What is best for inventory management software?

Developing your own or buying something?

3PL is in and will stay in.

3PL is in and it seems like every one who is good at management is finding success in this industry. Companies have been outsourcing their logistics to 3PL companies for quite some time now (the market reached $75 billion in 2014). With Amazon all up in the mix, logistics companies are looking to heighten their quality of service in order to stay relevant. Below are basic things to look for when deciding between buying or subscribing to an existing inventory management web application or developing your own.


person trying to choose inventory management software

disclaimer: I am a web developer so this article may be biased.

A customers portal

One way to improve quality of service is to provide instant access into a customer's inventory information. Ideally, customers should be able to log into a system and view all of their inventory data and see any relevant actions taken on their behave. They want to be able to see their inventory as it moves through a point in a supply chain.

The ability to do the above will really smooth things out, reduce many unecessary incoming calls and support tickets. The disadvantage of going with a software as a service is probably you will have to pay more based on the number of users you want to give access to your system.

laptop with login to inventory software customer portal
warehouse app alert going off in person's back pocket

Notifications

A customer portal is nice and customers can come and login and look at their own inventory in the warehouse, but it is also possible to add notification features, so that customers don't have to babysit and be on the lookout for events related to their inventory. Notifications can be developed and integrated into a custom 3PL system. They can be delivered through email, a mobile app, and even text messages. To my fellow web applications developers, check out telnyx.com, I've used their API to implement text message alerts into my apps. Notification features are pretty clearly stated in any SaaS (Software as a Service). The only reason why I think building your own app would be good is if you had unique process flows related to your 3PL business. For example, the text message notifications can actually have links so that users can delegate tasks to the logistics service provider.

Cloud based

This one is a no-brainer. In this day and age, special cases must be made for NOT going with something hosted on the cloud. A cloud based application is kind of standard when you want a system that can be fully accessible on any computer by many users. Users and even employees want software that can be accessed through a web browser. If there is an emergency, it helps that they can log in from home and take care of any business. Long gone are the days when software was specific to some operating system and the software had to be installed on the computer. Now it's all about the cloud. Whether you choose software as a service or build your own. Chances are very high either choice will be cloud based.

person on a cloud holding a package

Good database design

This should be pretty basic to fulfill and communicate across to the tech people. You want relational datatables that can store the 3PL company's customer name, their SKUs, FNSKUs, UPCs, important dates, and cartons and units on hand. The relational aspect of the system data tables should make it easy to write queries for any required information, but care must be taken to design a database that will remain historically accurate in the event of record editing. What would happen if a customer changes their name? Will it affect events that have already been logged? In most cases it shouldn't. But developing your own app means you can define such requirements.

Must have fields
Customer Name
SKU
FNSKU
UPC
Number of Cartons on hand.
Number of Units on hand.
Date of products arrived.
Date of products shipped.
illustration of data tables
programmer being asked to have work ready by yesterday

Time frame

Everybody wants the job done yesterday. The only way to get this is if you go with a software as a service because the software will have already been built, tested, and most likely proven. It is the recommended way to go if you want to start using something ASAP. On the other hand, building out your own inventory management will take time, and it better take time or else you end up with janky code that was not tested or really thought out. It takes the right mindset to develop some good software. There is a necessary to build bridge and communicate ideas over, at least if your inventory app requirements are unique and specific. Clear milestones and expectations must be set, budgets discussed, and modules tested. The time it takes to develop an inventory system will depend on its complexity. I really don't like saying that because it doesn't say much, but to put it in more general words, anything custom is going to take some time.

About

I use powerful open source technologies and design principles to develop modern websites, mobile apps, and software solutions. When I work on a project, my aim is to create something that I am proud of, something that captivates, inspires, and brings value. I have worked on tech related projects ever since I got my schooling out of the way and I enjoy it.

Being a self driven person that aspires to be independent and carve out my own space in the world, I began freelancing in an effort to grow as a problem solver, creative thinker, and discover new opportunities. Have a great idea or a problem that you believe can be solved with technology? Reach out and let's talk.

Francisco Barcena
Full Stack Web Developer