Stocked-Parts inventory

Overview

There is probably no service company that does not find it prudent to maintain a minimum stock of parts and/or supplies.  Nor would you expect to find any that do not need a systematic method for tracking precisely what they have purchased and entered into stock, what they have used out of it, what they presently have left (including where those quantities are located), and how the latter values compare with minimums needed before re-stocking.  Many companies already have systems in place to meet these needs; some do not.  Regardless, ServiceDesk provides the system you’ll now want to use—designed as elsewhere for maximum effect with minimum effort, and taking advantage of information already garnered from other aspects of operation.

We’ll begin our description of this system with a broad, conceptual overview.  In such regard, it may first help to know that ServiceDesk maintains four principal files in conjunction with its InventoryControl function:

  • ‍First is the MasterPartsPlan, which as the name implies is a listing of each type of item that you intend to maintain in stock, including its description, as many as three different part numbers, abbreviations for the type of machine (or application) it's used on, the make, your regular and preferred customer prices (assuming you use the latter), and minimum quantities you wish to maintain on each truck and in your stock room.
  • Closely related to the MasterPartsPlan is the MasterPartsIndex.  Although its function is mostly invisible, you may benefit from knowing that it's here that ServiceDesk maintains an alphanumerically sorted list of all the alternative part numbers you've specified in your MasterPartsPlan, along with a truncated item description.  This index is used to facilitate cross-referencing and rapid searches within other files.
  • Next is the InventoryList, which features a unique entry for every item of inventory you have in stock at any moment in time.  In other words, for each item of inventory (or set of items in bulk, if so managed; see page 147), you'll have an exclusive entry referencing it in the InventoryList.  This entry includes a referencing number, a notation indicating its physical location (whether in your office stock room or on a particular truck), a date indicating how long it's been in that location, and the amount you paid for it.  
  • ‍Finally, there is the InventoryJournal, which keeps a running record of every inventory movement, whether its from a supplier into your stock, from your stockroom to a truck, from a truck to use in a repair (and hence a sale), from a truck back into office stock, a return of items to the supplier, etc.  This file includes a date, abbreviations indicating from whence and to where the item was transferred, the quantity, and cost of items involved.

Bear in mind that while these files underlie the various processes involved in InventoryControl, you do not have to know their names, nor should you confuse this description of files with the forms you’ll use to access their information.  It may simply help to know these are the kinds of information the InventoryControl system uses to serve your needs.

In regard to forms themselves, there are primarily two dedicated to this system: the MasterPartsPlan form and the InventoryControl form.

The first (as its name implies) is used to create and maintain your MasterPartsPlan (sometimes called the “MasterList or just List”).  Having such a task, it’s a form that you’ll become rather intimate with when first setting up your system (press Ctrl-F10 to access it).  After that, you’ll use it only when needing to revise the MasterList, and so you may go for many months at a time without ever touching it.  In such a sense (at least to the extent you find it unnecessary to revise your MasterList), you might say this is a “use and forget” form.

The “InventoryControl form” is also aptly named, for it’s function is to access and manage the item-by-item listing of (and record of movements among) actual items in your stocking inventory, to facilitate re-stock to each truck, re-order when inventory is low, and so on (press F10 to access it).

As you might guess, there’s interaction between the kinds of information that’s gathered by these two forms.  It’s based on information created in the MasterPartsPlan form, for example, that the InventoryControl form deduces how many of a given item should be on each truck, and knows when restock is needed, etc.

A final point to remember concerns the conceptual and functional distinction between what we’re describing here (described within this manual as either the “InventoryControl” or “InventoryControl” system) and the PartsProcess system described in the last section.  The two are very, very separate.  In regard to the present topic we’re a discussing a comprehensive system for managing every item of stocking-type part that you intend to maintain in inventory.  With the PartsProcess system, by contrast, we intend to manage functions associated with non-stock parts (i.e., items you do not intend to maintain in inventory, and so acquisition of such items essentially involves a “special” order).  The PartsProcess system, you may also note, is not at this point as comprehensive.  While it very ably facilitates the ordering process, it does not presently keep track of what happens to such parts (or of how many you have sitting around at a given moment) once they are received.  Regardless, please be very mindful of the distinction.  Stocking items and non-stocking items are handled very differently.

Again, this initial description has been intended as a broad conceptual overview—regarding the InventoryControl system.  We’ll next discuss specifics, but first let’s note one added matter.

Of all the systems in ServiceDesk, this one requires the most work—by far—in terms of setting up for use.  Indeed, it requires quite a lot of pretty hard work (not complicated or hard to figure out, just tedious), and can’t be used, for the most part, until that work is done (afterwards, thankfully, continuing maintenance is a delightful breeze).  We mention this because, for a new user, we think it probably makes most sense to delay use of this system until after you have other, more basic elements of ServiceDesk operating.  It’s true that you won’t immediately enjoy its benefits, but presumably you’ll be no worse off (in specific regard to InventoryControl) than you were previously.  If you do so delay, there’s one thing you’ll need to remember in terms of running the rest of the system without this InventoryControl portion yet setup.  When doing PostVisitReports, one of the queries is whether the technician used any parts from stock.  Until you’ve setup this system, it will be necessary to lie in response to that query.  Even if a part was used, claim “no.”  The reason is because the system will have no way of properly responding to a “yes” response until after inventory information is finally setup.

Creating a MasterPartsPlan

As your very first task in setting up an InventoryControl system, you must describe the parts you intend to maintain in stock (make a list, in other words).  That is, of course, where the MasterPartsPlan form comes into play.  Press Ctrl-F10 to access the form.

For the most part, we think this form is self-explanatory.  It lists 39 items to a page (once you create them at least), allows you to move between pages using the PgDn and PgUp keys, and employs the common ServiceDesk convention of allowing you to make edits to any item by first left-clicking on it, following which it is enclosed in editing boxes.  To delete an item, right-click on it (also a common ServiceDesk convention).  To add new items, either click on the first empty space, or select the form's Add-Item command.

Of course, you should know something about the types of information ServiceDesk expects you to list in respect to each item you'll be describing.  Go ahead and bring up your MasterPartsPlan form, then hit Alt-A to add your first item to the list.  Immediately, you'll see a row of editing boxes into which you're expected to enter information.

The first three boxes, you'll see, are all for PartNumbers.  Why three different PartNumbers?  In our experience, we've found that a given kind of stock item can often go by several different PartNumbers, and it's helpful to have more than one, of these alternatives, at your ready grasp.  Thus, we've allowed up to three.  They are permissive, which is just another way of saying there's no requirement for you to use all three.  The possibilities are simply there if you want to use them.  The only requirement is that you list a unique number (or other identifying equivalent) in at least one of the three spaces.

Organizationally, we do have some specific intent about what kind of numbers you might most beneficially use in each box (though this is not required; you can use each in whatever manner you please so long as that minimum requirement is met).  Our thinking is that, ideally, you may want to use the first box for an OEM (i.e., original equipment manufacturer) part number, if applicable.  If yours is an appliance repair company, for example, and you're entering a part used in Whirlpool dryers, we suggest entering Whirlpool's part number here.  The second space, more typically, we think should be used for an Industry PartNumber if applicable (in many cases there's a number that's recognized within an entire industry as referring to some product generically, for example, such as “R22” for that kind of refrigerant).  The third space, since many service companies buy a large percentage of their stock from Johnstone Supply, we've intended for use with a Johnstone part number (it's six spaces long, while the others are 16 and 10, respectively).  Of course, you may again use it for whatever kind of identifying information you wish, or for none at all if that's your preference.

Following these first three PartNumber spaces (remember you must have a unique identifying number in at least one), are two very small spaces, allowing only two characters each.  The first of these is for an abbreviation indicating the brand of machine or fixture the item is used with (if it's use is not limited to a particular brand, we suggest using the letters "AL" to denote applicability to all makes).  The second is for an abbreviation indicating the kind of fixture or appliance the item is used with (i.e., you might use "DR" in reference to a dryer part).

The very next space, far longer than the others, is for your description of the item.  Obviously, descriptions are exactly that, and can take whatever form you prefer.  However, we have a specific suggestion in  their regard.  For the first word in the description, consider using a term that's as general as possible, then a comma, then more specific details.  The reason is because ServiceDesk will sort your list alphabetically, by description.  If you were to list one item as "1/3 HP CONDENSER FAN MOTOR," for example, another as "BLOWER MOTOR," and still another as "FASCO BRAND UNIVERSAL MOTOR," the items would all end up in rather different places on your final list, making it much less organized and clear.  Instead, it would be smarter to list the above examples as "MOTOR, CONDENSER FAN, 1/3 HP," "MOTOR, BLOWER," and "MOTOR, UNIVERSAL, FASCO BRAND."  In this way, all three listings will end up being together after ServiceDesk alpha-sorts your list, and it becomes much easier for you to review each motor you've included in the list, or to locate any just by looking alphabetically under "MOTOR."

Following the Description block, there are two spaces for you to insert the price, or prices, you intend to sell the item for.  The reason for two price spaces is because you might have one price for regular customers and another, discounted price for home-warranty or other special clients (if not wanting to offer any second category of special prices, just leave the second field blank).

Finally, there are two remaining, and very small spaces at the end.  The first is for the quantity of the item you intend to keep in stock on each standard truck, and the second for the quantity that will be considered the minimum for your stock room before ServiceDesk prompts you to reorder.

In regard to these last two quantity spaces, there's an important option which allows you to insert something other than a quantity.  There are many kinds of stock, obviously, where a little bit of some bulk supply will be used at a time, but typically not the entirety (like one clamp out of a box of clamps, for example, or a little freon out of a jug, etc).  For such items, it makes a lot more sense to simply document having placed that supply into stock, and then to assume some supply remains until there's a report that it's been exhausted—rather than attempting to constantly quantify how much of the box or container remains.  If this is the kind of item you're listing, don't put a quantity in either of its two quantity boxes.  Instead, type-in the letters "SU" (abbreviation for "supply"), and ServiceDesk will subsequently interpret the item accordingly (when any item is so listed, the quantity value that's kept in inventory will refer to the number of such supplies (i.e., boxes, jugs, etc.), rather than to the amount of material left within any specific box or jug.

It does involve some amount of work, obviously, to create this list of the various items you intend to maintain in stock—not a huge amount, but considerable nonetheless.  Within our own service business, we’d developed an effective list that worked very well for us (we were getting approximately 75 percent first time completions with about $3K in inventory on each truck).  If yours is likewise an appliance service business, we invite you to use our list (and reduce or possibly eliminate the work of setting up your own).  A copy is provided on the installation CD (using Windows Explorer, look for ‘StckList’ in the ‘OtherFls’ folder and copy into the ‘c:\sd\netdata’ folder on whichever computer you are using as FileServer).  At the very least, you might find it easier to start with our list as a foundation, and add or delete entries to taste rather than starting from scratch.  And, even if you’re in another trade (in which case our list would probably not suit your needs at all), you can, if wanted, load our list and look at it as an example (just delete the same file when wanting to replace it with your own list).  Also and incidentally, if any of you in other trades are particularly proud of whatever list you ultimately develop—and are willing to provide us with a copy—we’d be happy to make it available to other ServiceDesk users on future CDs (along with the one oriented toward appliance service that’s currently there).

In regard to other features on the MasterPartsPlan form, you'll notice there's a command button for doing a Sort/Index routine (sorts items alphabetically and makes the MasterPartsIndex that ServiceDesk needs in other InventoryControl contexts; be sure to run it before otherwise using the form’s data), and also a button for printing a copy of your list (it’s useful to take a printout of item-types when counting your beginning inventory).  Naturally, there’s also a ‘Search’ button, which allows you to quickly find listings based on any of the alternative part numbers, or even description.  Finally, there's a command button that's less obvious in purpose, labeled "Make Ascii File."  Its function is to create a version of your list that can be loaded into your word processor, and there edited or formatted for whatever separate purpose you might like to make of it.  Most companies will equip each of their technicians with a catalog-type listing of stocked parts, for example (based on the MasterPartsPlan).  With the special formatting that can be done in a word processor, you can setup to print your list in multiple columns on a single page, or on both sides of a single page, or whatever else is the handiest format for your technicians to use and keep in their clipboards (as needed for them to correctly price parts, know what they’re supposed to have on their trucks, etc.).

Again, bear in mind that the MasterPartsPlan form has one primary function: it's the tool you use to create and maintain your own MasterPartsPlan (additionally it creates an index that ServiceDesk uses in related stock functions, and you can use it to create a version of your catalog-type listing in Ascii format, but these are peripheral to it's main function).

Informing ServiceDesk of your already-existing stock

After you've created your MasterPartsPlan, you'll be ready to begin informing ServiceDesk of what items you already possess, at the point where you begin using this system.  Unless you're a spanking-new company, you're obviously going to have lots of inventory that’s accumulated during previous years of operation.  Whatever it takes, you're going to need to come up with a listing of every item (or every separate container of supply, see page 147) in existing intended stock. If the system is going to keep track of what you’ve got, after all, it’s got to know what you’re starting with.  You may already have such a list, or may need to physically go through everything—both in your storeroom and on all the trucks—and count it.

The easiest way to perform such a counting is to have a sheet of paper that lists each of the items that need counting at each location (we’ll call it an Inventory-Counting-Sheet).  Then go to each such location (with its own respective Inventory-Counting-Sheet in hand) start with the first listed item, count the quantity found, then write it in.  Proceed to the next item in the list, count the quantity found, write it in, and so on.

The best way to make these Inventory-Counting-Sheet is from the F10 form.  From there, select the option to ‘Review Existing Inventory’ then ‘List of Pt#s, showing total Qty each’.  Now select the location you want to make a list for, then click on the ‘Print List/Labels’ button.  At this point select the option for ‘an ordinary List’ and select your printer.  You’ll find the system makes a very nice printout that’s perfectly suited for going to the location to perform the counting and write-in of found quantities (it even includes a space next to each listing to write-in in the quantity found).  The best idea is to print such a sheet (it likely will consist, in actuality, of many pages) for each location that needs counting (i.e., one for your office storeroom and one for each truck).  

With these sheets prepared, you’re ready to do the actual counting.  Just go to each location with its appropriate Inventory-Counting-Sheet, and do it.  We know it may be a lot of work, but it’s got to be done (and just think, if you haven’t previously had an accurate and comprehensive accounting of intended stocking-type inventory, finally you’ll have it).

Once you've filled-in each of these sheets with actual counted quantities, it's time to input the information to ServiceDesk.  Remember here that when you setup item descriptions in the MasterPartsPlan, you were not in any way indicating items actually possessed; you were only describing a plan, what you intended to possess.  Now it’s time to do the real thing: check in actual items, tell ServiceDesk you have 2 of these, 3 of those, and so on.

There are couple of different ways this can be done.  The normal way is that items are “checked-in” when received in a shipment (or otherwise purchased from a supplier).  You’ll see the F10 form has a nice facility for this, which we’ll discuss shortly.  But there’s also another potential way.  It stems from the fact that, in any inventory system, you’ll sometimes find yourself with a quantity on hand that’s different from what the system had reckoned.  To deal with that, we also have a facility in the F10 form to “adjust indicated quantities.”  In established operation, that latter function’s purpose is solely to correct for differences between what’s actually found and what the system formerly reckoned.  In the initial setup situation, however, the facility can be used to do a kind of pretended “checking-in” of actual quantities.

As it happens, the best overall strategy for inputting your initial quantities of stocked items into ServiceDesk is a combination of these two methods.  In regard to the office storeroom, you should pretend you’re receiving a shipment into stock (of all the items you already have there), and use the method (within the F10 form) as provided for that ostensive purpose.  Then, to input the quantities found on each truck, you should use the ‘Adjust indicated quantities’ method.

Here follows a brief overview of each such  step.

For your office storeroom inventory, put its completed Inventory-Counting-Sheet in front of you on your desk.  In ServiceDesk, bring up the Inventory­Control form by pressing F10.  As the form displays, you'll see that it offers several options, including one labeled "Receive items into stock."  Select this option and you'll instantly be presented with a query as to which supplier sent the package of items you're checking in.  Here, of course, you're dealing with a “package” consisting of everything you already have in stock in that storeroom, but the system insists you name a supplier, so make one up.  In particular, it’s a good idea to make the name helpful for the circumstances by calling “Initial Stock” (or something similar).  So, in the space provided, type in "Initial Stock".  Now ServiceDesk will note that you have no supplier in your list by such name, and will ask if this is a name you want to add.  Indicate yes, and ServiceDesk will then add a category of supplier (supposedly) by that name.

Now you can begin checking-in actual storeroom quantities.  As you'll note, the system works in something of a dialog fashion, asking you first to enter the part number you're checking in, then the quantity, then the price paid for it.  In regard to price paid, it may be difficult to come up with exact historical costs, and unless you’re personally a stickler for such matters, we don’t recommend sweating over in fact.  In fact, for our purposes we thought it was best to use the W.A.G. principle.  This is the method that’s used by sophisticated engineers when they need to calculate something less critical than the chord width for the beam supporting an airplane wing; it stands for Wild Ass Guess.  The idea is to get the information as quickly and easily as possible.  In probably won’t matter much, in the long-haul, if you use the W.A.G. principle exclusively in this initial valuation of parts.

You'll notice there's a drop-down list to assist you in selecting the item being entered (you can type the description or any of the three alternative part numbers and matches should appear in this list).  To select an item from the list, you can click on it, cursor down to it then hit Enter, or keep typing until it's the top item in the list, then hit Enter—whatever is easiest.  Enter as many items as you wish in a session (but do not exceed 99, for that’s the most the system can absorb in a single session-sequence), then hit Enter with nothing in the box to conclude a particular entering session (as instructed, incidentally, by an instructional note in the form).  You'll then be asked to confirm if you're concluding the present set of entries, and if so will be queried as to the shipping cost of the package (not easily applicable in the case where it's initial stock, so report "0").

When entering these initial storeroom quantities, there will likely be many, many entries to make.  It will probably be best to do 10 or 20 entries at a time, then conclude and begin a new session, repeating until all is eventually entered.

Once this portion of the process is complete, ServiceDesk will now “know” about all the items of intended stocking inventory in your storeroom.  Now it needs to know what’s on your trucks.

Again, the method we’ll use for “checking-in” initial truck inventory is the “Adjust Indicated Quantities” method.

For reasons we’ll not bother to explain here, make sure you do the storeroom first, as described above.  Then, for each truck, take its completed Inventory-Counting-Sheet, put it on the desk in front of you, and within ServiceDesk bring up the InventoryControl form by pressing F10.  Now select the option to ‘Adjust indicated quantities’ then ‘by reviewing entire List’.  Select the applicable truck, as prompted, then you’ll see you’re presented with an on-screen list, showing each item description in the same sequence as the Inventory-Counting-Sheet that’s on the desk in front of you.  All you have to do is look at the first written-in quantity (as physically counted on the truck), type it on your numeric keypad, hit enter, then the next, and so on.  In such fashion, you can rip through literally hundreds of items very quickly.  As the instruction prompts, you can simply hit your keyboard’s Esc key when ready to record, then follow any added prompts.  It’s that easy.  (It wanted, you can break this up into multiple sessions as well.)

With all of this having been accomplished, you’ll have everything in place for what will—from now on—be an almost effortless basis for maintaining near perfect and constant control of your stocking inventory.   Yahoo!

Maintaining your inventory

When the above preparations are all complete (and assuming you do the counting/input portions over the course of, say, one very long and busy weekend), you will possess what is essentially a snapshot image of your inventory situation at a given point in time.  However, we know inventory is not a static thing.  It’s changing all the time as parts get used and new ones are shipped in.  To keep the picture accurate, the system obviously must be informed of all movements, in or out.

In such regard, let us first consider movements of items into your inventory (now referring to items actually being added physically, as opposed to merely registering items already there, per the last section).  Indeed, and even more specifically up front, let us consider that, before any items are moved into your inventory, you probably need first to order them.

Ordering restock of depleted inventory is obviously no trivial matter (and again, should be contrasted with the process of ordering non-stock parts, as discussed beginning at page 122).  However, ServiceDesk makes it easy—and it can all be done electronically, if wanted.  All you must do is select the InventoryControl form’s ‘Order stock replenishment’ option.  The system will soon (after a bit of searching) display a list showing every item on which it finds fewer items in stock than the MasterPartsPlan-specified minimums.  The list identifies each item and shows how many are in stock compared to specified minimums.  It further deduces and displays the difference (i.e., how many are needed to restore minimums), and indicates the quantity that should (assuming no pilferage, etc.) be on your storeroom shelf.  It invites you, quite simply, to specify how many of each such item you want to include in a particular order.  All you must do, in regard to each such item, is hit a number (i.e., quantity) on your keypad, then Enter.

In this manner, you’ll quickly formulate a restock order (it might take a few seconds).  If your company is like most, there are probably some items that you prefer to purchase from one supplier, and some from another.  That’s easy.  Just formulate one order for the first, specifying quantities for the items you want to order from it.  Formulate a different order for the second, and so on (and as often as you prefer to place restock orders, whether weekly, monthly or “whenever you get around to it”).

After formulating any restock order, the remaining task is to transmit it to the supplier.  We do this, essentially, by “printing” it—with the verb there having something of a broad meaning.  On the one hand, you can literally print a sheet having all the order information on it (simply follow the prompts to do so).  You could take this sheet and mail it, telephone the supplier and read off of it, or much more probably put it in your fax machine and send its image to the supplier.  Alternatively, you can specify your computer’s internal fax as the “printer” and fax the “order sheet” that way, so that you never even need touch paper.  In our office we prefer to “print then fax,” because we automatically then possess a hard-copy version of what the supplier (presumably) received.

At any rate, as operations continue, you’ll undoubtedly soon be placing orders for restock, and receiving shipments in response.  With each shipment received (or even if someone drives to a supplier’s warehouse and picks stuff up), it’s imperative that you inform ServiceDesk of each and every item entered into inventory.  This is essentially the same process as described for entering initial inventory, except that now we’ll be checking in a genuine shipment (rather than pretending to be checking in a shipment as a means of checking in our initial stock).  And here, of course, we’ll be using a real supplier’s name, real, on-the-invoice costs, and so on.

One of the features you’ll notice when checking in parts is that ServiceDesk asks if you'd like to print labels for the items received.  These labels can be rather useful, carrying much information that may not otherwise be on the parts.  If you’d like such labels, simply indicate ‘Yes’ when queried.  The system is configured to print individual labels for each part onto Avery # 4013 labels (sometimes listed as # 04013).  These are sized 3.5" X 15/16" (spaced one label per vertical inch), and arranged in a single column on tractor feed paper for maximum printing convenience.  A printed label will look something like the following:

  • WD15X93          563
  • K35175  FILL VALVE
  • GE DW  Rec'd 10/11/98 from JS     .16.154.
  • 1 per trck, 3 min strg,   $24.84 ()

Here you see the three alternative PartNumbers arranged along the top line.  In the second line, you see the item Description followed by your own MasterPartsPlan abbreviations for ApplicableMake and MachineType.  In the third line, ServiceDesk prints an abbreviated note regarding when the item was received and from whom, followed by a moderately disguised code which indicates the price you paid for it.  Finally, in the last line is an indication of how many of this item each truck should maintain in stock (according to info you've input to the MasterPartsPlan), the minimum you should have on hand in storage before re-ordering, your standard retail price, and (in parentheses) your preferred discount price, if any (no dollar sign is included here).

Besides new items going into your inventory, there’s obviously old items going out (i.e., being used and sold).  These movements must also be registered.  However, and contrary to what you might expect, this is not a task that’s normallyperformed in the InventoryControl form (although, should the odd need arise, it can be done from there).  Instead, it’s done much more conveniently in the PostVisitReport form, as part of the PostVisitReporting process (see page 110).  As part of the dialog in that process, the system asks if any stocking parts were used on the job.  If the query is answered in the affirmative, it collects information about which parts were used, and from which location.  It then makes appropriate entries and adjustments in your inventory files (not to mention a narrative-type report within the job’s History).

Of course, as parts are used from each of the trucks, they need to be restocked.  Again, we’re back to using the InventoryControl form, and again the process is basically the same as when we “transferred” initial inventory to the trucks, except in this case we’ll be using the system to inform us about what actually needs restocked, and reporting on what (at the moment) we are actually transferring, physically.  Again, there are alternative methods for registering transfers (‘Review needs and disburse to truck’ versus ‘Disburse without prior review’), and you may use either depending on preference.

In our office, the habit is that each tech arrives at staggered times in the morning to report on jobs from the day before.  Upon concluding (meaning that, among other things, he’s made entries regarding all items used from stock), and before taking a stack of new jobs and heading out for the day, he asks for restock.  An office person then strikes an appropriate sequence of keys in ServiceDesk (‘F10’ to bring up the InventoryControl form, ‘T’ to select the ‘Transfer to/from trucks option, ‘N’ to select the ‘review Needs and disburse to truck’ option, and finally the tech’s initials), and quickly sees list showing all items that need restocked.  If it’s one or two items, we may simply make a mental note, go to the storeroom and pull the items.  If more, we hit Alt-P to print the list, then go to the storeroom with paper in hand.  At any rate, we then return to the screen and report on how many of each item were transferred to the tech.  Typically about a one-minute operation, this keeps all trucks constantly replenished with the stock they are supposed to possess, and everything is recorded for future reference if and when needed!

As you can see, the system is very easy (after initial setup, at least), and in terms of what it accomplishes, most powerful.  Indeed, there are many other features on the Inventory  form that we’ve not bothered here to describe, for they are largely self-explanatory (simply review and explore the options provided, and you should quickly gain an understanding).  There are just a few items that bear further explanation.

First, occasionally it may happen that one of your techs report using an item, then they realize it was entered incorrectly, and it’s really something else they used.  To try to keep things straight, they inform you.  That’s where the bottom two options on the InventoryControl form come into play.  First you’ll need to cancel the incorrectly indicated usage.  There’s an option specifically for that purpose, and so labeled.  Then you’ll need to enter the correct item, for which there’s an obvious counterpart option.

Second, unless you’re very lucky, you’ll probably lose one of your techs, from time to time, and have to replace him with another.  You may notice that the system identifies each truck according to the initials of the tech it’s assigned to.  Correspondingly, all of the parts checked out to a truck are identified by that tech’s initials.  This means, if you remove one tech’s name from your roster and replace it with another, you’re going to still have a bunch of parts assigned under the old tech’s initials—even though, presumably, the new tech probably has taken over the old tech’s truck and all its associated inventory.  What we need, therefore, is an easy means of changing the assignment references, for each of the parts formerly assigned to the old tech, to the new tech’s initials.  There’s a utility of this specific purpose (review the options) on the InventoryControl form.

Finally, it’s inevitable in any inventory system that inaccuracies will eventually creep in.  This may happen because someone uses a part and forgets to report on it (or perhaps returns an item and forgets to report it).  There may be pilferage, inaccurate reporting on parts received, or any of several other possibilities.  Regardless, when you find a discrepancy between what the computer claims and what you actually find on the shelf, it needs to be corrected (the system needs to be informed, in other words, of what’s really there).  ServiceDesk provides two alternatives for this information.

In the most typical case, you’ll find yourself wanting to enter corrective information on a piece-meal basis (say you've noticed that one or two items are indicating an erroneous quantity when performing restock to a truck, for example, and you want simply to correct these).  Here, the best method (after choosing the 'Adjust indicated quantities' option) is to further select the 'by Selected item' sub-option.  At this point, a drop-down list appears, from which you can select the item whose quantity you wish to correct.  Upon selection, you'll be prompted to indicate the correct quantity, and the system will indicate how many additions or deletions are necessary to make the indicated quantity match.  If it's additions that are needed, ServiceDesk will search to find the most recent cost of such items, and propose the additions be valued similarly (if it's unable to find any exemplars of cost, it asks for input from you).

If, on the other hand, you're wanting to do a complete and thorough recount of all items (whether in regard to office stock or what’s on any particular truck), the alternate method will be easier.  In this case, you should begin by printing out a listing which shows the quantities of each item, as presently indicated.  To do this, select the InventoryControl form's 'review existing Inventory' option, then its 'List of Prt#s, shwng qty of each' sub-option.  Request a viewing of items in the pertinent location, then request a physical printing by clicking on the 'Print list' command button.  This will give you a long printout which you can then take to the relevant location, using it as the prompt, counting each item off the shelves in the sequence listed, and writing in the correct quantity if it differs from what's indicated.

After finishing this exhaustive counting, you must next return to the InventoryControl form, select its 'Adjust indicated quantities' option, then the 'by reviewing entire List' sub-option.  Now you'll see the entire listing on-screen, and have the opportunity to easily indicate correct quantities (should they vary from indicated) next to each.  At conclusion, you'll be asked to confirm the intent to save alterations to the file.

One thing you should be aware of in regard to these procedures is that, besides adding items to or deleting from the InventoryList to make quantities accurate, ServiceDesk also makes entries (as with all other transfers) in the InventoryJournal (“IJrnl”) to document the process of transfer.  If you review this journal from time to time (select the InventoryControl form's 'Review Purchases and Usage' option), you'll see that, using two-letter initials, it indicates transfers from a supplier to the office, from the office to a particular truck, from a truck to a sale (indicated by the '$$' symbol), and so on.  In the case of correcting quantities indicated in office stock, it will show items as being transferred either from or to 'SC', indicating 'Stock Corrections'.  Thus, if you are in the future interested in knowing how many adjustments have been needed to maintain an accurate indication in inventory, you can simply look at the IJrnl for all items going either to or from 'SC'.  If there are too many ‘SC’ references to stock removals (i.e., more than could reasonably be expected to result from mere inaccurate reporting), obviously, you may deduce that you have a problem with pilferage.

There are, as mentioned, several other features which are quite self-explanatory upon examination (just explore the possibilities, you’ll see what they are).  On the other hand, there are a few reporting-type features that we’ve not yet developed, but of course intend to in the future.  There's no inventory-aging feature yet, for example, and no provision for tracking frequency of use among items, or for tabulating values of input and output over a given space of time.  Please let us know if you feel an urgent need for such capabilities, and we’ll give them higher priority in our development schedule.

Advanced Features, Including Specialized Stocking-Plans for Disparate Inventory Locations

The foregoing has described the basic InventoryControl system as originally developed.  For most operations, those basic-level features should prove more than adequate, and to the extent they do there will be no need for you to read further in this section.  If, however, you want to list more information in conjunction with each part item than is allowed within the main section of the MasterPartsPlan form (such as additional part numbers, preferred vendor, expected purchase cost, bin locations, etc.), you’ll want to consider the advanced capabilities that we’ll here discuss.

In particular, you may notice that the basic system is setup with the assumption that you’ll be stocking all your service trucks with the same identical inventory set.  The reason is because this keeps things simple, and is what the majority of service companies do.  If, however, you’ve setup your operation so that different trucks are specialized for distinct purposes (such as, for example, having one or more trucks setup for refrigeration work, another setup for servicing laundry equipment, etc.), this section is especially for you.

All of these advanced features are accessed from via the MasterPartsPlan form, and from two contexts therein.

First, if you want to setup different stocking plans for different trucks (or other alternative locations), you’ll manage initial setup via the InventoryLocations  form, which is accessed by first clicking on the MasterPartsPlan form’s “Other Housekeeping” button, then by picking the “Manage Locations/TruckTypes” option.  This exposes a two-section interface.  In one section (to this form’s left), you are allowed to create up to six different kinds of specialized stocking plans (these are in addition to what may be considered the “standard truck” and “standard office” plans, which exists by default and get their planned minimums from the “Trk” and “Offc” columns within the face of the main list).  In the second section, you are allowed to explicitly list actual inventory locations.  This may or may not be needed, depending on circumstances.

Second, you’ll notice that on the MasterPartsPlan form itself there is a green vertical stripe, located just to the right of where the part items are listed.  The general idea is that if you want to list any extra information for an line-item in the list (such as the quantity that you wish to maintain on a particular specialized plan, for example), you may simply click adjacent to it upon this green stripe.  At this point you’ll see a nice little window that allows you to add all the various kinds of information you may want—including even notes about the part if wanted.  You can think of this, in a sense, as a “MoreInfo” form in regard to part listings—only this one we refer to as the Supplemental-Info window.

Using the Supplemental-Info Window is quite straightforward.  Most functions should be obvious, but one element requires explanation.  Suppose you’ve just created a specialized plan type (from the InventoryLocations  form), and now need to indicate, for each part line-item, the quantity you want as minimum under that plan.  If you have several hundred line-items in your overall list, this can be a lot of work.  Happily, there’s a shortcut.  To illustrate, consider a client who (and as is typical) had a bunch of trucks all setup for the standard/default plan (with intended minimums appropriately filled-in within the intended column on the face of the MasterPartsPlan form).  This client had a special need, though, in that on two particular trucks he wanted to stock several score more items, oriented for high-end work.  It’s for those trucks that he needed a specialized plan, but the plan as needed overlapped with the standard plan, but added more.  Why should he have to directly populate each such item’s specified quantity (within that plan’s minimum-quantity box in each line-item’s Supplemental-Info window)?  This is where the shortcut comes in.  If you look at each specialized plan, minimum-quantity box, you’ll see it has an asterisk (“*”) next to it.  If you click on any such asterisk, the system will offer to set all quantities under that plan type the same as for “standard” trucks.  It’s to give you a potential head-start in populating for quantities as particularly wanted for the specialized plan.

Upon having entered any information into a parts listing’s Supplemental-Info window (and exiting back out of that window), you’ll notice there’s now either or both of two single-letter references listed adjacent to that part listing within the green vertical stripe.  If there’s a ‘T’ it means there’s quantities given (that’s intended stock quantities) for one or more kinds of specialized Trucks.  If there’s on “O” it means there’s Other kinds of additional info.

In regard to the specialized plan function, the idea is you’ll still use the one master list of parts, just as when using the basic system.  You simply must include within this master list an entry for any and every kind of part you intend to maintain in stock, even if for many listings a particular item will perhaps be stocked within only one kind of location.  For any such item, you’ll indicate through this advanced feature how many you want maintained as minimum.  For any standard location use the indicated column in the main list, etc.  Via this system, you can explicitly structure up to eight unique stocking plans (one for the office, one as the default truck type, and six more as added/specialized types).