Enterprises have started realizing the potential and capabilities of deploying RPA solutions in their business operations. That is why the applications of RPA are extending rapidly including one of the core operations in the Retail industry – Inventory Management is no exception. This blog discusses the need to streamline inventory management and why Robotic Process Automation is the step forward to proceed and execute automated inventory management.

The need for streamlining inventory management

An under-optimized Inventory Management system can serve as a bottleneck and obstruct the flow of operations across an entire organization. However, managing inventory can be burdensome and companies face a lot of challenges in streamlining their inventory management.

The retail industry typically faces the following inventory management challenges:

Inaccurate Visibility
According to a report, inventory in the retail industry is accurate only 63% of the time. Excess inventory intercepts a company from offering better products and a deficit in inventory translates to a potential decrease in the sales of the offered product. So, inaccurate visibility – both excess and deficit – directly impact the business revenue. Inventory inaccuracy is predominantly the result of manual inventory management.

Demand Fluctuations
A common challenge facing retail inventory management is ensuring the availability of the right product mix to satisfy customer demands. Forecasting the demand can be challenging as it depends on a multitude of factors such as the changes in the economy, availability of a particular product, taxation of products etc. Thus, companies have to tackle the challenge of demand fluctuations for an efficient inventory management system.

Legacy Solutions
Managing inventory with legacy solutions can be troublesome as a structured inventory management workflow has a number of components. In order to stay ahead of the competitors, the modern day retailers must enable their inventory management to be dynamic and flexible to changes. However, shifting to advanced e-commerce solutions from legacy systems for inventory management will demand a complete revamp of the existing systems and the process in itself poses multiple challenges.

Thus, there is room for improvement for many operations carried out in the traditional inventory management. Retailers must ensure that they capitalize their fullest on technological advancements to maximize their operational productivity and improving the inventory management is a promising step to undertake.

Why RPA for Inventory Management?

RPA enables enterprises to deploy intelligent bots which can automate the common redundant operational processes. The different elements involved in typical retail inventory management include sorting, packaging, shipping and transportation of different products. The RPA bots can comprehend the logic behind performing such specific tasks, and then execute them automatically with significantly less or even no human intervention. Besides reducing the number of manpower needed, inventory management automation will also enhance scalability and refine the workflow.

How RPA streamlines inventory management?

This section of the blog discusses the various use cases of RPA bots in inventory management that can be automated to enhance the business functionalities.

Administrative Tasks
Retailers deal with administrative tasks such as processing purchase orders and requests, shipping details, etc. on a daily basis. Many mid and low-level companies still depend on performing this task manually with excel sheets which is laborious and time-consuming. Deploying RPA bots can completely eliminate the manual data-feeding of inventory management related administrative tasks.

Demand and Supply Planning
Enterprises can leverage RPA bots to manage their end-to-end demand and supply planning. They can break barriers among the different departments that are closely related to inventory management such as warehousing, procurement management, shipping etc. Such centralization is highly beneficial in inventory management as it considers the data from different departments in an organization. Additionally, enterprises can extend the capabilities of RPA bots manifold by combining with Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, which can forecast demands with very high accuracy.

Vendor Validation
Selecting the right vendor is paramount for an efficient inventory management. However, the vendor selection process usually involves a string of manually performed tasks such as raising quotation requests, discussions, documents analysis, evaluation and verification, and finally selecting the most feasible option. RPA bots can automate most of the above-mentioned tasks and enhance the vendor selection operation.

Status Communication
Enterprises cannot afford to overlook the simple yet powerful aspect of communication, especially in the retail industry. Collaboration among the multiple parties involved is essential to facilitate smooth inventory management. Experts can program cognitive RPA bots to handle order-related queries automatically. Through integration with ERP, RPA bots can fetch and display any shipment related status instantly.

Challenges faced by RPA in inventory management

While implementing RPA to manage inventory will definitely fetch fruitful results in the long run, organizations do face many challenges during the implementation.

Improper standardization of the process complicates the bot building and development. Even minor errors in documentation can disrupt the algorithm used to program RPA bots.  Another major stumbling block is that not all sub-processes of inventory management are ideal to automate. A thorough analysis and process mining are necessary to identify which tasks to automate to reap the maximum business benefits. Besides, the initial investment in RPA adoption is expensive and it forces the small-sized companies to resort to the, “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” approach when it comes to automating their inventory management through RPA.

Despite the challenges faced during the initial stages of adoption, deploying RPA to manage inventory can significantly reduce time and efforts invested in the process. We have partnered with Automation Anywhere and our proven expertise in offering RPA solutions can automate your inventory management and streamline the entire process.

Kavin Elango

An Engineer-turned-writer and an avid technology lover, Kavin is particularly passionate about emerging technologies that directly impact our day-to-day lives. Off work, he’s a sports enthusiast who’s fond of detective stories.