By Jessica Zaleski
An effective inventory management system can automate processes and result in more accurate data, improved staff satisfaction, and more efficient buying. Getting to that place is dependent on having clean data and coordinated processes, which can be difficult with legacy systems and piecemeal procedures. The key to success is effectively making the move from those antiquated tracking methods to newer, more efficient practices while getting staff buy-in and commitment.
Sound daunting? It can be without leadership and project management. With that in mind, we’ve enlisted Tyler ISD’s Instructional Technology Specialist Robin Salars to give her insight into how districts should approach inventory management system implementation. Read on as Robin shares the top five tips she learned while assisting with Tyler ISD’s transition from tracking inventory through multiple spreadsheets to using a centralized inventory management system.
Having been a part of Tyler ISD (in Tyler, TX) for 11 years, I knew when we began discussing the need for an updated inventory management process that the success of the program would hinge on the implementation. Starting off on the right foot was imperative to getting staff support and compliance for the new processes. With over 30 campuses and locations in our district, ensuring everyone is trained and using the system correctly is no small feat.
Here are some of the most important aspects of our implementation that resulted in time and cost savings (and a happy staff that no longer dreads audits and inventory processes!).
1. Get your leaders on the same page
The first crucial step is to get the major players involved in your district’s inventory processes to come together and identify what the implementation needs to look like. Like the old saying, it’s important that the left hand knows what the right hand is doing, and an undertaking that affects so many staff members from the district to the campuses is no exception. One person alone cannot accurately make decisions for the group because they do not have insight into the unique needs and challenges of each member of the district.
For Tyler ISD, that meant having a representative from Instructional Technology (those teaching staff how to use the technology), Technology Services (those who manage the day to day moving of assets and the repair process for devices) and Technology (those managing the setup and automation process of Hayes) working together. Depending on the setup and hierarchy of your district, you will want to include an executive sponsor at the district level– possibly your Director of Technology Services, Director of Technology, or Director of Finance.
When everyone comes together, your group needs to think through the implementation process and identify a rough outline of the steps that need to be taken and what each person’s role should be. You also need to discuss the goal of the implementation and what you are trying to achieve for your district. This way, everyone is working toward the same vision.
2. Start Small
For our district, we had a campus that was about to receive a large order of new devices, so we were able to test-drive our new process with the inventory software first. Starting with one campus allowed us to regroup with leadership and identify what was working and not working. Before we moved on to the district as a whole, we figured out any changes we needed to make to our process.
If you do not have a new order of devices coming to a campus, test your process in other ways, like gathering up all of the student laptops from one cart or try it out in one of your computer labs. This will give you the opportunity to refine your steps and make sure your plans are feasible, sustainable, and effective.
3. Have one person input critical data
We started out by having just one person input all of the critical product details for the entire district. That way we were able to avoid duplicates and have consistent product descriptions, models, and manufacturer information. Now we have upgraded to having a few people work on inputting new items, but starting out, I recommend giving that responsibility to one person.
4. Train in small groups
To make a small group training plan feasible, the team I serve on was trained first by Hayes, and then we were able to conduct our own small group trainings whenever we needed.
Training our identified staff (such as Media Technology Specialists, Campus Computer Technicians, and Instructional Technology Specialists) in small groups was the most effective way to teach them how to use TIPWeb-IT, the system we implemented. When you’re asking people to completely change the processes they are used to, it’s important to give them focused attention and the opportunity to ask any and all questions they may have. If we had trained 40 people at once, we would have been competing with a lot of personalities, and it would have been easy to lose the group if one person had a specific issue with the process.
5. Market the change effectively
Change is tough on everyone, so it’s important that you market the new system as a tool that will help your staff by saving them time instead of just another line on their to-do list.
If framed correctly, everyone will be able to see the value of the new tool and how it benefits them. A few weeks ago, I had a teacher mention to me that two of her classroom computers were not working. Technology Services was able to look in the system and find two new computers by model number that were already in the building, and give her those. Technology Services then pulled the old ones from her classroom and tagged them as needing repair from the Technology Services team. We would never have been able to do all that when we were managing inventory with an excel spreadsheet. Those are the benefits that everyone will appreciate and the information you must share as you start your implementation.
Do you have implementation tips for starting out on a new inventory management system? Share your advice or questions in the comments section below!