There are plenty of benefits to implementing a barcode scanning system for your warehouse inventory. Barcoding, when done right, can help you track your inventory, avoid lost revenue, and better plan for the future.
For example, with an inventory scanning system, your cycle counting would be simplified as employees would easily scan inventory and send counts to your inventory management system. Barcoding is also incredibly accurate when compared to manual key-entry.
However, there are several key issues to take into account when considering implementing new barcoding technology — technology that impacts your business practices and the way your warehouse tracks inventory.
Currently, you might not be barcoding at all. Or, maybe you’re manually keying in barcodes into a spreadsheet (and believing the common misconception that it’s easier to use barcodes and Excel sheets than a barcoding software system).
Wherever you are in your barcoding journey, here are a few key questions to consider when looking into a new system.
1. What hardware will be needed?
Implementing barcode scanning to control your inventory involves physical hardware, like handheld scanners and the printed labels that attach to your product.
Consider the wear and tear your labels will undergo. Will products (and their labels) be transported and exposed to the elements? How long does your inventory sit on shelves? You’ll need durable barcode labels that can still be read easily after being transported outside or left on the warehouse shelves for several months.
Then, there are the scanning “guns,” or handheld scanners used to capture data from the labels. Consider what options you’ll need for your warehouse operation.
Will you want to use physical scan guns for all your barcoding and scanning, or does the option of using a mobile app seem appealing? Another option is a physical attachment to your company’s mobile phones or tablets — a “phone case” that turns regular smart phones into data collection devices.
Technology is changing all the time, so it’s likely that scanning attachments for barcoding on mobile phones could become more commonplace and more advanced.
Then there are the capabilities of the scanners — will you need long-range scanning or scanners compatible vehicle-mounted computers?
When inventory is easily within reach, a standard-range scanner will probably suffice. However, long-range scanners come in handy when your inventory is difficult to get close to. If you’re considering barcoding for your warehouse, long-range scanners are probably the way to go.
Also, be sure to keep vehicle-mounted computers in mind. Vehicle mount computers are typically attached to forklifts or trucks, or mounted in other places in the production area. Whether you currently use vehicle-mounted computers or are considering them for the future, you'll want the computers and your barcoding technology to be compatible.
2. What's the current software situation?
The integration of new barcoding software with your current information, ERP, or inventory management system is a large undertaking. Consider where your company is in this area. If you want to implement barcode scanning to control your inventory, but are still using spreadsheets to track everything, you’re probably only looking at part of the problem.
On the other hand, maybe you’re currently using inventory management software and you’re happy with it. You’ll need to look into whether or not your potential barcoding system will integrate with your inventory management software.
In terms of inventory management, implementing a new barcoding system is a chance to reevaluate your current practices. Would you consider switching over to a more advanced ERP software that includes barcoding in its offerings?
When rolling out a new barcoding system, a business has the option to choose what data is captured when scanning. This is an opportunity to make sure that all relevant data (such as price, location, destination, shipping and receiving information) can be instantly pulled up in your ERP system after scanning.
At the end of the day, you’ll want to make sure that the barcoding system you choose can work well with whatever ERP or inventory management software your company continues to use.
3. What's your philosophy of technology and implementation?
While some may be on board with implementing new barcoding technology, some team members may be discouraged by the initial learning curve of a new system — this is where a good implementation plan comes into the picture.
Do you have a strategy (or are you willing to create one) for generating buy-in among your team that the new barcoding system system will not replace current methods but automate and improve them?
Perhaps you could use examples of everyday headaches your warehouse team faces, and explain how the barcoding system would simplify processes, save time or even eliminate those headaches.
Another consideration is the kind of implementation support offered by the different vendors you’re considering. Your team would probably benefit from bringing in a representative or partner from the barcoding vendor during the implementation process.
Lastly, what’s your philosophy of keeping up with technology? Do you see implementing barcode scanning in your warehouse as more of a one-and-done change? Remember, offering your team good technology to do their job well is an ongoing expense.
Additionally, look into how the vendor you’re considering offers upgrades for the barcoding software. How often do you anticipate needing to upgrade? You’ll also want to consider the kind of support offered by potential vendors and how that will affect your future upgrades.
All things considered
If all these “what-ifs” haven’t scared you away, congratulations — you’re probably ready to start comparing the pricing, features, and capabilities you’ll need in a barcoding system for your warehouse.
You’ve probably also realized the huge benefits to investing in the right technology for your company — good for you. While any new software system comes with an upfront cost (both in terms of dollars and effort), a good technology solution that creates efficiency and saves time always pays for itself.