Is a stock control system the same as an inventory management system?

Do I need a stock control system or an inventory management system? What's the difference?

In a previous article we explained what inventory management software is and who it is for. The terms stock control system and inventory management system mean the same thing - in this article, we will use the first term. The aim of this article is to explain what it is they are referring to by 'system' and how this differs from just software.

Systems are made up of a number of different components - the stock control system has stock software at its core.

Stock control software can be installed onto a computer as an application or accessed via an internet browser as a web-application. The computer screen software interface is primarily designed to give the user visibility on stock quantity and location, and enable reporting on the warehouse processes and associated transactions. Some more advanced software will also allow the user to configure warehouse locations as well as users roles and their rights.

The second and third components of a stock system are the hand-held devices and the stock software mobile device application that make them work. Automatic data capture through either barcode or RFID (radio frequency identification) removes the need for manually entering data to the stock control system. The application on the mobile devices enables the user to perform functions like receipt of deliveries, stock put-away, picking, stock-take and stock adjustments by scanning the barcodes on inventory items and locations. Modern mobile devices are wireless enabled. This means that the mobile device application can talk to and update the computer-based stock management software in real-time via a wireless network.

The wireless network is the fourth component of the system. A wireless local area network (WLAN) links devices to the computer by providing a connection through an access point (hub) to the wider internet. This gives mobile device users the ability to move around within a local coverage area and still be connected to the network. This means that the mobile application can talk to the stock control software on the computer constantly, making data live and accurate.

The fifth, sixth and seventh components of the system are the barcode label printing software, barcode printers and the labels.

The barcode label printing software will either come as part of the stock control system software or it will separately and be integrated to it. The barcode label printing software will generate and print a barcode label against items that are being received - the barcode labels are affixed to items they have been printed for.

Barcode printers can be fixed or mobile; which you need will depend on your requirements. Their features and price also varies depending on the application they are designed for. They vary from £300 to £2,000.

Barcode labels come in thousands of different shapes and sizes with various adhesives and paper types that are designed to work in different environments. It is important to get the right sort of labels for your inventory as using the wrong type can cause major issues. Examples include the labels falling off if kept outside or being too sticky that they deface the product.

A potential eighth component is required if the printer that you use is an indirect thermal transfer printer - this type of printer will also require thermal transfer ribbons to make it work.

In summary, there are a few components to consider, but many suppliers will put it all together for you and recommend the best combination for your business.