Choose software that includes a completely integrated bar-code system, like the common UPC used on most consumer products.

A good inventory system does not happen overnight. Most companies do not have the resources to dedicate full-time personnel to create a system once they decide they need one. Even if you don't plan on a computerized inventory-management system in the near future, making your operations more efficient now will make adding one later much easier.

You would never intentionally send technicians out on a job with the wrong tools. Make sure that you don't do this to your inventory-control personnel when selecting business-management software.

While some systems are designed as stand-alone products, others can be integrated into inventory operations. This means the software was designed to be a key part of the system. Such products are usually easier to set up and use.

Make sure the software will work for your business. Ask a few competitors what software they use. Once you find this out, investigate the product and the company. Ask to visit a customer to make sure your business practices fit into the software's design.

The best inventory-management software allows for data entry at multiple locations. For example, an inventory manager could enter parts information while someone else was creating a purchase order or a dispatcher was writing a service order.

All of these functions create the inventory information in the system. At the same time, however, make sure you have control over what workers are creating. This is can be done by using a template that has all information that is static on any given part.

The use of a template is critical to the system's success. If workers have to stop what they're doing to update part information every time they enter an inventory receipt, job, sales or service order, the data will not be maintained. It will soon become obsolete. Once that happens, you are back to an unreliable inventory system.

Make sure the software you plan to use allows cross-reference capabilities. This means that employees can type in parts numbers from vendors, manufacturers or customers, as well as the numbers for substitute or replacement parts.

Not only should the software allow you to enter all of this data, it should all be accessible from every point of entry. If someone does not know your part number, but does know the old part number or manufacturer's part number, by simply typing in any one of these, he or she will still find your part number. This process should be easy and quick. It should be available wherever anyone needs to look up a part.

Choose software that includes a completely integrated bar-code system, like the common Uniform Product Code used on most consumer products. For too many companies, this idea often seems overwhelming. However, if you are able to label and identify parts when you receive them, it's not extra work. These items are already being handled at the point of receipt. Take the opportunity to tag the inventory. Many companies think that the only way to bar-code internally is if merchandise arrives bar-coded by the manufacturer. However, the most successful companies using an inventory-management system bar code their own products. It allows total control and allows you to add additional information such as purchase-order number, receipt date, vendor and possibly job information.

Good software should be able to use bar codes in any field where you can type data, including job-, item-, purchase or service-order number. There are many low-cost, wireless devices on the market for field technicians with integrated bar-code readers. This technology helps increase their productivity, which leads to more billable hours - and profit. It also eliminates much of the office paper chase.

If you ever think you might need to scan an item, make sure your software allows you to do it. There is nothing more frustrating than getting all of your data set up and ready to go in your system, only to find it can't be used in your application.

Even if you don't initially purchase the scanners or wireless field equipment, begin labeling merchandise. This will reduce the time needed to perform the physical inventory and will allow for more accuracy when doing it.