Designing global inventory visibility across affiliate companies that share items

*The product has been renamed and branding has been changed to maintain confidentiality of the actual project.

Role: UI, UX, Research
Industry: Automotive and Industrial
Product type: Enterprise Inventory Management System


COVID-19 has pushed companies to move online in order to remain competitive. For large companies in the automotive and industrial sector, COVID-19 is an opportunity to transform digitally and evolve.

The case for a global inventory

The company I have been with the past year, Filtec (also the company driving innovation), is part of Soon Aik Group which has multiple subsidiaries, each with their own inventories. Currently, the company lacks inventory visibility from all subsidiaries. With a single global inventory, productivity of staff is expected to increase by completing more quotations and orders with available quantity from other subsidiaries instead of being limited to its own.

Hypothesis: A single global inventory increases the productivity of staff that interacts with the inventory daily to serve customers.

However, the task is not as easy as purchasing off the shelf inventory management software. Lack of customisation and high licensing costs increases costs to the business. Since Oct 2021, I have been tasked to design the in-house end-to-end enterprise Order Management System platform that will be rolled out to the subsidiaries to use. This case study takes you through the process of designing the interface for inventory visibility.

Understanding the current ecosystem

From my study, the main company and affiliate companies were all using one of two kinds of legacy Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems. They differed in the table fields for capturing inventory data. Thus, they directly influenced the quotation, order and purchase functions of the companies.

User Research

Together with the business development lead and the operations lead, we approached Company C to understand the legacy ERP system. We set up a focus group with 4 employees from the sales/customer service and purchase departments. We selected these users as the purchase department often updates the item quantity and prices with incoming stock while the sales/customer service department looks up the quantity on hand to advise B2B customers. The goal of the focus group session was to understand the users’ interactions with the inventory, and observe the current workflow.

Focus group goal: To understand the users’ interactions with the inventory, and observe the current workflow.

The session started off with a walk through of the process flow. Thankfully, we had an older documentation of the process flow and did a walkthrough to verify that. Next, we asked the users to demonstrate with sample files how they completed their quotation, order and purchase tasks.

For each quotation or order, an additional 8 minutes* was spent by manual processes by staff.

*estimated time from observing 2 users

Summarising the main problems

User ProblemsBusiness Problems
Affiliate companies do not share data but they have sufficient overlap in SKUs offerings, leading to redundant data entry.
Difficulty maintaining master data as there is no integration across companies that create new items.
When there is a new item introduced, each company keys in their own data and differ in their naming conventions. Increases the potential for introducing inconsistent or inaccurate data.
Decreased productivity among employees from manual processes and switching between the ERP to offline excel sheets.
A lot of manual steps and time wasted in copy pasting as the system did not automatically export a presentable output that could be sent to customers. Increases the time necessary to complete tasks.
Different kinds of legacy ERP systems that have that are running out of support in >5 years time.
Relies on lengthy manual strategies such as multiple phase checks to ensure data integrity.Roadmap to future online plans require a well integrated backend.

A new way forward

  1. Newly added/edited data is pushed to the Global Inventory.
  2. Global data visible to all.

Getting user feedback

“I will need the view to filter out only items that originated from my company.”

Participant 1

“Outlets that deal with immediate cash sales will need the local view the most. They create a lot of items, almost on a daily basis.”

Participant 2

“I don’t think the local view is that important because I can always wait for it to be approved into the global inventory and just search from the global inventory.”

Participant 3

Staff only spend >2 mins* for each order or quotation with the global inventory search and use of one-click actions.

Final mockup

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