Inventory Coding Guidelines

Guidelines for constructing your item codes

What is an item code?

An Item codeis a short descriptor used to reference parts or consumables within your inventory. Every inventory item, whether stock (something where you track the quantity and cost in stock) or non-stock (consumables, labour, sundry charges & expenses) must have an item code for it to be used within Accentis Enterprise.

Why have item codes?

An item code is used to identify a part unambiguously – that is, to identify it within the system without confusing it with another part. It is easier and more efficient to use a short item code to reference a part rather than its description for several reasons:

  • An item code is shorter and easier to type
  • A short item code can be easier to remember
  • An item code will absolutely identify the part you need, not another part with the same description
  • An item code removes ambiguity and confusion between parts

Every well-designed system uses item codes. You see them at the supermarkets on items (bar codes), on the back of appliances such as electrical goods and whitegoods, and are used by most, if not all, of your suppliers.

Can an item code be used for different parts within Accentis?

No. The whole point of item codes is that they identify one and only one kind of part or item within Accentis. Of course, you can choose to make a part code called “VALVE” and stock every different kind of valve you sell using the one-part code, but this would not give you the ability to differentiate between the different kinds of valve that you sell and would not allow you to cost or count them separately.

Can item descriptions be the same?

Yes. One reason for having item codes is that it allows you to use whatever you like for the description – and even use the same description for different parts. While this is not advisable for obvious reasons, Accentis places no restriction on your descriptions.

What format can be used for item codes?

Accentis places no restriction on the format of your item codes, except that they cannot be longer than 30 alpha-numeric characters. You can use dashes, dots, slashes and some other punctuation, but the following characters can have a special meaning when searching for text within the system and should not be used:

“	double quote
‘ single quote
? question mark
[] square brackets
{} curly braces
() parentheses
* asterisk

Why is the format of an item code important?

You need to consider the speed and efficiency with which other staff can do their jobs when using item codes. Item codes are typed in regularly by sales and purchasing staff, and the speed with which they can locate codes will make their job easier and faster.

You also need to consider how an item code will look on printed material, on screen and how easy it is for your customers to use and deal with that code. Don’t forget that, in many cases, your customers will need to know and use your part codes, so making them easy to understand will help the purchasing process and reduce errors.

Recommendations for item codes

Don’t turn the item code into the item description

It is often a temptation to put the entire meaning of an item into its item code, but this should be avoided so you don’t create item codes that are so long they are difficult to remember and type.

If your item codes are too long, operators will need to type in too much data before they reach a unique item code. For example, if you sold red plastic buckets and green plastic buckets, and your item code was PLASTIC-BUCKET-GREEN, an operator would have to type 15 letters before they narrowed the code down to the one they want. In this case it would be much better to have BKPLGN, for example.

Consider also whether long item codes can be displayed on the screen or on printed material such as quotes, order confirmations and invoices.

Try to put some meaning into item codes

If your item codes are purely numeric with no special meaning, it may be very difficult for new staff to identify the correct item on sales, quotes or purchases. They may need to display an item list and search constantly for the correct description, which will increase the time taken to process an order. If you create a coding scheme that follows a logical format, staff will learn quickly.

Consider who will use the codes

The staff using the codes may determine if you put too much meaning into the item code. For example, if all orders are taken electronically or via systems that quote the exact codes, the coding scheme can be largely meaningless and numeric. However, if you have staff members who need to enter codes manually, you may want to put more emphasis on making those codes easily locatable. A customer asking for a green plastic 10 litre bucket with a steel handle can easily be located by using a logical code such as BK10PLGNS.

Code the item type before its characteristics

It is better to code the type of item before its characteristics so you narrow the field of results down to the type of item and the choose the specific characteristics. For example, if you sell green buckets, code them BKGN or BKT-GREEN rather than GREEN-BUCKET. When you search for items, you will see all buckets and then the different colours, making things easier to choose.

You don’t have to use letters

A great deal of meaning and structured codes can be gained from purely numeric item codes. For example, a code such as 360-023 might be used which, although purely numeric, may conform precisely to a well-defined coding scheme and can be as easy to remember as text-based codes.

Don’t be afraid to use a combination of meaningful letters and sequential numbers

Sometimes you can only partially code a part’s characteristics into the item code. For example, a 10-litre green plastic bucket made from polypropylene with a metal handle could quite validly be coded as BK10GNPPS, but what if you had 100 different designs printed on the side? It would be reasonable then to use numeric coding such as BK10GNPPS100 where the 100 was purely a number indicating the design.

Allow codes to be expandable

If you use a coding scheme, ensure that it is expandable for every possible item that you may sell or use - otherwise new items will need different coding and there will no longer be any consistency.

Don’t make a rod for your own back

Don’t enforce a coding scheme that won’t cater for every possible item, because it is too restrictive. For example, consider a scheme where all raw materials started with R and all saleable items start with S. What happens when you also sell an item that happens to be a raw material? Examples like this are common and will complicate a good coding scheme very quickly. Conversely, if you used a scheme such as 800-01 whereby 800 indicates a type of bolt, what happens if you start to stock more than 100 types of bolt? You could start using 801, but what if you have already used that for something else?

Consider how many different types of each item you will have

If you have only a few of a certain type of item, you can nearly always code the item completely. For example, if you sell buckets of steel and plastic, and of them only 5 colours, your item code can easily accommodate all characteristics of the part. However, if you sell generators and each one has a dozen or more characteristics that differentiate it from the others, you may well have to resort to partial numeric coding such as GP1001 where GP means generator petrol and 1001 is a “meaningless” number for a 20kVA, silenced, imported, red generator on a skid base with 5 outlets.

Don’t be afraid to use supplier’s codes instead of your own

If your business deals largely with on-selling bought-in parts, you may consider simply using the manufacturer’s part code instead of your own. However, be very careful to consider the following:

  • Will you ever sell an item as the same thing but bought from more than one source?
  • Do different suppliers’ part codes ever conflict with each other?
Don’t forget about administrative item codes

You can also use item codes for internal administrative things such as consumables, expenses and sundry items. You may consider coding these items with an A for Administration, C for consumable etc. For example, you may use item codes for stationery called ASTAT, or cleaning called ACLEAN. It is a good idea to make these codes easily separated from your normal trading stock so that item lists for sales orders do not show them.

Coding scheme – worked example

A company sells plastic pipes, fittings and accessories. One of the parts they sell is a plastic elbow. A good coding scheme could be:

ELB20 = 20mm elbow

The mm is superfluous and can be removed.

But what about elbows that are 20mm on one end and 40mm on the other? In this case, we could have:

ELB2020 = 20mm x 20mm elbow

ELB4020 = 40mm x 20mm reducing elbow

Consider then that you may have 90-degree, 45-degree and 30-degree elbows. This might make the item codes:

ELB904020 = reducing elbow, 90-degree, 40mm x20mm

Finally, consider that the elbows may be made of different materials polyethylene and polypropylene. Given that the material is the most important aspect in this case, it could be first, giving you:

PPEL904020 = polypropylene reducing elbow, 90-degree, 40mm x 20mm

An alternative would be PPEL0001, PPEL0002 using a purely numeric identifier in combination with an alphabetic classification.

You may also decide that there are no more than 200 different basic classifications of part type such as pipe, elbow, tee, joiner etc. and have a 2-digit prefix for the type of part.

10 = polyethylene pipe

11 = polyethylene elbow

12 = polyethylene tee

20 = polypropylene pipe

21 = polypropylene elbow

30 = steel pipe

40 = tools

A 40mm x 20mm polypropylene 90dg reducing elbow might be 21-123 whereas a 50mm variety might be 21-124.

Finally, other variations on the theme to arrive at this part could be:

Use a hyphen to separate parts


Use a RE specifically for reducing elbow