As every retail executive knows, the quality of your warehouse management solution (WMS) can translate directly into profits.Inventory accuracy used to be the one and only true concern of warehouse management. But in today’s connected world – where each store often doubles as a distribution center – efficiency is just as important. After all, Amazon.com didn’t turn the retail world upside down because they had access to more and cheaper products – they did it with innovative efficiencies in their warehouse and shipping operations.
A good warehouse management solution is critical to managing your supply chain, but it also directly impacts your employee productivity and customer satisfaction, too.
So when it’s time to choose a new system, you don’t just want something that works. You want a warehouse management solution that will give you an advantage. See our article where we list seven questions to ask before selecting a warehouse management system.
Choosing the Right Technology
In Gartner’s 2013 report, 10 Technology Best Practices When Evaluating Warehouse Management Systems, they suggest that selecting the right technical architecture might be the single most important decision you make.
A warehouse management system is not installed or replaced lightly. As such, it needs to last. Many retailers will stick with their warehouse software as long as they can – often a decade or longer. This becomes a problem when they purchase systems based on today’s common technologies, without any anticipation for the future.
For example, many of the business world’s systems are in the process of moving to the cloud. And there are certainly some cloud computing advantages you’ll want to explore in a warehouse management solution. Accordingly, many WMS vendors are making their products compatible with those needs, sort of.
Gartner explains how rather than embracing new service-oriented architecture (SOA), most vendors are simply wrapping their existing APIs in SOA-styled wrappers. These may look like the real thing on the outside, but internally it’s still the old technology. That might be fine for now, but what happens when that SOA architecture enables cutting-edge new features and possibilities? That’s right, your competitors might jump on it, but you’ll be stuck.
Enabling a Smart Warehouse
A smart warehouse uses technology to operate as efficiently as possible. It automates what it can (based on resources, budgets, etc.), helps make manual labor more efficient, and flexes seamlessly between the two.
SupplyChain247 identifies the five key attributes of a smart warehouse as:
- Process Automation: working to eliminate the use of manual labor and input wherever possible.
- Being Nimble: optimizing results with the resources available and the flexibility to adapt as those resources change.
- Ready to Scale: the ability to respond to rapid increases in demand.
- Real-Time Operations: data and decision-making based on real-time inputs and values.
- Web Centric: offering web and/or mobile access to provide a 360-degree experience for both businesses and their customers.
The better your technology, the “smarter” your warehouse can be. Make sure your WMS is capable of enabling these attributes. Because even if you’re not ready to implement a smart warehouse now, chances are that five years from now, you’ll wish you could.
Software Fit and Integration
One important factor to consider is how a new warehouse management solution will interact with your other systems. Are they compatible? Does the new software hook easily into your other in-house systems (such as accounting) or would it require major customizations?
Integrating your warehouse software with ERP solutions is not just a value-add, it’s a must – if you intend any kind of return on your investment. Without this integration, you’ll need costly manual processes in place to translate and transfer data between systems.
Another consideration is whether you prefer the benefits of “off-the-shelf” software or the advantages of custom-built software tailored specifically to your needs. And will the new system fit within your strategic IT plan and technology footprint?
From an employee perspective, how easy is the software to use? How will the new technology be supported throughout your organization? Do you have the expertise already or will you need to hire? What does the end-user training look like and who will need it?
Once you’ve ensured that each WMS choice is built on the right technology, how do you go about comparing them? By their features, of course.
Here’s a “short” list of features being offered by some warehouse management solutions:
- Building orders from handheld terminals
- Sending fulfillment orders from registers to warehouse
- Cycle counting and planning
- Trigger replenishment tasks
- Paperless zone picking
- Efficient truck routing
- Serial number and lot code tracking
- Slotting optimization
- Direct label printing
- Stock immediately available for picking
- Product substitution suggestions
- Fill rate management
- Part number cross-referencing
- Multiple picking styles
- Shipping from retail locations
- Mobile order status lookups
- Automatic manifesting
- Compliance labeling
This is just a sampling – there are far too many possibilities to fully list them here. Keep in mind not only which features you need to implement now, but also which features could earn you strategic advantages in the future.
Making Your WMS Choice
Now that you know what you want in a warehouse management solution, it’s time to choose. With so many options, including both off-the-shelf and custom-built, narrowing them down can be a challenge. Inbound Logistics offers some help with these 7 Steps to Selecting a WMS:
- Calculate Return on Investment
- Decide on the Process
- Understand and Analyze Your Existing Systems
- Evaluate Each Vendor’s In-House Development Capability
- Request Information
- Create a Short List
- Make Your Final Choice
If you start with a vision of what your WMS should be, and the technology you’ll need to get there, then this checklist can walk you through the rest of that decision-making process.
And if you start with DecisionPoint on your list, we’re confident we’ll still be there at the end. That’s because DecisionPoint offers everything today’s retail organization needs in a warehouse management solution… and tomorrow’s, too.