There always are obstacles when changes are made in operations. There are the start-up costs associated with purchasing the software, conducting the initial inventory, purchasing additional items to bring the inventory up to your standard, and disposing of unneeded items. Focus on where you want the system to be in six months or a year. Sell the program to upper management on the basis of how it will benefit operations in the long term.
If you can, cite examples where the lack of replacement components on site has resulted in additional costs to obtain those parts or in lengthy service outages while waiting for parts delivery. Try to quantify what it is costing the facility to not have an adequate inventory control system. If management is unwilling to fund the start-up for the entire program, start a trial program that sets up an inventory control system for part of the operation. Track performance and present the results to management, projecting the benefits to a complete system.
There will be opposition from personnel who don’t want the change, particularly if all trades have their own stockpiles of items — stockpiles that they feel they own. Centralizing the warehouse will make it easier for others to draw “their” stock. Some will go so far as to try and undermine the new system so that they can go back to the old way of doing things. But it isn’t their stock. It is the organization’s stock. It is their job to let management know what needs to be stocked in what count. With the inventory management system, they can now forget about having to maintain a stock of items and focus on completing the tasks at hand. Chances are their inventory system worked on the eyeball approach: If you see it, it is in stock. If you don’t, you have to order it.
Get operating staff involved early
The best way to overcome opposition to the program is to get people involved early in the process. Bring together members of the various trades and show them how the program will make their jobs more efficient. Have them help define both the items that should be included in the inventory and their recommended stocking levels. Encourage them to go through stock in their shops and in the central location to identify items that are obsolete and could be disposed of.
When developing procedures to be followed for ordering, drawing, and returning stock from the inventory system, have maintenance personnel participate. Chances are they will be able to identify circumstances that would be otherwise overlooked, such as drawing items after normal business hours. Again, their participation will help lessen the belief that a new and cumbersome system is being imposed on them.
Even after the system is up and running, continue to encourage feedback from all that use the system. Are the right items in the right quantity being included in the inventory? Is the system responsive to their needs or are they being overwhelmed with paperwork requirements? The effort to ensure buy in to a new system should not end with implementation. Rather, it is an ongoing process that must be encouraged with two-way communication.
James Piper, PhD, PE, is a writer and consultant who has more than 35 years of experience in facilities management. He is a contributing editor for Building Operating Management.
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Understanding the Benefits of Inventory Management
Data Drives Inventory Management Systems
Overcoming Obstacles To Effective Inventory Management