How scheduling and inventory management software helps your greenhouse business

Many software packages can help your business manage production, purchasing, inventory, sales, shipping, accounting and labor.

Many large greenhouse operations use computer software to help manage their production, scheduling and inventory. There are a variety of software options available for purchase, some of which are listed below. While not all packaged software may do everything that your business requires, many of them have a lot of features in common, including the ability to manage production, purchasing, inventory, sales, shipping, accounting and labor.

Software, Company
Plant Partner, Starcom
Grower Vertical, Practical Software Solutions
SBI Software, Small Business Innovations, Inc.
ABECAS Insight, Argos Software
Picas, Innovative Software Solutions
GrowerLive, Innovative Technologies Group, Inc.

For production management, many software technologies can help with schedule planning by allowing the customized entering of specific crop plans. Once you enter the materials needed and time it takes to produce each portion of a crop, the software can generate sowing, transplant and pinching tickler reports based on the date that the crop needs to be saleable or shipped. For purchasing activities, these technologies can often generate material requirement reports that you will need to begin production of a crop so that you can be sure to have all the materials, such as pots, substrate, seeds/cuttings, etc., on hand before production begins.

Sales analysis is usually an integral part of many software technologies. Most allow customer and order entry which can then be used to generate sales analysis reports including detailed sales reports, comparisons from one year to the next, comparisons of expected versus sold and substitution analysis reports. The more sophisticated software generates picking- or pull- lists for shipping activities and may even generate packing and route (logistic) optimization reports. Most software has accounting features that include managing of accounts receivable, accounts payable and the general ledger. These accounting features allow the tracking of costs down to the unit, if desired. Labor tracking is sometimes included with such software and includes employee time and attendance tracking, average hours per week worked, or average time on task. This allows you to predict future labor needs and tells the manager how fast the work is or is not getting done.

There are some other things software can help with too. Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) is sometimes a feature of purchased software that allows for sharing sales data between you and other businesses. Some software has smartphone or tablet plugins that will allow your employees to access your software and data from any such device. Some have pay-by-scan management and others have the ability to integrate with radio frequency identification (RFID) tracking of a product as it moves through the production and shipping chain.

Choosing a software

With all of the options out there for software, how do you choose which one to purchase or perhaps develop your own software? First, Michigan State University Extension recommends prioritizing the features that your company deems necessary in the software. Then, compare the cost of purchasing or developing software that meets those needs against the benefit your company will gain. Beyond cost, David Crary, owner of The Hindsite Solution software, wrote some suggestions in the Michigan Landscape Magazine about other questions to consider when purchasing any software. He suggests that you ask how much time it takes to install, setup and use the software, as well as how frequently the software is updated and if you must pay for those updates.

Also, ask others that use the software you are considering purchasing as to how good the company’s customer support and training are. In addition, ask if your company will need to upgrade or purchase new hardware, such as PCs, servers, network connectivity, etc., in order to successfully use their software enterprise-wide and can their software import existing data that you may have stored elsewhere.

Alternatively, a greenhouse business could choose to design their own software should existing packages prove to not integrate well with their production activities or if they feel they can develop it in a more cost-effective manner. Developing a sophisticated production, inventory and scheduling application would likely involve hiring one or more information technology professionals. However, smaller operations may be able to get by with developing spreadsheets. For tips and resources on how to develop your own spreadsheets, see the University of Massachusetts Extension article titled “Scheduling Greenhouse Crops.”

There are also some inexpensive, web-based software programs available for purchase that are designed for small farmers. AgSquared is one such web-hosted farm planning, management and recordkeeping software that currently only costs $60 per year with a 30-day free trial. While this software was designed for small farmers, it does have greenhouse options.

Product names are given for informational purposes only and are not an endorsement, nor is any criticism implied of products not mentioned.

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