By Nick Quaratiello
Blue Cow Software

Among the most challenging tasks for managers of a fuel oil and propane company’s service and installation department is keeping track of parts. Having the right parts, in the right place, at the right time is essential to efficient operations, not to mention customer satisfaction. Nobody wants to wait for a wayward part to arrive when their heating system malfunctions in the dead of winter or an air conditioning unit stops working during a heat wave.

From the largest units to the smallest fasteners, your parts inventory also represents a significant investment, one which you need to keep a close eye on to avoid costly “inventory creep.” Inventory creep is the term used to describe “lost” parts that may only be noticed when physical inventory falls far short of your on-the-books inventory. A lost part here and there over the course of a year can have a big impact on your bottom line. It is not unusual for a mid-sized energy company to lose $100,000 or more annually due to inventory creep.

How does inventory creep occur? Parts may not get logged in or out properly or promptly, a service tech in a hurry may “borrow” a part from another technician’s truck without recording the transaction, or shrinkage (also called “theft”) may be to blame.

Without a functional parts inventory system in place it is difficult to keep track of parts as they move from warehouse, to truck, to customer location. Fortunately, technology has made parts inventory management faster, simpler and more accurate.

For example, the parts tracking feature of Blue Cow Software’s Ignite® management system gives fuel oil and propane dealers the tools necessary to assign parts to work orders, automatically adjust parts inventory levels as parts are pulled, track parts as they travel to a job site, record parts used in an installation or repair and assign a value for job costing and invoicing purposes, and even track parts transfers that occur between service vehicles on the road via barcode scanning. You can also set an alert when the inventory on hand of frequently used parts drops below a defined minimum, allowing you to reorder before you run out. Customizable reports can help you analyze parts use, and understand costs on month-to-date, year-over-year basis.

When assessing a technology update to your parts inventory system, look for software that provides you with the tools and support to achieve the following:

  • Make sure you have the right parts at the right time by allocating and reserving parts and materials for work orders
  • Uses barcode scanning to monitor and access on-hand parts quantities through  warehouse and in-vehicle management, even across multiple locations
  • Maintain sufficient quantities of required items and reduce emergency orders through integrated work planning and scheduling
  • Improve inventory accuracy and staff efficiency by tracking inventory transactions wirelessly via barcode
  • Automatically reorder frequently used parts
  • Identify and remove obsolete items
  • Reduce financial losses due to “inventory creep”

Electronic tracking of parts lets you keep all of your inventory and maintenance information in one place instead of spreading it across multiple files and reams of paper. You can access parts inventory and track parts movement at any time, from any place via internet access.

Effectively managing your parts inventory can increase productivity, reduce downtime, help control parts spending, and help keep “inventory creep” to a minimum. If this is the level of accountability you want for your fuel oil or propane business, Blue Cow Software can help.