No matter what industry your business is in, the time to start thinking about inventory management software is right before things happen that can irrevocably damage your brand. Things like losing track of inventory, not being able to fulfil a customer order as promised, and having no clear visibility into when it can be remedied. If you don’t have a product, or can’t reliably promise it, the customer will go somewhere else to solve his or her problem.

In short, the time is now.

Time was, robust inventory management software systems were reserved for industry stalwarts and multinational companies. The good news is that cloud-based software has levelled the playing field when it comes to automating processes around controlling and ordering inventory, ensuring cash flow, and tracking where inventory is.

What’s more, small and midsized businesses not only can ensure reporting and tracking capabilities measure up to industry giants and leaders, the flexibility and scalability of cloud-based systems actually lends an advantage. Cloud-based software easily enables real-time visibility into inventory, with anywhere, anytime access to critical information. It can function at the core of an ERP system, integrating seamlessly with demand planning, financials and logistics. And automated capabilities eliminate manual inputs while maximising efficiency across the inventory lifecycle.

When selecting software, it’s crucial to define requirements and balance needs with cost considerations and ease of use. But there are key inventory management software features every company should expect when evaluating any system.

These include:

Automated Replenishment: It’s crucial to maintain the right amount of inventory to support service level expectations, and to have tools to automate that process. The system should automatically calculate preferred stocking levels, lead times and re-order points, making suggestions in the order items list. For organisations in which distribution spans several locations, the solution should allow for more advanced parameters to help balance supply and demand across the organisation. The inventory management software should automatically calculate key settings, view and manage inventory across the entire organisation, and enable, and more importantly scale for, multi-location planning.

Cycle Counting: Even the most advanced systems still necessitate regular checks of inventory levels for key items. By ensuring accurate item count, the inventory manager reduces levels of safety stock, and this can lead to operational savings. There are features in inventory management software available that ease this process, by enabling the manager to categorise inventory based on volume of transactions and/or value. Software should also allow the manager to enter regular periodic counts of on-hand item quantities to maintain inventory accuracy. Software should automatically prompt for items to be counted, and categorise items based on volume/values, etc.

Traceability: Both increasing customer expectations, as well as increasing regulatory mandates necessitate even greater visibility into the product lifecycle. Robust inventory management software will allow the manager to define inventory and assembly items as being lot or serial tracked, providing a system of record to capture and identify all related information on each transaction to provide full traceability. In turn, the user interface should make it easy to search and drill down by lot or serial number to access all related transactions.

Once these inventory management software features and functions are in place, even businesses with multiple warehouses will have the ability to see stock levels end-to-end by adopting advanced features like multi-location tracking, hierarchical location definitions, and bin tracking.

Inventory management is an art. But the bottom line is that you need to make sure you have just enough inventory on hand in the right locations to meet demand—whether that demand is to meet customers’ service level expectations or to supply a work order in a manufacturing facility.

The right inventory management software will offer many native tools and features to help you make this a reality, including tracking inventory in multiple locations, safety stock, re-order points, cycle counts, demand planning and distribution requirements planning.