What is Cloud Inventory Management?

At first blush, a cloud-based inventory management system is simply stock control software that is hosted at a central data center and that you can access from a web browser, providing the obvious benefit that multiple employees can access your records from their own locations without any risk of company records becoming inconsistent.  Looking a bit deeper, though, into what cloud-hosted actually means reveals some important differences between various offerings that all call themselves cloud inventory management systems, but that are very different software applications in ways that matter to the users of the software.

In the last few years, advances in software development techniques have made it possible for cloud inventory management systems and other cloud-hosted software to be lightning fast on your computer — even faster than most of the old-style installed software packages.  Anybody who has ever used Quickbooks knows that application performance can be a big issue.  Even if the screens or dialogs of an application come up just a little bit slowly — just a second or two — it can feel excruciatingly slow if you have to deal with the sluggishness every day in the common operations.

The key advances for cloud-based inventory management software and other cloud-hosted software in the last few years are centered around two fundamental changes in how web-based applications are written.  It used to be that every operation you performed in a web-based applications meant a page in your browser was reloaded.  Do you remember this?  It wasn’t that long ago.  But today, modern web-based applications like Gmail or Finale Inventory run entire sections of the program all from within a single page, without requiring any page reloading.  Have you noticed that some of the newer web-based applications that you use don’t reload pages or require “submit” buttons?  That’s an example.  So this is a fundamental change, and it is a big deal.

The second fundamental change pertains to how applications running in browsers handle large data sets.  This change is particularly relevant to stock control applications including warehouse management systems and order management systems, wherein a company may be creating thousands or tens of thousands of records every day.   The total data set is obviously larger than could fit in the application running in the web browser, or for that matter some large data sets won’t fit in installed software running on a PC either.  So the question is, how does the application manage to give you the ability to navigate and make changes to the entire data set of records when the application itself can only hold a subset of that data set at any one time?  The story hasn’t changed much recently with respect to installed software, but it has changed a lot with respect to cloud-hosted stock control software.  Previously, applications running in a web-browser would access only a tiny window of the data set at one time, that tiny window corresponding to the data that you would see on a single, reloaded page (in the old-style).  Today, modern browsers are actually capable of holding millions of records at one time, which is 10,000 times more than a typical single page!  Thus modern inventory tracking software and asset tracking software can download a relatively huge set of data and provide you instant access to it.  Compare that to the time it would take to reload a page and fetch 100 records at a time for each and every operation you do.  The old-style is like sipping data through a cocktail straw, and the feeling of responsiveness in an old-style versus new-style cloud hosted inventory management application is a world of difference.

Unless you are a programmer you probably wouldn’t be able to tell from a company’s marketing material whether its application is written in the old-style or the new-style, so you’ve got to test it for yourself in the evaluation of the software.  When you are evaluating stock control software that calls itself a cloud inventory management system you need to make sure that you evaluate the application on a large data set, and that you walk through the common operations that you do every day.  Pay attention to the responsiveness of the application.  You will care about it a lot down the line!