Although it’s easier than ever for consumers to buy products and have their purchases arrive the next day, it’s had the opposite effect on businesses, making it even more difficult for warehouses to keep their supply chain running smoothly. The production centers and distribution channels that supply chains are built on often experience extreme fluctuations, which is why we need effective warehouse and inventory management systems now more than ever. So what’s the difference between warehouse and inventory management?
When it comes to integrating these two types of software into your operations, it’s much easier to start with inventory management if your company is still growing. As a result, smaller businesses tend to go with an inventory management or control system first because their operations aren’t large enough yet to require a comprehensive warehouse management system. Because the logistics involved in warehouse management are just so much more complex and in-depth, it really makes more sense for larger operations to go with integrating WMS, rather than smaller businesses.
Another aspect of integration is the fact that warehouse management goes much deeper than just dealing with your inventory. Generally speaking, warehouse management also deals with sales, distribution, production, quality management, etc. As a result, you need to deal with multiple departments when it comes to warehouse management. Since inventory management is only concerned with keeping track of actual numbers of units, it doesn’t require a ton of work to integrate into existing business processes.
Much like the difference in integration, business processes are different between warehouse and inventory management. Where warehouse management is concerned, you generally have a system that gives your business an overall view of warehouse operations so that you can analyze and alter storage and inventory whenever you need to. As for inventory management, you don’t have that much visibility into things. The different types of communications devices that warehouse management systems use make it much easier to deploy changes when necessary; and though inventory management is moving in that direction with the growing prevalence of mobile and cloud technology, it’s still pretty simple as compared to warehouse management.
When we think about warehouse management, we think of systems that deliver powerful solutions for streamlining the supply chain and distribution process. Inventory management, on the other hand, is more concerned with keeping track of exactly what you have on hand and how much. That’s why the level of complexity makes a difference between warehouse and inventory management. Where inventory management is relatively simpler because it’s focused on tracking the amount of stock that a business has, warehouse management helps a business manage their entire storage system within the warehouse. For example, inventory management will only tell you that you have 10 units of a product on hand; warehouse management will tell you exactly where those 10 units are in the warehouse.
This is somewhat related to the above point, but your company’s ability to control storage and inventory also differs between warehouse and inventory management. Again with inventory management, you really only have access to information regarding how much stock you have in your warehouse or inventory, or whether you even have a specific product readily available. Within a warehouse, you can see exactly where that inventory is, how to retrieve it, how long it might take, etc. Warehouse management is more specific, whereas inventory management gives you more of a high level view of things.
There’s clearly a lot of difference between warehouse and inventory management; it’s not just about one system being larger than the other, or one being for enterprises and the other for small businesses. Unsurprisingly, it’s difficult for many businesses to find a solution that fits, let alone trying to decide whether they need a full-blown warehouse management solution, or just a simpler inventory management software. For more information on warehouse management, check out our post on the top cloud-based warehouse management systems here; and find some of the top inventory management software for SMBs here.