Inventory management software simplifies the process of tracking all the chemicals and equipment within the lab. Implementing the right software can save laboratories time and money, and prevent unnecessary delays during experiments. “Not knowing that the lab has run out of a specific reagent, or that lab equipment may not be available when needed, can slow down research or potentially impact a critical experiment. To that end, inventory management is only a first step to effective lab operations and asset management,” explains Heather Lorenz, senior product manager with Agilent CrossLab Group. There are a few things to consider when purchasing inventory management software for your laboratory, and a few ways to optimize your platform once it is implemented.
If you are unsure whether your laboratory will benefit from inventory management software, start by looking at your current approach. “I’d suggest that lab managers assess the amount of time they are spending creating reports, manually performing reconciliations, and ordering chemicals they may already have onsite (but cannot locate),” says Joe Sheehan, sales manager at Vertere. The size of the lab also matters. “It is estimated that once an organization has more than 50 lab staff, the process of managing lab instruments and supplies becomes complicated enough to require inventory management software,” says Lorenz.
There are several factors to consider when comparing software options. “All good lab management programs take into account the three main pillars of methodology: people, technology, and process,” explains Lorenz. “Factors such as optimizing how software is used (people), understanding the scope of that software use (process), and determining how the lab assets and supplies will be identified and tracked (technology), should all be considered in regards to the dynamic needs of the lab.” According to Sheehan, “a good chemical inventory solution needs to be flexible and configurable to a user’s specific needs so that they will follow through with maintaining accurate and up-to-date records. It also needs to be backed by a company that provides support and training necessary for clients to be successful.”
Challenges arise when laboratories focus solely on technology, or introduce errors into the system. “Too often labs will focus on technology first (e.g. barcodes, RFID, etc.) without consideration of the big picture in regards to lab inventory management,” explains Lorenz.
“A common mistake we have seen is inaccurate or inconsistent data entry,” says Sheehan. “This could be due to a poorly implemented plan, a complicated user interface, or limited access to vendor support.”
There are many ways to optimize asset management software to obtain the greatest cost, time, and resource savings. According to Lorenz, optimization has an important human component. “Adopting software to help manage laboratory inventory is not only about the particular software that is deployed, it is also about educating and enabling lab staff, so the software is used to its fullest potential. This can be accomplished through training, but it is also about change management to best fit the use of software into the culture of the lab.”
According to Sheehan, “an optimized system would contain essential data, provide the necessary user access, and simplify the management of container records.” He suggests a few ways this can be achieved. First, “ensure data consistency by reducing data entry errors.” Using a catalog of chemical records prevents duplication and minimizes repetitive tasks for your users. It is also important to “establish a process plan to streamline and standardize the management of container records, from receipt to disposal,” says Sheehan. “An intuitive software solution will allow a plan to be implemented easily and used often.” He also recommends opting for a software solution that “will allow task-specific roles and site-specific configurations,” so that users have the rights required to perform their tasks.
Inventory management software can save laboratories time and money, and keep daily operations running smoothly. Investing time to develop the appropriate process and train laboratory personnel can help maximize your return on investment.