Ventory provides insight into previously invisible stocks


Ventory won Supply Chain Media’s European Supply Chain Start-up Contest with a seemingly simple solution for managing inventory – not in warehouses, but at locations beyond the scope of the warehouse management system (WMS). “Service technicians have more important things to do than maintain stock records. That’s why ease of use is so important,” says John Fraughton from Ventory customer R7 Supply, a US provider of spare parts for wind and solar farms.

By Marcel te Lindert 

Spare parts can be held in stock in multiple places: on end-users’ premises, in service technicians’ vans or at unstaffed pick-up & drop-off points. How can you keep tabs on all those stock locations, where the end users typically grab what they need? Logistics service provider DHL Supply Chain approached the founders of Ventory with that very question two years ago. “Needless to say, DHL has a warehouse management system in its massive warehouses. But you’re not going to install a full WMS at a stock location that’s little more than a glorified container or a service van,” said Ellen Malfliet, co-founder and COO of Ventory, during a recent Supply Chain Media webinar.

DHL’s question was the starting point for Ventory, the Belgian start-up that won the European Supply Chain Start-up Contest in May. Ventory developed a solution that allows DHL to digitize all its local stock locations and gain visibility into the inventory there. Malfliet preferred to call it a ‘smart plug-in’. “Our solution can run as a stand-alone, but most customers already have a WMS and ERP system containing the necessary inventory data. What we do is add more accurate data. In SAP you might see that you have 2,500 pieces of an item in stock, but Ventory also tells you that 17 of them are in a specific van, 25 in a different warehouse and 33 in another location.”

Green and grey ticks

Ventory’s solution consists of a platform with an app that runs on any smartphone and can be used to check stock anywhere simply by scanning barcodes with the smartphone’s camera. “Ventory knows which barcodes are relevant and which aren’t. Once you’ve scanned everything, you see a green tick on the screen. If you scan a barcode that has already been captured, you see a grey tick. And if you scan something that should actually be in a different location, you receive an alert,” explained Malfliet.

DHL has achieved impressive results with the app, not least because the scanning itself is now much more efficient. “It used to take a DHL employee 46 minutes to count the stock in one rack. We handed a phone equipped with the Ventory app to a new employee and it took them just over 20 minutes to complete the same task,” said Malfliet. “Besides that, the number of out-of-stocks has been reduced by 70%. Before, end users were regularly left emptyhanded, even though the parts were in stock somewhere. The problem was that the end users didn’t know that, or couldn’t find the right part in time. Last but not least, use of the app reduced inventory levels by 35%.”

Remote locations

Ventory customer R7 Supply provides independent energy producers with spare parts for wind turbines and solar farms. “Our customers often need those parts in remote locations,” stated John Fraughton, Vice President of R7 Supply. “We have a central distribution centre in Arizona, but in addition to that our parts are also held in many other locations, ranging from logistics providers’ warehouses to small storage containers. We deliver parts directly to the sites where service technicians perform repairs, but also to their home addresses so that they have the right parts first thing in the morning.”

Those service technicians have more important things to do than maintain accurate stock records, or at least that’s how they themselves see it. “That’s why our job is to make it as easy as possible for them. That was a major reason for choosing Ventory’s solution,” explained Fraughton. He cited connectivity as another challenge. After all, service technicians often work in areas where mobile coverage is poor. “We can’t expect service technicians to make a note of which parts they use and then input that data when they eventually have coverage again. Ventory works even when there’s no internet connection.”

Rapid scaling up

Ventory’s solution is not only used by R7’s warehouse staff, but also by its external service and maintenance partners. “That’s another reason why ease of use is so important,” Fraughton added. “The solution is intuitive and user friendly. An employee can download the app to their phone on the go and set to work right away. That allows us to scale up quickly and onboard new employees smoothly.”

Notably, R7 uses Ventory as a stand-alone solution, because the company – which was founded just 16 months ago – does not yet have a WMS or ERP system with which it can be integrated. “This was a solution that we could use right away, irrespective of which other applications we decide to use later. We can still integrate Ventory with other business software in the future, but that won’t change the way people work in the field. That’s one important advantage of this solution.”

Customer dashboards

Besides the app, Ventory also gives Fraughton and his team visibility into stock levels through a dashboard. In addition, customers have their own dashboards that provide insight into the inventories R7 manages for them. “We can even see which parts have been sent to the supplier for repair. When we receive them again, we can put them back into stock,” said Fraughton. He is so pleased with Ventory’s performance that he doesn’t feel the need to calculate the payback period. “I’ve been around long enough to know what success looks like,” he concluded.