You know the old saying, that the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing?
Chances are at some point in your career, working across teams or on a project, you found that this old truism isn’t so much of an exception, but the rule as to how businesses are run.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way. With the right technology, companies can make a small fix that makes a big difference.
For an example of this, let’s go to Uruguay and visit the Forestadora y Maderera del Norte sawmill.
Production and distribution
As the CPA and CFO, Pablo Balerio admits he is not a tech guy. But after talking with his brother, who heads the operations department, he became interested in ways to automate how they keep track of the bins containing their available inventory.
Here's the situation he was dealing with:
One of the intermediary products the sawmill manufactures and uses later in the manufacturing process are different sizes of rough-cut lumber, called blocks. As the plant’s operations are divided between the production of blocks and processing these blocks into finished products, production and sales managers need to be sure they have the supply available to fill orders, but at the same time don’t end up with a surplus of blocks.
You probably see the issue. The production of blocks (i.e., “the right hand”) and the distribution of blocks (i.e., “the left hand”) need to talk to one another so they both know what their inventory is and can plan accordingly.
Birth of an app
The old way to keep track of what was in stock was to do a visual recount. Twice a day, on both ends, they would manually count how many blocks they had in each bin. Once these numbers were tallied they’d have a general picture of their inventory.
Three problems: One, this process took between 30 and 40 minutes. Two, it didn’t provide an accurate, real-time account of the inventory. And finally, it’s the 21st century — these processes should be automated!
At first, the IT team was skeptical that creating a solution with AppSheet would be robust enough or could integrate with their current systems. But in two months, Balerio developed an inventory management app that allowed workers and managers on both ends of the plant to have access to real-time inventory statistics and thereby manage production more efficiently.
The nuts and bolts
The foundation of the app rests on Google Sheets and QR codes. Here's how it works:
Each bin is affixed with a QR code.
When items are added to a bin on the production end of the plant, a user snaps a picture of the QR code and inputs the quantity of items added. At the distribution end when inventory is taken out of the bins, a worker snaps the QR code and inputs the number of pieces.
This information gets uploaded into the same Google spreadsheet. Here managers can see the detail of each bin (in a separate cell) and get a real-time, high-level overview of their total inventory.
Simple and easy to use, the app allows for better collaboration and a way to keep the right hand and the left on the same page.