Our interest in inventory management stems from observing many operations in Sub-Saharan Africa, including collection of field specimens for scientific projects, distribution of farm inputs by suppliers and wholesalers, and financial accounting for retail stores. In all cases, there is a need to precisely trace the movement of goods being stored and forwarded from one relay point to another, such that managers can query the integrity, count, and location of any product undergoing shipment in real-time. This basic functionality is missing from many logistics operations, often because the need to support them with rigorous data management systems is not realized until much later, when evidence of fraud or product mishandling is exposed.
We have been developing solutions for managing physical inventory and supply chain networks through the system illustrated above, named AIMS: Asset Inventory Management System. This system applies small, unique digital identifiers to all inventory, such as QR codes or RFID codes depending on budgetary constraints. We can equip operators with Android mobile applications for recording the space-time coordinates of every parcel along its way, and syncing this information to a centralized web server, where managers can easily oversee and visualize their supply chains.
Below we describe some components of AIMS in further detail, whose usage has been demonstrated in several scientific projects for the gathering of soil and crop information.