How to track and manage your suppliers
Whether it is construction, manufacturing or digital services, supplier management appears in every business field. You need to track your suppliers and orders either for materials, tools or office supplies, and it can surely become a mess. In this article, we will show you how Lumeer will help you store and see all the information in one place.
We will use a chemical laboratory as a model example, but don’t worry, you will see that the supplier management principles are the same across all industries. We identified three basic entities: suppliers, orders and inventory items. Let’s create a collection for each one of them (if it’s the first time you are creating a collection, First time in Lumeer article can help you with that):
Then we fill the collection with all the items that we obtain from our suppliers:
And also with our suppliers:
Now we have two tables, but they don’t give us a complete picture, because they are missing the information about which supplier to contact when ordering particular item.
We could add new column to Inventory table and fill it with the name of the supplier. However, this simple approach has significant pitfalls: First, we have to type the name again and again. Second, if we want to contact the supplier, we have to open the Suppliers collection and look up the name. Third (and most important pitfall) is that there is no referential integrity between those collections. That means that it is possible that you won’t find a supplier name in the Suppliers collection because it was already changed or deleted and no one has updated the Inventory collection with that new name.
Let’s solve this problem by linking the collections. When collections are linked, each record from one collection can be connected (via so called link instance – you can imagine it as a line connecting two particular rows between tables) to one or more records from a second collection.
Linked records can be displayed side-by-side, revealing all the relevant information at once.
If we assume that this information will be accessed often, we can save it as a view. This way we can access it with a click (if it’s the first time you are working with views, you may find Storing screens as views article useful).
As we said, the records are linked, not copied. That means that if you change contact person of a supplier in this linked records view, you also change actual data in Suppliers. If you fill a row with new supplier, then new record will be created in Suppliers collection. This feature prevents duplicates and provides you with single source of truth.
But what if we need to change supplier of an item? If we rewrite the data, it will change the record in Suppliers. Therefore, we just unlink the row by right-clicking on it.
Now that we linked Suppliers and Inventory, we can use the same principle for Orders.
However, there is one slight difference: order information contains both supplier and ordered items. Of course, Lumeer can handle multiple links:
However, Count column in inventory doesn’t make much sense in this view – it displays inventory count, not order count. To avoid confusion, we hide the column in this view.
One order can of course contain more than one item, and we can link multiple Inventory records to one Orders record. Remember that we haven’t added any supplier for pipets earlier and that’s why supplier isn’t automatically filled for pipet.
As we are going to repeatedly work with this view, we save it.
In the beginning of the article we said that we would show you how to store and access all the information in one place. But what if you need to find a particular part of information? Just use search bar and enter desired query.