Warehouse Management Systems (WMS) can support the daily activities in a warehouse, helping businesses control the stock as it enters, is held and leaves their warehouse. These systems vary in capabilities and there are many on the market which can help a company manage and distribute their products more efficiently and cost effectively, thereby improving the profitability of the business.
However, many companies believe or are told by salesmen, that simply buying and configuring a WMS or customising their ERP system that they will solve all of their distribution challenges overnight and make them market leaders in their industries. This is simply not the case and one wouldn’t have to go far to hear stories of failed systems, broken promises and companies battling to recover from these expensive mistakes.
Just like in any other area of business, it is important to ensure that when looking to modernise and equip a warehouse with a new WMS that you first make sure that the warehouse and its staff are in a position to benefit from what the IT system can offer.
Business owners need to understand how to determine whether or not their warehouse is ready for a WMS and what to do if they feel that it is not. They might even need some professional, unbiased advice before making what otherwise, may be an expensive mistake. A good WMS implementation can see a company grow and gain market share while a bad implementation may have one looking for another job.
What you need to know about a WMS
A WMS is a software product that has a wide range of capabilities related to operations typically performed in a warehouse. The product is then configured to provide a defined way to operate your warehouse and to drive operations and people, to perform tasks in a prescribed, efficient manner. Warehouses that can be managed in this way can achieve the maximum benefit from the system and will find that operations are handled in a very easy-to-manage way. Whilst the WMS thrives on consistency and standardisation, the best solutions will also be able to adapt to handle the exceptional circumstances that happen all too often in daily activities.
The key to success is that your warehouse must be disciplined and structured prior to the implementation. If not, your people will struggle to adapt to what they may find as rigid processes afterwards. For instance, if a picker is used to finding the stock anywhere to satisfy a sales order, they will not appreciate why they must go to a particular bin to get the stock after the implementation.
How do I know if we are ready?
When you set off on a road trip, you need to know where you are and where you want to go so that you can plan your journey. The same process applies to your warehouse project. You first have to establish your current situation, warts and all. To do this, you need to assess your supply chain capabilities with a particular focus on those processes directly affecting warehouse operations. Therefore, along with what goes on within the four walls, you need to look at how you order stock, how your suppliers deliver, what your customer demands are and most importantly, the strategic and growth goals of the business.
You need to answer the following key questions:
If you can answer the above, honestly, and in depth then you will start to get a feeling about your readiness.
Do I need help in the assessment?
These days most companies are stretched when it comes to staff numbers. Many people now perform roles that were once occupied by two or even more people. This means that it can prove challenging for the business to free up the necessary, experienced staff to run with this analysis. For this process to be successful, it is essential that the project team can devote their time to the analysis, reviews and creating the recommended way forward. If the team is also concerned with the daily activities of the business, then this project will not get the priority it requires and will likely not produce results that will benefit the business.
If you feel this may be the case in your business, you may want to look outside the company for the expertise to analyse your warehouse operations. When looking for a partner in this project there are a few things to look for:
What should the outcome of the assessment be?
The purpose of the assessment is to provide a clear blueprint of how the business should manage improvements within the warehouse/distribution centre. To achieve this, the report should provide:
Making the decision to implement a WMS is not as straightforward as many people think. Often companies believe they are looking for a “barcode scanning system” and don’t realise the potential benefits that a true WMS can provide. Additionally, many companies embarking on WMS implementations do so without fully understanding that the system comes with a set of requirements on how the warehouse should function and in a lot of cases, this is a far cry from what happens on a day to day basis in the warehouse facility.
This article has been aimed at helping you understand what is involved in deciding whether or not your business is ready to benefit from a WMS. It has taken you through the various steps, which I believe are essential in the decision making process and which will benefit your organisation, regardless of what your end decision is. Remember that no one size fits all so you have to look in detail at your own business strategy and processes to arrive at the correct decision.
Contributed by: Alan Richard, managing Director, Apex Real-Time Solutions