Barcodes can be used to improve the speed and accuracy of certain QuickBooks inventory-related tasks, but only if you have the proper software. One of the functions where barcoding can be very useful is with taking a physical inventory count – let’s take a look at how SmartScan Inventory Count by Baus Systems can help.
SmartScan Inventory Count is a program that works with a mobile or tethered scanner to let you do a physical inventory count and easily enter the scanned count into QuickBooks. It works with QuickBooks Desktop (Windows) and posts inventory adjustment transactions, and it is VERY simple and efficient to use.
Why do you need software like this? If you are an inventory-centric business you need to take a periodic count of the important inventory items that you have on hand. Do you believe that the quantity on hand for inventory part items in QuickBooks is entirely accurate? Hopefully it is, but unfortunately that is often not the case. You can lose items due to theft, damage, or shrinkage. Someone inevitably forgets to enter a proper transaction for the consumption or receipt of an item. Even if they enter the transaction, it is easy to enter the incorrect amount. It’s just a fact of life in an inventory related business – your count won’t always match what you actually have on hand.
So, periodically (we can talk for a long time about this subject), you should go out and take a count of the items that you have. Some you may just count once a year, some you may count much more often (the concept of “ABC” items). Sometimes you’ll count one group of your items, other times you’ll count another group (the concept of “cycle counting”). You have to go to all the places that you store inventory, count the number that you have, and enter an adjustment into QuickBooks if you find that the actual count doesn’t match the computer count.
This can be a real chore, and barcoding can help. With the proper hardware and software, we can scan a barcode for each item and record the number we found, and then push a button to have the difference between our count and the quantity on hand in QuickBooks be posted as an inventory adjustment. Barcode data entry improves the accuracy of the information and records it faster. Simple? Well, you can’t easily do it with just QuickBooks by itself. That is where SmartScan Inventory Count come into play.
Compared to the QuickBooks Barcode Feature
Intuit recently introduced barcode support in QuickBooks Enterprise with Advanced Inventory. While the availability of this feature has generated a lot of interest by QuickBooks advisors and users, it has a lot of limitations. QuickBooks Enterprise provides no special support for taking a physical count using barcodes in the current release. The adjust quantity/value on hand function doesn’t have any of the special barcode integration features like we see with sales and purchasing forms. In addition, there is no support for a handheld mobile scanner, as you can only use a scanner physically connected to your QuickBooks computer via a USB port.
So there really isn’t a comparison between the QuickBooks barcode feature and SmartScan Inventory Count, as the SmartScan product performs a critical task that QuickBooks itself hasn’t automated. Not only that, but Inventory Count costs a lot less and works on a wider range of QuickBooks products than the Advanced Inventory feature.
SmartScan Inventory Count Setup
Setup of this product is very simple. Let’s take a quick look (this is not a full tutorial).
There are two portions to this product – the program that works on the mobile scanner and the program that runs on your Windows computer where you have QuickBooks installed. You only need to install this on one QuickBooks workstation.
To start, you need to decide if your barcode labels will have the QuickBooks Item Name for the value, or if you want to use a value found in a “custom field”. Note that at this time the program cannot work with the “barcode number” field found in QuickBooks Enterprise V13 Advanced Inventory, because Intuit hasn’t made this field accessible by any outside program. Also, Inventory Count doesn’t print your barcodes – you either need to create your own barcode labels or use a program like the WaspLabeler.
Here’s the setup screen. You’ll start by connecting to the QuickBooks company file and authorizing the program – a standard step that every SDK based QuickBooks add-on program has to go through one time. After you have connected to the file you set several preferences: I’m telling the system that I want to just work with inventory and assembly item types, using the custom field named “barcode”, and that the value of any adjustments that are made will be posted to the account “inventory variance”. Note that Inventory Count is a part of a family of products, SmartScan Inventory Essentials, so you see a list of other products on the left.
Next you will retrieve the list of items from QuickBooks. Inventory Count keeps its own copy of the item list, which allows it to run faster. However, any time you make a change in the item list in QuickBooks you have to remember that these changes don’t show in Inventory Count unless you “update” the list.
At the bottom of that prior screen you can see the Alternate Item Barcodes section. I didn’t spend a lot of time with this, but it is essentially a table of aliases – if your barcode label has a different value than what you are using in QuickBooks, this is a lookup table to translate the scanned value into the value to use in QuickBooks. This can be a VERY useful feature.
Next you need to get the “user list” from QuickBooks. Note, though, that this isn’t the true “user list”, instead it is the QuickBooks employee list.
There are a number of other options that you can set (select Tools and then Options), but these are the basic required features.
There are two kinds of scanning devices that you can use with Inventory Count – a “tethered” or “mobile” scanner.
A “tethered” scanner is one that you plug in to the computer itself. That means you are tied down to wherever the computer is located, and you bring the items to be scanned to within range of the scanner. This usually is the cheapest way to go.
You can use a simple “keyboard wedge” scanner, which most often (these days) plugs in to your USB port. It looks like a keyboard to Windows. This is the kind of scanner that is used in QuickBooks Inventory with Advanced Inventory (I describe this kind of scanner in my QuickBooks barcode article). You can get these for less than $30.00, but those kinds of devices aren’t always rugged enough for a shop/warehouse environment.
You can also use “serial” scanners like the one that I talk about in my article on the SmartScan Barcode Translator – it works just about the same as a USB scanner with this software.
A “mobile” scanner will be more expensive, but you are freed from the limits of your tethered scanner. You can walk around the warehouse scanning your items, taking counts, and then synchronizing the device with your QuickBooks database later. This is the approach that I will illustrate here, because this is the method that I see being used the most often.
Baus Systems offers two devices via their website – these systems use the Microsoft Windows Mobile 6.5 operating system, which is required by Inventory Count for integration:
- Honeywell Dolphin 6000 Mobile Computer: This generally costs around $550 (prices from a Google search, not provided by Baus Systems). This is essentially a cell phone with an integrated scanner.
- Honeywell Dolphin 9700 Mobile Computer: This generally costs around $1400 (again, via Google search). While this also has cell phone capabilities, it really is more of a ruggedized mobile computer with a super laser scanner built in, and a docking station that you can plug into a USB port in your computer to facilitate data transfers. You aren’t going to be putting this in your pants pocket like a cell phone (not unless you are wearing clown pants with big pockets and suspenders).
In my tests I used the larger 9700 (and no, I don’t have clown pants).
Once you have placed the scanner in the docking station and have plugged it in to your computer you need to do a few initial steps to set it up:
- Download and install the proper Microsoft synchronization tool. For a Windows Vista or Windows 7 system (I tested this on Windows 7) you need the Windows Mobile Device Center (WMDC). This takes just a few moments to download and install.
- Connect Inventory Count to the remote device. Select View Handheld in the left column, select the proper device in the dropdown, and click Connect on the right.
- Click the Install button to install the Inventory Count mobile software on the device.
- Click the Export Users to button to export the user list to the device.
- Click the Export Items to button to export the item list to the device.
- Finally, click Run Mobile Inventory to start the program on the mobile device.
Your device is ready to use!
Using the Mobile Scanner
On the mobile device select Log In and then the user name.
Next select Inventory for the function to perform. There also is a barcode update option that you can use to associate a barcode with a given Item in the item list. Click Start to start scanning.
When you come to an item to be counted, press the “scan” key on the front of the device and aim the scanner at the barcode. I found that the scanner in this mobile device was much more robust and easier to aim than my tethered low-cost laser scanners. After you have scanned the barcode you can enter the quantity by:
- Scanning the same item multiple times – each time you scan the same item the count increases.
- Entering the number via the keys the scanner body.
- Clicking on the soft buttons in the scanner program window.
- Scanning a barcode that has the quantity (you can set up “quantity barcodes” in the Tools/Options window in the desktop software).
Note that if you scan one item, then scan some other items, and then later on scan some more of that first item, the total quantity will be added up and posted as the value to QuickBooks.
When you are done scanning you will see a list of the items that you have scanned.
Take the scanner back to your PC, plug it into the docking stations, and then connect Inventory Count to the device. This shows a list of the “inventories to import” – you can have several “files” that you have scanned into the mobile device, waiting to be transferred.
Preview your lists and select the one that you want to import (there is only one import list in this example).
Here is this specific set of transactions, and you can see that the program is ready to make an adjustment to QuickBooks. I have counted 4 of the first item, QuickBooks thinks there are 39, so a “quantity” adjustment is needed. When you click on the Done button Inventory Count will post the appropriate transactions into QuickBooks.
Looking at this item in QuickBooks, with a QuickReport, I can see the adjustment transaction.
Inventory Count has a number of reports, and it maintains a record of each batch of transactions imported. Select Lists and then Archived Counts and you can find a list of the count files you have imported. Select one and you can see a list of the information entered.
A feature that I really like is the ability to click on the Show in QuickBooks button, which will open the matching transaction window in QuickBooks.
As you can see, the quantity difference was posted to QuickBooks for each of the counted items, using the adjustment account that I specified in the setup. If you look closely at some of the screen shots earlier in this article you can see that I counted some of the items multiple times – the item may have been found in several different locations in my shop, and Inventory Count let me count all of the items wherever I found them. The quantities were consolidated in the final posting.
This works very smoothly! This is a function that any inventory-centric business needs, and Inventory Count performed it cleanly and efficiently with the mobile device.
What About a Tethered Scanner?
Don’t want to use an expensive mobile scanner? If the items are all within reach of your computer you can get a low cost laser scanner as I described above. In this case you are going to open a window on your Windows desktop to perform the scanning, similar to what you had on the mobile device.
Support for Advanced Inventory
If you are using QuickBooks Enterprise with the optional Advanced Inventory feature there is support in SmartScan Inventory Count to support the “multiple sites” option. You’ll need to dig around for these (or ask their Tech Support) as they aren’t described in the documentation. You have the ability to enable record counts by site, which will add a dropdown list on the mobile device for the site to work with, and you can enable inventory transfers on the scanner, to transfer a count from one site to another.
Note that at this time this does not support the bin location feature that was added in Enterprise V13 – but that is not the fault of Baus Systems, it is because Intuit hasn’t made that feature accessible to any third party program yet.
Things that Annoy Me
If you’ve read other software product reviews that I’ve written you know that I often find things that annoy me. I’ve been a software designer for a number of years, and I have certain expectations when I look at a product. SmartScan Inventory Count has some issues, but they are relatively minor faults that I would hope that they could resolve. These don’t get in the way of the excellent job that this product does.
Right off the bat – I don’t like their small, cramped manual. They give you a manual printed sideways on plain paper with screen shots that are so small that I had to get a magnifying glass to see what they were trying to show (I know, I have bad eyesight, but come on…). In addition, some of the information is a bit out of date, and there were a number of functions in the software that just aren’t described. Sure, I can call tech support (and they have excellent tech support), but I’d rather be able to understand it by myself first. This could be improved easily.
I only ran into one error situation where the program told me that there was a problem, and that may have been due to some of the odd things I was doing while trying to figure out how to operate the program (because of the poor manual). The way they handled that error was very poor. An error message was displayed that just says that the program “has encountered an error”. What error? What did I do wrong? How bad is it? What do I do to resolve the problem? Should I stop before I cause a problem or just ignore it? I’m left guessing, and that isn’t good.
I’m directed to a log file for details – they store this in the PROGRAM folder on your computer, and that is a VERY POOR place to store information like this. Microsoft provides many easy to use locations for program data to be stored in, no program should ever store data like this in the program folder. Bad programming practice. And the error information there is, again, useless to me as a user.
Another issue – when I installed the support software for the Honeywell mobile computer I was told to go to a Microsoft website to find the “Windows Mobile Device Control Center” (WMDC), which is what controls the communication between the remote device and your computer. Unfortunately, you aren’t directed to the specific site where you can find that program, you are just sent to the generic Microsoft website and told to search for the product. That is NOT very useful or user-friendly. In addition, there are a lot of warnings in Microsoft sites that say that this product (WMDC) is only intended for use on Windows XP and Vista – what about Windows 7 and Windows 8? When I searched for information on this I found some people recommending a different product for Windows 7 (but would that work in my case?) and other people saying that it was OK to use this, but it wasn’t clear. The SmartScan website and documentation makes no mention of this, it doesn’t give me any direction. I went ahead and installed it on my Windows 7 system, but it would have been nice if they give me better information on this issue.
Conclusion – I Like It!
This program works! It is efficient and provides the features that I need to enter my physical count into QuickBooks easily. The problems that I ran into weren’t show stoppers – they did slow me down a bit, but I was able to work through them. All in all, the program worked as advertised and was simple to operate, it posted the correct information to QuickBooks in the correct way, and it performs a vital function for any inventory-centric business. This is the kind of thing that I hoped that we would get from Enterprise Advanced Inventory, but we don’t (and Inventory Count costs a LOT LESS).
SmartScan Inventory Count is available for $399 per license (software only, hardware is additional). This is a part of their Inventory Essentials product line, which includes Inventory Count, Sales Order Verification, Invoice Verification, Purchase Order Verification, Sales Receipt Verification and Credit Memo Verification (I will review at least one of those in the future). You can get a bundle of any 3 of these modules for $999 per license. Note that the bundle pricing (and some of the modules) aren’t listed on their website – they prefer to talk to you on the phone to determine what your barcoding needs are.
This includes 2 months of support via phone and email support during standard business hours (I found their support to be EXCELLENT). If the hardware is purchased from them you will get a bundled 12 month support plan.
The program is available for QuickBooks Pro, Premier and Enterprise, 2006 or later. Some Canadian versions of QuickBooks are supported – contact Baus Systems for details.