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Using big data to optimize warehouse inventory management

Using big data to optimize warehouse inventory management

Thanks in part to the rise in sophistication found in today's inventory control systems, more companies are able to leverage big data analytics to improve warehouse inventory management.

Smart companies have always used data to improve operations, collecting information about its internal processes and related external factors in an enterprise resource planning (ERP) platform like Microsoft Dynamic NAV. However, legacy business intelligence solutions were limited in scope. Not only were such systems limited in regard to how much data could be processed and stored, but traditional BI initiatives could typically only handle specific types of information from limited sources.

Specific benefits of big data
However, the rise of big data is dramatically changing the analytics landscape as it relates to warehouse inventory management. This type of analysis encompasses many different types of data in much larger quantities than ever before. For example, a company can use big data to analyze petabytes of data and simultaneously cover such disparate information sources as sales data, consumer rewards programs and weather predictions.

In a recent interview with The Business of Fashion, Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, professor of internet governance and regulation at Oxford University, and Kenneth Cukier, data editor at The Economist, said that retailers are among the firms that have the most to gain from big data. In particular, companies are increasingly benefiting from analytics-driven insight that enable them to more intelligently track and ship supplies from warehouses to stores. An example of this paradigm can be seen with Walmart, as the company used big data to show that its warehouses should be well stocked with Pop Tarts in the lead-up to a hurricane.

"Data has always been useful for businesses," Mayer-Schönberger and Cukier said. "It enables economic transactions and helps supply meet demand. After all, price is data, as much as certain product qualities and transaction terms. But until recently, data was seen largely as the lubricant that greases the machine of commerce. In the age of big data, data itself becomes the good that's being traded. This shift happens as we [realize] that the value of data is not exhausted when it's used for the purpose it was collected. Rather, we can use data for novel, additional purposes that nobody thought about when it was collected."

Big data allows companies to more intelligently stock warehouses to ensure stores and customers always have the right products and the appropriate amount of them. In order for such a warehouse inventory management system to get off the ground, companies need ways to accurately collect and store data from a variety of sources. One way is to use a barcode inventory system to ensure total accuracy and an ERP system to house that data and to provide internal departments with access to it. Businesses could even use information collected from time tracker software as part of a big data campaign. By leveraging as many accurate sources of information as possible, enterprises could realize a significant return on investment from a warehouse inventory-based analytics initiative.

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Posted in: Inventory Management

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