Keep Calm And Count Your Inventory

by Franziska Inkmann

You have probably heard it several times before. I’m also pretty sure, that you have read it once or twice, maybe printed on mugs, bags and t-shirts. You may have even seen it as decoration, hanging in a kitchen, living room or office as motivation…

Yes, you guessed it! I’m talking about the slogan "Keep calm and carry on.

"There is currently an incredible hype about one of the most well-known slogans in British history, which has become extremely popular within the last couple of years.

The slogan "Keep calm and carry on" was originally used by the British Government as a propaganda slogan during World War II. Printed on 2.5 million posters, this motto was supposed to be spread nationwide to strengthen the morale of the British population in case of a major military strike. However, the posters were never published and with that, "Keep calm and carry on" faded into obscurity – until its rediscovery toward the turn of the century.

There is now an astounding variety of "Keep Calm" slogans, ranging from "Keep calm and wait for vacation" (to motivate those, who eagerly wait for their next holiday) to "Keep calm and stop smoking" (to motivate everyone, who wants to stop smoking) or "Keep calm and eat chocolate" (for this, there’s no motivation required – you can have chocolate anywhere, at any time!).

So why not "Keep calm and count your inventory," to motivate everyone in stocktaking stress as 2014 winds to an end?

If you think that your inventory counting process is extremely expensive, complex and time-consuming, and just the idea of possible counting differences causes your hair to turn gray, just wait until you read the following examples of extraordinarily complex stocktaking processes. In the following examples, "keeping calm" is vital to success!

1) When a country counts its inventory…blog_census_keep

…it is referred to as a census, and it is an attempt to count every individual within its borders. In 2011, Germany wanted to update the statistics on its population and launched the first nationwide census since its reunion in 1989. For this massive project, several million questionnaires were sent to households and about 80,000 "inventory helpers" fanned out on behalf of the Federal Statistical Office to interview eight million citizens, asking about residence, family status, immigration background, education and occupation. The costs for this survey and advertising spending reached a total of more than 700 million Euros – quite expensive for a "stocktaking process!" At the end of the census, the collected data revealed a spectacular result that even statisticians didn’t expect: There were approximately 1.5 million less people living in Germany than originally assumed.

But how can the "stocktaking difference"“ be this large? It’s impossible that so many people can just disappear. One reason is, that the last comparable surveys were conducted in former West Germany in 1987, and in East Germany in 1981. Since then, published statistics were primarily based on data from the registration authorities and registry offices. However as part of the reunification in 1989, many people seemed to have "slipped through the cracks" of the registry offices, leading to statistical inaccuracies. In addition to that, there were many "dead files" from people who either moved out of Germany or passed away.

Let’s see, what surprises will be revealed with the next census in 2021…!

2) 1,2,3 … Too many penguins – Counting animals at the London Zoo

blog_keepcalm_penguinShortly before the New Year begins, the guards at the London Zoo have quite a lot to do with their stocktaking: Fodder, brooms and screws have to be counted, but the most challenging part is the counting of their residents. With 16,869 animals and 758 different species currently living in the London Zoo, this task is anything but easy, as the animals are not always willing to line up in an orderly fashion.

On top of that, penguins, for example, are very difficult to count as they tend to move around a lot, and they all look very similar.

Almost impossible is the task of counting the smallest inhabitants in the zoo – the ants. Counting every single ant could be equated to a Sisyphean task, as the ants crawl uphill, then back downhill through the long tube-maze. Therefore, the ants represent the only species that doesn’t have to be registered individually, but rather counted as a colony.

And what about the fish? Counting the aquarium inhabitants is also a tall order as the fish dart around and hide in the various display elements. For that reason, a significant amount of guess work , or estimation, is implemented to count the elusive sea creatures.

That being said, counting is not the only aspect of this stocktaking process. The majority of animals in the zoo are also measured and weighed. This information is important to determining the overall health and development of the animals. Values from various zoos are collected and an average is created to help determine what “healthy” actually means.

3)Twinkle, twinkle little star…blog_keepcalm_stars

2013 offered the European space industry a very special year-end event: On December 19th, space telescope "Gaia" (according to Greek mythology, Gaia represents the personalized earth and one of the first gods) launched into outer space to measure our Galaxy, especially the Milky Way, within the next 5 years. This was a very special event, especially for the bookkeepers /accountants of the sky, referred to as "Astrometers." With the assistance of this new and almost billion US-Dollar expensive high-tech telescope, they can compile the biggest, best and most accurate 3-D map of our Galaxy and explore the origin of the universe.

Within this giant and extremely time-consuming ("stocktaking"-) project, Gaia will be able to measure a billion stars and collect detailed information on their speed, temperature and structure, a task that was not possible before the launch.

Compared to its predecessor "Hipparcus," which, back in 1989 hovered in space for 4 years to catalog about 120,000 stars, the European Space Agency scientists expect Gaia to catalog 10,000 times as many stars. Equipped with a 1 billion pixel camera called "the eye," Gaia is able to take pictures that are 100 times more precise than the photographs provided by Hipparcus. For comparison: a modern SLR camera contains 50x less pixels than Gaias "eye."

Closing Thoughts

I assume it’s very unlikely that you have anything to do with the inventory control of either people, animals or stars (if so, please let me know about your experience, as I’m quite interested!). It’s just a matter of fact that the majority of all stocktaking procedures take place in a warehouse. And let’s be honest: the counting, measuring or weighing of scissors, screws or nails is far less spectacular as the extraordinary stocktaking processes described above. Right now, as 2014 comes to a close and endless hours of counting between dark storage racks as well as extra hours and weekend work threatens, I encourage you to keep the phrase "Keep calm and count your inventory" in mind.

However, your annual inventory counting process doesn’t have to be expensive, complex and time-consuming at all! The method of statistical inventory sampling, a proven alternative to a complete inventory count, reduces costs while offering dependable results. On average, only 10% of the stocktaking positions need to be counted. The rest is no longer required and the stocktaking can be performed during normal operating hours – with no extra staff or weekend work needed. Inventory sampling provides users with an accurate, economical and efficient solution for the annual stocktaking process.

With this in mind, I encourage you to: "Keep calm and let statistics help you with your stocktaking process!"

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About the author

  • Franziska Inkmann

    As Marketing Manager at INFORM, I’m passionate about the optimization of supply chain processes, especially in the fields of inventory management, demand planning and inventory sampling. I’ve been with the company since 2011, and have enjoyed the variety of our marketing mix throughout the last several years. It’s an exciting field to be a part of, and I enjoy accompanying companies through our activities, on their way to getting more out of their supply chain operations.

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