Independent School District Inventory Management Project Analysis
A purchasing manager at a large urban school district discovered several cafeteria tables that were damaged, yet still under warranty and eligible for repair at no cost to the district. He called the manufacturer’s representative to come look at the tables and determine if they would be repaired or replaced by the manufacturer.
During the inspection of the cafeteria furniture, the manufacturer’s representative inquired about additional broken or damaged furniture located in an adjoining room. It was determined that several desks and chairs were pending disposal. Upon closer inspection, the manufacturer’s representative determined that many of the items were sold to the district by her company and were likely still under warranty and could be replaced at no cost to the district.
The warranty for the desks and chairs was set to expire within days and would have been void had the manufacturer’s representative not been able to identify her specific products. The district would have then been responsible for the cost of replacement. Identifying the specifics of the warranty and being able to implement the details of replacement saved the district over $20,000 dollars in replacement costs.
This example solidified the direction the purchasing manager was moving in plans to increase the tools and automated processes to track important details about their large assets, like furniture. He began to explore different systems that could capture all the data points needed to spot warranty issues, inventory location and customized details, like when maintenance was scheduled or had occurred. The purchasing department understood they were lucky in the instance of the desks and chairs, but that a more permanent solution would be needed to prevent unnecessary costs and spending. This particular district is known in the industry for their tight controls and organized approach to asset tracking. However, even they realized it was impossible to stay on top of all the moving pieces and parts of their inventory without investing in an automated asset tracking tool.
The next step the district tackled was to investigate possible tracking solutions. Technical options included barcode systems or fully integrated Radio Frequency Identification Devices. There were unique benefits in an RFID solution for the district.
- RFID enables them to validate the inventory quickly and accurately
- Validation efforts are less invasive. If necessary a room can be scanned while students are in class.
The District, in consultation with us, determined specific data fields necessary to track in the initial program included:
|Unique Identifier||Serial Number|
|Sort Description||Equipment Number|
|Detailed Description||Installation Date|
|Purchase Order Number||Warranty Date|
RFID allows the district’s personnel to do batch assignments of large numbers of items to new locations in a matter of seconds. RFID also allows entire campuses to undergo an end to end inventory in a matter of hours rather than the days or weeks that it currently takes. With the use of the integrated bar code scanner, individual items can be identified and modified even while they are stacked in close proximity to other tagged items.
INTEGRATION WITH EXISTING PROCESSES
One of the driving factors in the district’s decision-making was finding a partner that could improve on their reporting and back-office system. The back-office system would need to be able to manage an inventory that includes thousands of items over multiple campuses that have been purchased from multiple vendors at various time intervals. The unique business model IPMAS employs made us a perfect fit for this district. We have developed a software platform in fulfillment warehouse environments that is adjusted and customized to other industries. The ability to customize approximately 25% of the back-office tool appealed to the district in both initial cost savings in the implementation of a tool that is 75% complete but also in the efficiency and time saved to integrate the tool into existing work processes. This efficiency also makes it possible for a purchasing department to begin to show a true Return On Investment (ROI) much sooner.
As the district began to build their customized tools and fields, special emphasis was put on reporting. This step is often over-looked in the building and planning process. Then, when inventory tracking actually begins, various decision-makers request specific reports or data points. If custom reporting is not developed as a part of the initial tool, this can lead to extra costs and delays in tracking. In our experience, we have learned to include the end-users extensively in the product development phase and User Acceptance Testing (UAT). This helps to iron out small wrinkles in the system and improve the process flow, possibly eliminating or changing certain steps making for a better work flow as well as a smoother integration into existing work flow.
The design phase includes the actual end-users. By engaging the people that will use the tool, we can more quickly and accurately build an interface that serves the people that it is intended to help. However, even with the most diligent effort, not all contingencies can be anticipated during design. The final touches occur as a result of detailed User Acceptance Testing (UAT). UAT occurs after the design phase is complete. Multiple users are engaged to input realistic data that simulates daily work. Through this process, any bugs or shortcomings in the design are revealed. With the input of multiple end users, a truly fine-tuned interface can be finalized and the process can seamlessly integrated into daily operations.
Our back-office tool was developed to give the district the ability to see every phase of the life-cycle of each piece of their inventory in their asset management system. The tool includes order dates, cost, delivery dates, chain of custody, and warranty information. Location and moves of each item, from delivery to the warehouse to campuses and back again, is tracked along with each item’s chain of custody. The ability for the RFID readers to capture this data quickly and efficiently was key for a district concerned with, not only managing assets, but on managing personnel costs associated with the process of tracking and reporting on assets.
The tool allows the district to have improves the district’s ability to manage and report across the organization about the distribution of their assets. The tool helps prevents unnecessary acquisition of furniture by allowing them to see the current distribution landscape. Every effort at redistribution can now be exhausted before a purchase becomes necessary.
Custom reporting also allows the district to establish trending. Future purchases can be predicted with a greater degree of accuracy. Trends in furniture damage or over use can be identified so steps can be taken to prevent future damage or adjust purchases towards more robust equipment with longer life-cycles. For example, the district may learn that certain schools or grade levels may prove to have a higher percentage of failure on desks and chairs and can plan budgets accordingly. Standard reports include Total Assets, Assets by Location, Assets by Vendor, Warranty Expirations by Date Range, Repair and Failure Statistics, and Assets by PO. The entire database can also be extracted so that the data can be arranged and searched by any parameters.
This district has the unique opportunity to take their asset tracking, particularly in their furniture to a new level, with their decision to partner with us. As part of a larger RFP to manufacture new furniture, the district included the desire to have the RFID tags embedded directly into the newly manufactured furniture. In the future, this can add even more efficiencies in purchasing, where tracking processes can be considered at the build-stage of furniture. Our understanding of the end-user’s processes will ensure that tags are placed in a manner that makes tracking and scanning simple and not an added headache in annual inventory audits.
After the initial development was put in place, a mobile version of the application has been completed that allows work to be done in the warehouse and on campus locations without having to access a computer. The mobile unit is capable of reading both RFID and barcode tags.
The Independent School District and IPMAS have developed a customized integrated asset tracking system that creates effective asset management across the entire school district. While initially tracking furniture, the system can be adjusted to track any item a district purchases, from lawn equipment to toilet paper. Any asset that the school district has can and should be tracked, including extra-curricular activity equipment for example, band, athletics, and theatre arts. With this system the district can create a supply chain management system for expendables as well, saving the district even more money. The district has chosen to host the system on its own servers, but IPM offers secure ongoing hosting services that gives clients technical support and entitles them to upgraded versions of the software.
“Even three years after purchasing IPMAS’s RFID system, we are still finding additional uses. The management and support staff are outstanding professional who place customer service and satisfaction as a top priority in their business model.
IPMAS’s RFID system is outstanding. The basic concept and functionality of the product are great, but once they add each customer’s customizations, the product becomes outstanding. The after-the-sell support is unsurpassed – they listen to the problem, assess the problem, and then implement timely solutions.
There are similar products on the market, but they don’t have the customer service, technical expertise, ability to constantly improve, and ethical and professional staff that are possessed by IPM.”
-Purchasing Director, Independent School District in Texas