Reducing the Waste of Inventory in the Information Age

Alana Cates

It’s that time of year when sunny, warm days ignite the urge to clean out cobwebs, closets and cars. But normally the trash is called waste, not inventory. It’s all a matter of perspective. Either way, the items on the way to the dump were purchased, stored and saved, and when gone, freed up precious physical, mental and financial space.

One of the most familiar forms of waste is inventory, but is it also one of the most missed opportunities. Comprehending the costs of storing, managing and tracking inventory is straightforward. The costs associated with the risks of damage and obsolescence while inventory sits are also fairly obvious. Certainly inventory is something to be avoided. In the information age it can be harder to see, but just as costly.

Inventory is No Longer Just on the Factory Floor

In the information age, inventory does not exist merely on a factory floor or as raw material storage. Factory jobs and the creation of tangible products are moving into automation and lower cost workers in other countries, creating an entirely different work environment. Without a tangible product, recognizing inventory becomes a little more difficult; however, it is still a waste that has universal applicability.

Inventory is defined as a stock of goods, so anything that is stock piled, stored or saved is inventory. As today’s goods are moving toward service, design and innovation, inventory reflects the soft, intangible inputs and outputs of this activity. Intelligence, creativity and ideas, also referred to as the ninth waste, are forms of mental inventory.

Hard and Soft Files: Your Source of Inventory Waste in Today’s Work Environment

A universal example of inventory of today’s work environment is files. We all have reams of paper that may be taking up valuable space that we hope will be useful one day, and when we need a specific piece of paper, we have to shift, sort and search to find it. We take up valuable time organizing, filing and managing these files. Sometimes when we do go back and find something that we need, it is difficult to make sense of it, and we are left wondering what it was all about.

While hard files are a tangible source of waste, soft files are the invisible counterpart. Soft files are things we store on computers. As more stuff is stored, requirements for more and more space, which lead to real costs as we upgrade and purchase more memory.

What are you storing or holding on to that may benefit someone else, be it a file or a piece of knowledge? Just like garbage, what is trash to one is treasure to another. A seemingly insignificant piece of information to one person may be the key to unlocking a great solution for someone else.

Which files have become obsolete and are destined for the recycle bin? Passing knowledge or information along eliminates the waste of inventory and creates the flow of knowledge that can help improve the overall functioning of the business. What can you pass along or get rid of today? When the knowledge worker relies on information, information needs to flow.