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Deployed in the retail and customer service industries, the Inventory Lookup ES bundle enables personnel across the customer-facing chain of command to see real-time, accurate availability of inventory during critical operational, sales, and service business processes.

Employees such as customer service representatives, special order representatives, sales and warehouse clerks, and sales and warehouse managers can use both handheld devices and point-of-sales interfaces to look up the quantities of inventory that are available at any location in a business's operational franchise, including its retail stores, storage locations, and manufacturing plants. Customer-facing employees can answer the perennial question: do you have any of this particular product in stock? Managers can also check stock at a glance, even using an all-purpose portable device such as a Blackberry or cell phone.

This bundle provides a user interface (UI) independent inventory lookup function that can be integrated with any user interface or existing business process. Furthermore, it is a state-of-the-art inventory lookup in that it takes into account both the latest information in SAP ERP Inventory Management with the latest sales information (point-of-sale transactions) from SAP Point-of-Sales Data Management (POS DM). In this way, inventory lookup provides the very latest information, including the latest sales data, providing a near real-time picture of product availability. Users have the same 360-degree visibility into stock qualifications, as well. For example, they can view, examine, and analyze stock that is blocked for any reason, stock that is under quality control inspection, and stock that is being transferred from location to location.

All of these benefits translate to real-world advantages for those businesses deploying the Inventory Lookup ES bundle. First, around-the-clock inventory accuracy is guaranteed. In turn, time will be saved in all phases of the sales and service processes and customer satisfaction will increase, providing an important edge against the competition.

Inventory Lookup (click to enlarge)


Among the benefits of the deploying this bundle are the ability to say yes to customers who inquire about products, having a single version of the truth accessible to all employees who need it, providing a high level of customer service, and enabling store personnel to look for items in neighboring locations. Further, managers and staff who see inventory related issues can immediately get a complete view of the stocking situation if a shelf is running low on a particular product, for example.
Deploying the Inventory Lookup ES bundle enables users to:

  • Access real-time availability of inventory during critical operational, sales, and service business processes
  • View stock that is blocked for any reason, stock that is under quality control inspection, and stock that is being transferred from location to location
  • Maintain around-the-clock inventory accuracy
  • Reduce loss of sales
  • Increase consumer loyalty
  • Achieve optimal assortment by taking action based on anytime, anywhere inventory lookup capabilities
  • Increase productivity for store associates in operations, sales, and service areas

The Inventory Lookup ES bundle leverages enterprise SOA through a single reusable enterprise service and business object. This standards-based approach to integration provides robust interfaces from a variety of user interfaces, including handheld and Web interfaces, to SAP Point-of-Sales Data Management.

Audience

Although the Inventory Lookup ES bundle has important ramifications for all companies that maintain inventory, it is especially relevant for the retail industry.

For details on Service Operations, Business Objects and Process Components, please check the ES Workplace.


How to Use This ES Bundle

Before we consider this solution in detail, let's think about what happens without a solution such as the Inventory Lookup ES bundle. Without a real-time visibility into inventory of SKUs across neighboring stores, employees must either make phone calls to check stock--which often takes too long, causing customers to lose interest--or turn customers away, which means they won't come back again. This results in lost sales and customer frustration, as well as negatively impacting employee satisfaction.

SAP has already offered a real-time state-of-the-art solution for Mobile In-store Inventory Management including a functionality for Inventory Lookup to its customers, usable on handheld devices such as those from Symbol and Intermec. However, that lookup uses a method of programming called a Business Application Programming Interface (BAPI) or a Remote Function Call (RFC). As a result of this constraint, customers had to use an SAP-provided interface (or one developed using this method of programming).

Today, with the introduction of the Inventory Lookup ES bundle, a standards-based approach to integration using web services is enabled. Enterprise portals are now positioned as the window to new solutions, providing customers in the retail and service industries with the flexibility to decide which UI works best for their business processes.

Uses for the Inventory Lookup ES Bundle

The Inventory Lookup ES bundle is completely UI-independent, capable of being integrated into existing business processes and applications and offered through a variety of interfaces tailored for different roles, including customer self-service. It can also be used from a wide variety of mobile devices. Rather than requiring a retail handheld costing some $3,000, it can be deployed using a cell phone or BlackBerry, providing managers with the ability to check inventory anytime, from anywhere. Store employees can carry these smaller devices as well far more easily than traditional retail handhelds. Standard cell phones equipped with cameras can be ordered with scanners instead, enabling an interface in which scanning a bar codes invokes the inventory lookup.

There is a strategic advantage for customers deploying SAP's Point-of-Sale Data Management solution. The inventory lookup balances ERP inventory information with the latest POS data in this case. The Inventory Lookup ES bundle could alternatively be integrated with third-party POS Data Management systems, but this would require additional development effort.

No matter how customers configure the bundle, in the end they all receive the same competitive advantages. Anytime customers inquire into an item, attendant personnel can provide them with answers derived from instant access to the most current pertinent data.

How to Deploy the Inventory Lookup ES Bundle

There are numerous examples of ways to deploy the Inventory Lookup ES bundle. In one, a store manager has just checked a stock exception report for one or more products and now wants to get an overview of the actual stock on hand as a means of controlling it. This overview would comprise stock both on the sales floor and in immediate storage locations, along with all open deliveries and purchase orders. She needs merely scan the item's bar code or enter a product number and a store location to receive the desired data.

Generally, an enterprise service can be integrated and deployed within other relevant business processes such as in-store customer order management at the point-of-sale or at the service desk. A clerk at the point-of-sale can retrieve a comprehensive list of item-related data by executing an inventory lookup through the POS UI. Since the Inventory Lookup ES bundle can be easily integrated with Customer Order Management functionality, which is in turn integrated with the SAP Triversity POS GM, if the desired item is available in the store or elsewhere, the interested customer could order it immediately. Right on the spot, the customer can choose whether to take delivery of the item personally or to have it shipped directly to the location of his choice. (It's important to understand, however, that this ES bundle performs only the inventory lookup itself and not other subsequent actions in the business process.)

Deploying the Inventory Lookup ES Bundle in an In-store Portal or Kiosk

The Inventory Lookup ES bundle can also be deployed within an in-store portal or on an in-store kiosk for customer self-service. A store associate or a customer in a retail outlet can use the kiosk to obtain product inventory information along with other information that is included in the portal. A developer could provide searching capabilities to allow the customer to search for items prior to invoking the inventory lookup and could also provide the capability to search for the item at nearby stores.

This section will explore a series of use cases for the Inventory Lookup ES bundle. Each use case will show how different outcomes can be achieved by using the enterprise services in different combinations. While these examples illustrate a few of the ways that this ES bundle could be used, the intention is to show the flexibility and reusability of these business objects and enterprise service operations so that you will have a clearer understanding of how to best deploy them in your own environment. This wiki is also a space for you to share knowledge and collaborate with others who are implementing the Inventory Lookup ES bundle.

Use Case 1: Looking Up Stock on a Handheld Device

The Inventory Lookup ES bundle can easily be integrated into existing business processes. For example, SAP offers a back-office solution for In-store Merchandise and Inventory Management as well as a mobile solution for In-store Inventory Management. These solutions offer comprehensive functionality for daily store business. The Inventory Lookup service could easily be integrated and deployed within existing business processes such as Customer Order Management. This use case provides an example of such integration.

A store manager has just checked a stock exception report for one or more products and now wants to get an overview of the actual stock on hand by way of controlling it. This overview would comprise stock both on the sales floor and in immediate storage locations, along with all open deliveries and purchase orders.

Having logged on to her handheld device and selected the lookup application in the main menu, the manager needs merely scan the bar code of the product or just enter the product number to invoke the Find Inventory by Location and Material service operation, which uses the Inventory business object, and the system will display either the stock lookup summary screen (see Figure 1) or a detail screen (see Figure 2).

Figure 1. Inventory Lookup Summary screen (click to enlarge)

Figure 2. Inventory Lookup Details Screen (click to enlarge)


What Does the Inventory Lookup Show?

The Inventory Lookup Details screen displays a variety of information:

  • EAN/UPC---The barcode
  • Article---The product number
  • Description---A description of the product
  • Blocked---Stock that has been reserved
  • Open Purchase Orders (Offene Bestell)---The quantity on order
  • In Qual Insp---The quantity currently undergoing quality inspection
  • Reqmt Qty---The quantity that forecasting replenishment says is scheduled to be ordered for this store
  • Stk in Transit---The quantity that is in transit to or from this store
  • Unrestricted---The most important number on this screen. Unrestricted is the quantity that should be available at this store, either on the sales floor or in the back room.

The Per-Storage Location button displays details about various storage locations such as quantities available on the shelf, upper-part of a shelf, or in the back room.

To see information about other items or about other locations for this item, the manager can call the service again, using the same method.

What Can I Do with the Information from Inventory Lookup?

All of this information is actionable, but these actions are technically outside the scope of the inventory lookup itself, which simply but powerfully provides a real-time view of this information. The following actions depend on whether this inventory lookup has been integrated into additional business processes.

For example, if the inventory lookup functionality has been so integrated, once she has located the desired data for an item, the manager can perform a variety of functions.

If she suspects that the inventory is depleted, for example, she can perform a stock transfer, order some items, conduct cycle counting, or select the out-of-stock history and add the respective item to it. It may be the case that she wants to display the item's overall layout as a mean of manually replenishing its parameters. The Open Purchase Order field on the handheld UI, for instance, would display the amount of stock on order. If the number is few or zero, or, if demand for the item is high, the manager can override the automatic replenishment by placing an order on the spot. This step might also include executing an available-to-promise check for the item at other store locations or a price lookup.

If need be, the manager can call the inventory count application to adjust the stock on hand and thus rectify a discrepancy between the actual stock and the documented stock, which has occurred because of spoilage.

There may also be instances where inventory has been blocked because it is still in quality inspection or has been set aside by customer reservation or for a specific promotion. The manager can verify the item's status by viewing the Blocked field on the handheld UI. Here, too, she will have access to information specifying the time remaining before the item's status is advanced to available-on-hand. The UI may instead indicate that the stock is in transit. If so, the manager can learn the date and time when it will arrive at its destination, as well as whether that destination is one from which the store can reasonably order the item. The Unrestricted field will specify the quantity that should be on the shelf or in on-location storage.

Use Case 2: Looking Up an Item Using a Point-of-Sale Interface

A clerk at the point-of-sale has just asked a customer whether he was able to find everything he needed while shopping. Whereas the customer found most of the desired items, he was unable to locate a particular shirt in his size and color. In response, the sales clerk executes an inventory lookup using the POS UI, which is integrated with the SAP ERP-based Customer Order Management.

As in the previous use case, the lookup invokes the Find Inventory by Location and Material service operation, which uses the Inventory business object. Not only does the search retrieve a comprehensive list of data related to the preferred shirt and its availability. After confirming that the shirt is not in stock at this store, the clerk has the option to invoke it again to search for similar shirts or to search for the shirt at another nearby store.

Because the business architect integrated this enterprise service with the SAP ERP-based Order Management, the customer can now place an order for the shirt, as well as decide whether to take delivery of it personally or to have it shipped directly to the location of his choice. In a single interaction, the bundle's functionality has prevented a loss of sale due to an out-of-stock situation or inaccurate shelf design or inventory information while simultaneously enabling the store to enhance its reputation in the open market.

Use Case 3: Looking Up an Item Using a Branded Portal for Customer Self-Service

A customer in a retail outlet has a product catalog that includes the barcode or product number for an electric fan. Since the store has installed handheld devices for the public to deploy as branded portals for customer self-service, the customer can simply scan the bar code or enter the product number into the device to see a list that includes the desired model of fan, as well as all models similar to it, along with their current stock availability. As in the previous use cases, the lookup invokes the Find Inventory by Location and Material service operation, which uses the Inventory business object.

Use Case 4: Looking Up an Item Using a BlackBerry

Store managers and other executives are frequently offsite, but nonetheless thinking about their stores and the stock they have on hand. They also have their BlackBerries in tow. A store manager for a retail chain hears information on a newscast about a hot new toy. The manager pulls out his BlackBerry and invokes the Find Inventory by Location and Material service operation, which uses the Inventory business object. He runs two lookups: first to find out both how many of the old models are in stock and how many of the new models of this toy are on order. He then emails the store to set up a clearance on the old models while ensuring that plenty of the new stock is in the store in time for the upcoming holiday season.

The possibilities for additional use cases involving common devices such as BlackBerries and cell phones are countless. The business value in such an application rests primarily its affordability and its mobility. It is always online, so it can be used to check for inventory 24/7, from any location in the world. Providing an instantaneous answer to customers and managers about what items are in stock makes the single service offered by this simple ES bundle very powerful indeed.

Figure 3. Inventory Lookup on a Blackberry (click to enlarge)

Best Practices

Inventory Lookup Solution

Inventory Lookup is available as an Implementation Package based on SOA* on


The Inventory Lookup solution allows real-time inventory lookups for all industries. Additionally it offers an optional retail extension for reservation of merchandise in nearby stores with printout of driving directions as well as ATP (available-to-promise) checks.

The Package inculdes the following features:

  • Accuracy: Ability to perform real-time and current inventory of SKUs across neighboring stores
  • Mobility: Perform Inventory Lookup at anywhere, at anytime, via different devices including handhelds
  • Service: Enhance the process of inventory lookup with further functionality such as reservation of merchandise in nearby stores or printout of driving directions
  • Integration: Integrated Inventory Lookup in different processes such as order management

For detailed information including pricing, visit https://ecohub.sdn.sap.com/irj/ecohub/solutions/inventorylookup

Future Directions

The single service in this ES bundle provides a powerful real-time view into current inventory. Integrating this enterprise service with other enterprise services from upcoming bundles such as Point-of-Sale Data Management and Order Management will provide end-to-end business process support using web services. Stock could be viewed, managed, reserved, ordered, and paid for in a single sequence, while all resulting data would be updated in the SAP backbone in real-time.

Connectivity

The Inventory Lookup ES bundle achieves connectivity between the front-end UI, SAP ERP and SAP Point-of-Sales Data Management via SAP NetWeaver Process Integration (formerly XI). SAP POS DM is not required to run the Inventory Lookup ES bundle, but to achieve peak functionality, it is strongly recommended since it updates the inventory lookup information with the most current sales data.

System Requirements

Related ES Bundles

  • Point-of-Sales Data Management
  • Order Management
  • In-Store Merchandise and Inventory Management Link: In-Store MIM

1 Comment

  1. Unknown User (102dfqs58)

    This looks like a great ES bundle for my project. We are using SAP Retail, POS DM, SAP XI, and SAP POS -GM.

    Need a little help in implementing the use case 2 for real time inventory info at the POS. Unfortunately there's little activity in community about this .

    Any clues to get started would be appreciated.

    Milan.