/CRM mashup

I understand you have a windows requirement. None-the-less, there are pretty gui's that come with new linux distros; I conject you could figure this out. Use the money for machines, or small hd's to throw in for dual boot.

Conversely, you could try your luck with a trial version of quickbooks, this is farely robust, and relatively inexpensive. (again, won't dot all your I's)
posted by AllesKlar at 6:46 PM on December 15, 2005


What AllesKlar is saying is exactly right.

I do business consulting as well as software development, so I help customers throughout the entire process.

ROI can be calculated from two big things in this case. They're "soft" numbers, so be prepared to back them up with actual research.
The first thing is the lower inventory carry. Here's the numbers you need:
1) Carrying Cost - The cost of holding something in your inventory over a set amount of time, and represented by a percentage. Found by calculating your cost of capital (your finance people should know this), add in the cost of the space that it's sitting in on the shelf, and how much it costs if your people have to move it. There's been books written on carrying cost. To use in an ROI conversation: Cost of item * carrying cost% = cost to carry that item over that time.
2) Order Cost - How much administratively (time, cost from vendor such as shipping or admin costs) and in your shipping department (recieving staff time) it costs to make an order.
3) Rush Order Cost - Also calculate a rush order cost, which is how much the shipping and extra admin time it costs to get an order if you stock out of something.

If you have a purchasing department or a professionally trained purchasing agent, there's a good chance that they'll have already calculated these numbers.

The problem with both of these numbers is that they're "soft"... they're subject to the opinion of the person who's calculating them, and there's a lot of factors that need to go into them. I'd also like to stress that these calculations are very much in the school of cost-based accounting, which I don't particularly like because it can be manipulated very easily and can sometimes lead to stupid, shortsighted decisions.

What you might want to do instead is figure out where you have bottlenecks. If you don't have any -- well, holy hell, good for you. Don't bother putting software in.
If you do, and you can identify them, take a look at what could improve them. This may involve 'shadowing' the person during the day and writing down what they do and how long it takes them to do it. (Add about another 50% to the times, people always work better when watched.) If your problems are record-keeping and on the admin side, software will likely help. If your problems are involved with mostly stockouts, explore a system of kanban cards before you think about software. If your problems are warehouse people spending time finding the parts, then you might look at grouping parts more logically. If your problems are warehouse people having to travel all over for kits, you want to map out their paths for different parts and then move everything around so that you lessen their trip time. Software is only one small part of the puzzle, and is NOT a magic bullet.

The biggest problem in this case is that many 'generic' software packages end up not being streamlined enough, and will actually *add* time into the procedures that you're trying to shorten. If you really want a system that ties in closely, it's going to have to be customized and molded onto whatever you're running right now by a consultant anyway -- that's especially true if you want to integrate your accounting system with it so that you can always have an accurate picture of your parts inventory carrying cost and your purchase orders from both systems.
posted by SpecialK at 7:18 PM on December 15, 2005


On post...

Yeah, look at Compiere. It's much easier to start from scratch than it is to integrate something else. And linux w/ openoffice 2.0 rawks the frickin' socks for office use.

For the parts that are long lead-time... really think about Kanban before anything else. Kanban, in it's simplest form, is a system to prevent stockouts. Study how much you use over time, how cyclical the inventory is, and where your reorder point is ... and then put a card in the box when you reach that point. When the point is reached, the person who reaches it plucks the card out and puts it in a folder for reordering. While the parts are on order, you use the parts below your reorder point... and if you get a spike, your safety stock. The new parts should arrive before you hit bottom if you've done your math right.
posted by SpecialK at 7:22 PM on December 15, 2005


When the point is reached, the person who reaches it plucks the card out and puts it in a folder for reordering.

brilliant, this might just be the ticket...
posted by jacobsee at 8:58 PM on December 15, 2005


I understand you have a windows requirement. None-the-less, there are pretty gui's that come with new linux distros

Are you implying that Compiere only works on Linux/Unix? From the installation pages it looks like Windows is an option. Am I asking for trouble?
posted by jacobsee at 9:20 PM on December 15, 2005


jacobsee - good eye; my cursory glance and assumptions with open source lead me to believe it was linux only. None the less, linux boxes do a helluva lot more with much less than windows machines, IMO. I don't think you're looking for trouble, however, I think SpecialK has provided you with sound advice, software is not a magic bullet.

SpecialK - I'd never heard of Kanban before; thanks for facilitating my "learn something new everyday" policy.
posted by AllesKlar at 10:09 PM on December 15, 2005


We found a promising possibility in KCSI SIMMS software
posted by jacobsee at 10:55 AM on December 23, 2005


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