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Inventory Tracking & Purchasing 63

nimr0d writes "I work for a company is subcontracted entirely to the county government. We write the software in-house. We have approximately 100 different locations we service, and don't expect that to change much, for better or for worse. Currently, we have an archaic, DOS-based, ICOBOL inventory system which tracks every piece of digital equipment we have, by a individually unique serial number, which is further tracked by a 'SystemID', which is a container for each individual workstation. We then have another container for the location where the equipment resides. We currently track around 30,000 individual parts. Problem is, our system is very bug-ridden and is constantly prone to 'losing' equipment. We desperately need a new system for PO's, RA's, and inventory/cost/depreciation tracking desperately. Does anyone have any advice?"
"We need to be able to ship an exact copy of the system we originally sold them, in the event of a failure. Some stations serve different functions, so the ability to classify system's and parts by type is also very helpful. We also currently have flags for leased or purchased equipment, and whether that part is covered under warranty or not.

We have looked into several companies that write custom software, but they are looking for upward of $35,000 for a SQL or Access application, which is insane for a company of our size (approximately 25 people) to buy into. There has to be something out there reasonably priced that can do what we need it to, we can't be the only ones."
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Inventory Tracking & Purchasing

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  • You could probably manage your inventory with:

    1. vi(m)... to edit and manage the inventory.
    2. awk, to write various reports
    3. grep, quick lookups (maybe piped into simple awks)
    4. (optional) perl, diff, sort, col, ncurses, et al.

    I'm not being totally facetious. Usually the problem is overkill with managing information. If it's low transaction (sounds like yours is), with minimal dynamics, I've seen so many sledgehammer applications that are exactly what you describe: buggy, with data constantly "lost".

    The tool

    • He's looking for ONE piece of software, not a handfull of cobbled together code snippets.
      • On the other hand, if he doesn't personally have to cobble them together and the end result works right, it may not make much difference.
        • Exactly! The rest is just a SMOP [catb.org].
        • Perhaps. The big trick is unifying the underlying calls. Nobody, not even I, wants to go to the command line and invoke grep, and other utilities to get basic work done. It all comes down to ease of use. A slick UI would probably be a good thing, but reliance on third party (in this case open source) utilities is not exactly safe. One small change to the utility that changes the way it calls or returns information can break the application. The only way around that would be to never update those utili
          • WTF? Surely you concede that patches to critical systems should only be applied by professionals who have analyzed what the patch will change and what needs to be handled. If I was upgrading grep (which hasn't changed its calls in...quite a while) then I could easily see what's being updated/changed and slightly modify how the slick GUI calls it.

            Although I have to say that I haven't seen any change in these fundamental GNU CLI apps that hasn't been easily integrated into legacy code. How often do you think
    • How will such a system manage depreciation? Amortization of assets? Automatically deal with purchase orders? These things are mentioned in the requirements. And you simply can't have someone sitting there manually editing the inventory amount every time something gets sold. And what about integration with POS?

      Your "solution" MIGHT work for a mom-and-pop shop, but even then, it would be an error-prone, tricky-to-use, work-intensive hassle.
    • Now there's a programmer after my own heart. All you naysayers should actually think about this a little. I mean, they're only tracking 30,000 objects! Just build a clean, shiny GUI interface that has buttons for everything that the company wants to do. Those buttons execute well designed CLI calls, parse the output (if needed), and return it to the shiny app. Unless they expect to go from tracking 30,000 objects to several million this system would be perfectly usable, much less buggy, faster, and easier t
  • by Pedersen ( 46721 ) on Friday May 05, 2006 @12:33AM (#15268312) Homepage
    Asset Tracker [chaka.net], a system which integrates wonderfully with Request Tracker [bestpractical.com] is worth looking at, definitely. It has something of a learning and configuration curve, to be sure. Once you're over that, though, it works like a charm. Oh, and the price is right, too: Free.
  • Build yourself a database in-house if possible. You can put together a basic one to fit what seem to be your needs with a relatively small amount of work. Tables for location data, system/location concordance, system data (role, etc), part/system concordance, part data (role, manufacturer, model), and something to tie a serial number to a specific machine and part (since you will presumably have multiple pieces of equipment with the same model number) should get you pretty well covered.

    Then you just n
    • I'd like to suggest looking into OFBiz http://www.ofbiz.org/ [ofbiz.org] - it's not meant precisely for what the OP wants, but it's sufficiently flexible to be programmed/configured to do that sort of work without problems. The database models it's based on are very well thought out, something that 'rolling your own' is likely to not get quite right the first few times.
  • www.netsuite.com
  • What the...? (Score:3, Informative)

    by vga_init ( 589198 ) on Friday May 05, 2006 @02:09AM (#15268540) Journal

    Don't take me for a troll, but I'd like to politely say that this seems like a rather inane question to make the front page of Slashdot. After all, anyone who has taken a programming class has been made to write software like this as a gentle, easy introduction to programming. Naturally, this is a real-world problem that is a bit larger and more complex than simple practice problems (ie larger data set, possible need for network code), but the fundamental idea is very similar.

    The fact that the original system was written in COBOL and ran on DOS is a little telling. Back when my father used to work for Radioshack, he coded an inventory transaction system in BASIC in his spare time, and it was used by quite a few of their shops. His programming experience is quite modest, and he's always been more of a user than a coder.

    My point being this: You can produce this software in-house a lot more effectively than by seeking an outside solution. Other people may have written programs (or systems of programs) that do what you want, but they aren't tailored specifically for your company. Also, I imagine that it would be a lot cheaper (sure, there is freeware, but somebody still has to work on it to make it fit).

    • He says he is goverment. That means that you can't efficient IT projects developed in house by a skilled programmer. It is a law.

      Any IT project got to run at least a year (planned) go overtime by at least a year. Go at least 2 million over budget. Not deliver what is required. Require that whatever the software does it cannot do it well or at all for at least half a year after it has been rolled out.

      What the above ain't law? Then why do the same IT companies that screw up time and time again get the contr

    • Bwahahaha! (Score:1, Insightful)

      by PaulMorel ( 962396 )
      nubcakes, get out of school and into the real world for a few months.... then I'd like to see you say this.

      I have a CS degree from the University of Rochester. I worked on a bunch of mentally challenging, but low paying research / robotics projects after college. It was very 'hard' CS work, but I wanted a car, so I got a high paying job in business.

      Now, I program a huge order entry system in COBOL.

      The problem isn't that writing an order entry system is hard; there's nothing technically difficult abo

  • 6 step plan. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by complete loony ( 663508 ) <Jeremy.Lakeman@g3.14mail.com minus pi> on Friday May 05, 2006 @02:58AM (#15268628)
    Step 1.
    Produce DETAILED requirements of ALL the processes that need to be performed and all the reports that are required of the system.

    Step 2.
    Determine what each part of the application is worth to you. How much business would you lose without it, how much easier would your job be if the software did it for you.

    Step 3.
    Find any existing products free or otherwise.

    Step 4.
    Compare the features against your requirements.

    Step 5.
    Offer to pay someone to implement those feature you want, that the software doesn't have. Possibly the original vendor / author of the software or for free software you could offer the job to someone internally if they're up to it, or well anyone really.

    Step 6.
    Look at what you've now got, realise that it's totally unworkable, just a buggy if not more so as the last software you used, and pay the $35k to someone else who works in the industry and knows what they are doing to sort out the mess.

    Here's some free advice. Getting software to work exactly the way you want can be quite complicated and costly. Don't underestimate it.

  • by BJH ( 11355 )
    My advice would be to gank all the good gear you can before they bring in someone who knows what they're doing.
  • I see this problem ALL the time. I talked about it in the thread about hotel check-in software too.

    There is a general lack of good quality easy to use software out there and most of that runs over windows, which means you not only have to teach your staff how to use windows in addition to the software, you have to BUY windows and then deal with all the problems that windows brings with it.

    My friend worked at a warehouse that had some horrible antiquated made for them text based system, where each keystroke
    • About the "browser based database": most of the people who work with this kind of software full time hate switching to a browser implementation. Many of the programs fail to implement decent shortcut keys, and even those that do never seem to make it enough.

      That said the browser based interface is good for everyone who needs to look at this but does not work on it all day. I would say the best solution is a browser interface with an additional traditional front-end. Personally I would put the front end to

      • I completely agree. A lot of clerks or people working in warehouse are used to punch in numbers, press RETURN and move to the next item. Switching to a mouse-based system would not be efficient, people would complain all the time and ask to "go back like it was".

        In real life you have to adapt the machine to the people who are using it, not the opposite. Unless you really want SAP...

  • by sgent ( 874402 ) on Friday May 05, 2006 @06:23AM (#15268968)
    FAS is the market leader in the SMB area for this type of stand alone application. Options including modules for Government & Non-profit accounting (Fund accounting), as well as integration to your GL, depreciation, etc. I have never used it in a live system, but have as a demo. If I remember correctly, pricing is about $3k + implementation. I would definately take a look at it (and other, competing solutions).

    FAS Website [sagespecialized.com]

  • The big boys in the facilities management arena (MP2 and Maximo) can often be leased. For example, my employer [projetech.com], hosts Maximo for an annual fee that is far smaller than what you would pay for buying the licenses directly from MRO. And we're not the only ones.
  • ERP (Score:2, Informative)

    by Rayder ( 39469 )
    If you were thinking in spend $35.000 to get an specific app, you will be happier if you need to spend a lot less ... :)

    Take a look at http://tinyerp.com/ [tinyerp.com] if does everything you want and a lot more, maybe you will find it interesting. Yes it is an almost full featured ERP+CRM but the stock modules are pretty complete. They have the multiwarehouse you need, the backtrack and some aditional niceties.

    You can use too http://compiere.org/ [compiere.org], but from my experience with both packages, Compiere is heavier, harder to
    • the tinyERP looks interesting. I'm a one man dental lab/IT dept and wrote my own, needing mainly job scheduleing, invoicing and statements in php/MySQL and have it doing what it does very well. Now I have to worry about FDA 501K requirements which means a real invetory of supplies including lot number and expirations dates on everything used/ ordered, methods used, being able to track quality variences, do product recalls, 30 year data retention on a proctuct with a 5 years expected lifetime, OMG. tinyERP b
  • Have a look at Compiere ERP [compiere.org]. I haven't used it, but it's a very active project on Sourceforge, and it's free.
  • Check out http://www.dbsonline.com/ [dbsonline.com] and have a look at their BS/1 products. I've used them in the past and found them to be of exceptional quality. The part that I like best is that, yes, the BS/1 series is closed source, BUT, you can buy the source at a reasonable price. This is some very popular code that is used in a variety of industries, easily customized, and may meet your needs too.
    All you need is some delphi experience.

    [Disclaimer: no, I am not affiliated with the company, just a satisfied
  • Our company has been using Accpac advantage series modules for five years. Modules relevant to your question, inventory control, purchase orders, and order entry, although I am quite sure you would require others like payables, etc.

    We have 5 years experience with it and it has performed rock solid. It is now called sage pro, http://sageproerp.com/ [sageproerp.com]

    Modules run from $1500-3000 cdn, but they always seem to offer new user specials quarterly, discounting their products 25-50%

    The software should not set you back $
  • I think everyone here who has a programming degree is rolling their eyes. This is a no-brainer:

    1. Find and hire a young CS student
    2. Pay them well for the summer
    3. Discuss exactly what you want the software to do for you
    4. Watch the kid build it in record time before your eyes
    5. Give them a 1000$ bonus in the end and enjoy the app.

    Seriously, this sort of app is the every programming student's first major project. Most "custom business solutions" are basically the exact same thing, but with a glorified int
    • 1. Find and hire a young CS student
      4. Watch the kid build it in record time before your eyes
      What part of "we did this 25 years ago in Cobol & ended up with a buggy piece of sh!te" don't you understand?
      • More like "what part of the 21st century did you not attend ?"

        It's now possible to write a nice generic business app with very little code because someone somewhere realized they're all the same. Pick up VB.Net or Delphi or if you like overpriced proprietary single-vendor lock-in, Powerbuilder. Hell, you can design your SQL tables and relationships, point the IDE to your database and it will build a skeleton app for you in a split-second, then you just tweak the interface and add a few dozen lines of logi
  • Seriously. You don't need a white-hot performance-optimizing programmer, because nothing you're doing is going to tax the system resources of a Pentium II, even with _fairly_ inefficient code (as long as none of the algorithms it uses are worse than about O(n log n).) What you do need is somebody who understand the importance of robustness, and that's not nearly as hard to hire, or as expensive. Your existing solution is so archaic and so bad, any decent computer geek will be able to put together somethi
  • by schon ( 31600 )
    I'll throw down with Quasar [linuxcanada.com].

    It has a few more features than you're looking for, but it does inventory tracking pretty well.

    It's also GPL'ed.
  • by mrhuman ( 70568 )
    GLPI [indepnet.org] looks interesting.

    GLPI is an information resource manager with an administration interface. You can use it to build a database with an inventory for your company (computers, software, printers, etc.). It has functions to make the daily life of the administrators easier, including a job/request tracking system with mail notification and methods to build a database with basic information about your network topology. It provides a precise inventory of all the technical resources (all their characteristics

  • HardCat [hardcat.com] made by an Australian company, is a top of the line product. They offer a core+modules system that meets your budget. Covers purchasing, acquisition, warehousing, inventory, auditing, stock, depracation, equipment check in/out, handheld inventories, and more. Slightly pricey, but truly worth it. You've already got your organization for inventory worked out so the hardest part is done. A big seller for me was the hierarchical locations, which makes it easy to write reports for what is in a room,
  • We write the software in-house.

    Why not write the software in-house?

  • I've just started a new company Kangaroo Software, LLC that is offers a product similar to what you're asking for: KangarooTrax. It has invoicing, inventory, purchase orders, and customer management built in. The company is new, but the software has been around for a few years.

    You may be more interested in the fact that it's built on MySQL and has an open architecture that can integrate into whatever applications your build in-house or drag around for historical reasons.

    We're in beta testing right now, but
  • http://www.sql-ledger.org/ [sql-ledger.org]
    It has inventory control.
  • Replacing business critical or CORE systems is always expensive - however its vitial to make the right choice. Spending extra to get exactly what you need is critical. The system will have a shelf life of 15-20 years, therefore the cost of the project must be considered over this time period.

    The software is only part (50%) of the cost. You need to migrate all the old data over (this is ALWAYS expensive). You need to train people in the new system. You need to host the software on the right hardware and

  • Dear nimr0d I work for a large company and our inventory system is also based in ICOBOL a very powerful programing language if not the most powerful know to man at this time. After reading over your post its really sounds like HUMAN error so either you need to fire the idiot that runs the inventory or learn/teach someone how to use the system rigth. Again you can not blame ICOBOL or any DOS based system from what i can see its HUMAN error. WE have been running our inventory system now for about 20 years. L

Nothing ever becomes real until it is experienced. - John Keats