Listen to the full podcast on Cloud Inventory’s website: https://www.cloudinventory.com/podcasts/jim-hoskins-podcast-tracking-field-inventory
Full Transcription below:
Welcome to Enterprise Radio, the signature show of the Enterprise Podcast Network, featuring some of the most prominent business professionals in the world today. And now your host, Eric Dye.
Dye: This is Eric Dye and once again, welcome to Enterprise Radio, a part of EPN, the Enterprise Podcast Network.
Today we’re speaking with Mr. Jim Hoskins, the Vice President of Product Management at Cloud Inventory® to learn more about tracking inventory outside of the four walls of the warehouse with Cloud Inventory Field inventory. As a technology and supply chain leader Hoskins is here to speak about how innovative cloud based inventory management technology can provide the visibility and control you need to maximize your inventory investment. And Mr. Hoskins, thanks for joining us here today on Enterprise Radio.
Hoskins: Thanks Eric for having me.
Dye: It’s certainly our pleasure. Thanks for your time.
So tell us, what are some of the challenges facing companies that need to manage significant portions of their inventory outside of a warehouse setting? And how does Field Inventory address these challenges? Let’s start there.
Hoskins: Well, you know, old habits can really die hard and be hard to change, especially ones that have traditionally been considered, say, an acceptable practice. Oftentimes, companies just expense or charge off inventory, parts and materials that they use once those parts leave the warehouse, or say leave their parts depot. That costly inventory is often roaming around on trucks, vans, or in car trunks. Those items are often really critical to significant company revenue streams like field service or capital engineering projects.
So losing track of what we refer to as inventory in the wild can have a lot of downstream effects, and several factors can be responsible for why managing inventory in the field can be challenging. For example, hoarding of parts, or over purchasing of project material. This is where a project manager purposely orders more items than they really probably need for a job or projects. So what they want to make sure is they don’t have idle workers or they don’t want to run out project materials. And I talked to a number of CIOs and CFOs who complain about their teams routinely purchasing, say 120 to 150% of the materials they need to do a job, and this is actually a commonplace practice.
The real problem is the cash spent on the extra material is either lost, or at a minimum held hostage until those items are eventually charged to a project. Unfortunately, these extra parts are lost, stolen, or even borrowed if you will for other projects. But the bottom line is that these project materials are not correctly tracked, and they’re potentially costing millions of dollars to the companies.
It’s one thing when your part is a washer or a bolt, it’s quite another thing when your items are hundreds of thousands of dollars each. Take, for example one company I talked with in the past that had compression engines dispersed throughout the country. And these compressors are out in the field and they’re used by hundreds of companies in the oil and gas industry. One of the techs I rode with came up upon a compression engine that wasn’t running, quickly he diagnosed the problem was a fouled spark plug. He opened the tool box on the side of his truck and said with a grin, I always keep extra of these from the depot when I go there, or always grab extra of these in the depot when I go there because you never know when you’re going to need one. There were probably 20-30, various size and shaped spark plugs sitting in there.
What I found out later is that the value of each of these plugs was like $150 or more apiece. So seeing that these also were specialty plugs and you can’t get those just any place or any auto parts store. Even more important was the problem is multiplied by their over 1000 field technicians and that was just one of hundreds of parts he carried on his truck.
The problem isn’t that he had spare spark plugs. The problem was the lack of corporate visibility to what likely equaled millions of dollars costed out parts roaming around the country on their vehicles. Because they didn’t have the tools to track this inventory once it arrived at their forward stocking depots, they immediately lost visibility, causing them to keep a bunch of extra safety stock on hand for hundreds of different parts.
Field Inventory optimizes inventory and solves for this visibility gap by making it easy to track inventory with our mobile first applications that operate in both disconnected and connected environments. That tracking extends from the four walls of the warehouse to often disconnected forward stocking locations, to each and every field tech vehicle. And this allows parts and material consumption to be tracked digitally at the point of activity. And that greatly increases confidence in inventory accuracy, and it also reduces human error and costly safety stock.
Dye: And of course with that background and those details you certainly got to love and appreciate technology and all these regards. Good stuff.
Now, taking that even further, tell us more about Field Inventory’s approach to mobile cloud based inventory management technology, I’d like to hear some details on that?
Hoskins: So Field Inventory is built on our low code Cloud Inventory platform. And as the name implies, it’s a cloud based inventory control system, but it’s unique and unlike ERP systems or other inventory systems of the past, Cloud Inventory’s data model puts inventory, not financials, at the center of its universe.
So many legacy systems that are based on a financial ledger model assume that you’re collecting data, maybe on a piece of paper, and then eventually feeding that data back into the back office user interface at some point in the future. Our extensible inventory data model allows our customers to capture and transact business critical item attributes, and what’s especially effective about our approach is our mobile first user experience and that allows us to digitally capture those item attributes at the time and where the work is completed, virtually eliminating user error. Additionally, our customers can very easily personalize their mobile applications through our low code, drag and drop app studio.
Our Cloud Inventory applications like Field Inventory are also designed with the actual physical use case in mind. So users are prompted for information that is relative and relevant to what they are doing at that very moment in time, not what someone else did hours or days ago when the data is finally entered into the back office system. So consequently, with Field Inventory businesses make much better and faster decisions when they have up to the second information.
Dye: I certainly do appreciate your input on that and your approach using Field Inventory’s cloud based inventory management technology. Now give us some examples if you would if you don’t mind of specific industries in which there is a need for Field Inventory solutions?
Hoskins: Sure. So Field Inventory is really applicable across any industry that has inventory in the wild. However, some key industries where we see a lot of activity are asset intensive industries like engineering and construction, telecom, mining and oil and gas. But we also see industries that have large field service repair staff. Those are often companies that have stock audit requirements and Field Inventory is a great tool for field cycle counts to achieve audit compliance.
Interestingly enough, because we can track item ownership, we are seeing a trend where our customers are looking to do vendor managed inventory for their customers owned items, creating additional revenue streams for their businesses.
And finally, another industry, we often see a benefit is med device and life sciences. This is often due to their strict regulatory compliance issues and keeping track of samples, lots in consignment inventory is really key to that industry.
Dye: We’re visiting with Mr. Jim Hoskins, the Vice President of Product Management of Cloud Inventory, a company that empowers organizations with real time inventory visibility at all points in the supply chain from the warehouse to the field. And he’s joined us here today on Enterprise Radio, a part of EPN, the Enterprise Podcast Network.
Now, continuing on Mr. Hoskins as the VP of Product Management for an industry leader, where do you see the most potential for innovation in inventory management for applications in the field?
Hoskins: Well, there’s some interesting technologies that have really started to emerge taking advantage of things like artificial intelligence for better inventory and parts forecasting I think is a really interesting thing. It could actually greatly improve I think service parts planning, maybe seasonal replenishment needs. You know, if you’re a company that has seasonal trends to their products and potentially prepare for shortage like we’re seeing in the semiconductor industry whenever you hear about $11 worth of parts keeping General Motors and other companies from being able to produce their cars.
So another technology I think, computer vision and machine learning kind of combined together could really be useful in creating more accurate and automating item counting in the field. So, maybe a drone flying over and taking video, or using camera technology to count items that are out in the field.
And then I also see some potential interesting applications of Blockchain technology that can further ensure authenticity of items. I think in cases like we’re seeing of vaccine tracking, obviously we want to make sure that those items are authentic in life sciences, or even in some industrial cases where you see public safety is involved, making sure that that chain of custody and that item authenticity is extremely important.
Dye: Jim, also another question for you, do you think that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way that companies approach inventory management technology outside of warehouse settings? Talk to us about that.
Hoskins: Yeah, I actually think that the world and supply chains really have kind of been forever changed. We’re in a rapidly changing period right now as COVID restrictions begin to subside and hopefully they’ll continue to subside. But, some things will never go back to the way that things were. In many cases you’ll see, I think in a couple of years maybe, some new business as usual emerge. And I think one example is a greater emphasis on contactless operation. Even simple things like getting an electronic signature you’re seeing become a thing of the past versus companies opting to pair up a field captured photo and GPS information, and bundle that into a field inventory transaction like proof of delivery.
The great thing about this continued digital transformation is it creates higher resolution data that allows businesses to make better decisions and ultimately improve customer engagement and service.
Dye: I think you’re right about that — a lot of things will never be as they were before the pandemic. Thanks for your input on that in that regard. Now, how can Field Inventory solutions be integrated with a company’s existing systems to optimize inventory control at all points of the supply chain? Get into some of those details?
Hoskins: Yeah, this is something that our company does all the time. Most of our customers have some sort of existing system of record, say an ERP system or another inventory system or sometimes, central DC has a warehouse management system, but then they have many other remote distribution centers where they need to improve the inventory operations they have. So, we integrate into those kind of systems all the time.
But in our 40 year history, we’ve integrated to hundreds of these systems with thousands of customers, and we specialize in this and really connecting to these systems in very meaningful ways. When I say that an example would be, of a user consuming material out in the field, to a capital engineering project. You know sometimes those items can be immediately charged to the project in the ERP, and then all the accounting and sales rules apply. Meanwhile Field Inventory has done its job to eliminate human error and improve productivity and keep the inventory accurate at the point of activity.
Dye: Mr. Hoskins really appreciate your time and we’re certainly thankful for all you do in the Field Inventory space on behalf of Cloud Inventory and for all the information and insight shared here today. Lastly, what do you think makes Field Inventory unique as a provider of inventory management solutions for applications outside of the warehouse? Let’s conclude there.
Hoskins: I think our focus on inventory in the wild — or as actually one of our customers I recently had a conversation with, referred to it as “their inventory on the edge” — they said that they are losing visibility of all of their inventory in their ERP as soon as it leaves the friendly confines of their warehouse.
What they want to do is track the product in transit which is on their installers vans, and then once installed out in the field, they want to continue kind of perpetually tracking that inventory as their inventory on the edge. Well, ERP systems really aren’t good for doing that. And a lot of inventory systems that are designed for the warehouse aren’t good for doing that. Customers really like how our field inventory allows them to quickly set up these new inventory notes. This can be done in a matter of seconds. For example, say they add a new fleet vehicle and they need to track the inventory items in that van. Well they love that Cloud Inventory can do this so quickly outside of their ERP. They said because of the built in constraints it would probably take weeks or months to set up a new warehouse in our ERP system just to track the information. But that was still impractical because in their ERP they don’t have a mobile first applications like the ones we have for Field Inventory.
To sum it up the combination of our inventory first data model, our mobile first applications and our low code in cloud inventory platform are what give Field Inventory its unique capabilities to solve our customers inventory challenges on the edge.
Dye: Once again, Mr. Hoskins really appreciate you’re joining us here today and all the information shared. I’m sure listeners want to know how they could get more information on Cloud Inventory and how they could be in touch, where’s the best place to do so?
Dye: And that certainly works, again, that is cloudinventory.com. Mr. Hoskins all the best and thanks so much for joining us here today on Enterprise Radio, certainly was our pleasure.
Hoskins: Well, thank you very much Eric.
Dye: Any time. We’ve been speaking with Mr. Jim Hoskins, the Vice President of Product Management of Cloud Inventory, a company that empowers organizations with real time inventory visibility at all points in the supply chain, from the warehouse to the field. And for all the details, once again visit cloudinventory.com or fieldinventory.com.
And this is Eric Dye, and you’ve been listening to Enterprise Radio a part of EPN, the Enterprise Podcast Network. Tune in to our live location as we are streaming live 24/7 around the world at the epodcastnetwork.com/live. You can also find our livestream on iTunes radio and TuneIn radio as well as the TuneIn radio app for your listening convenience. As always, we thank you for your support and for tuning in.
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