December 2015 | Commentary | IT Matters

Building the Connected Warehouse

Tags: Inventory Management, Forklifts, Warehousing, Logistics, Technology , Supply Chain, Visibility

Sid Geddam is Vice President and General Manager, Warehouse Management System, NetSuite, 917-470-9415

Boxes, pallets, and forklifts aren't the only things that move throughout a warehouse. Data also flows across a range of warehouse business processes, from the receipt of goods to storage and tracking, picking and packing, and outbound transportation.

How effectively a business utilizes that information has a massive impact on warehouse and supply chain performance. Outdated, unreliable data that languishes in loosely connected systems typically results in inefficient warehouse operations.

Businesses can optimize warehouse performance with real-time data that flows through a centralized warehouse management system (WMS) to synchronize all warehouse processes. Leveraging real-time data on inventory, products, and customers is the foundation for the ideal connected warehouse that eliminates waste, enables informed decision-making, and streamlines operations.

Visibility Drives Value

The connected warehouse is linked to internal enterprise resource planning (ERP) and customer relationship management (CRM) systems, as well as supply chain partner applications. The connected warehouse can also increasingly integrate with Internet of Things devices, such as smart forklifts, robots, and voice picking.

By linking warehouse operations to CRM, companies equip sales and service personnel with real-time information to grow the business. Integration between a warehouse and ERP system supports more accurate planning and forecasting with insights into stock levels, inventory turns, and carrying costs that impact the bottom line.

Extending the warehouse to external partner systems can elevate performance across the full supply chain ecosystem by better aligning warehouse/partner processes and giving all stakeholders on-demand transparency that's vital to identifying gaps and areas for cost-efficient improvement. It also increases the resilience of the supply network to adapt swiftly to changing conditions, from delays at an overseas factory to a downturn in customer demand.

The Internet of Things

New opportunities to drive warehouse and supply chain performance are emerging from smart-device technologies, as well as artificial intelligence systems that optimize routes for robot or human operators, from within the warehouse to around the world.

Besides making warehouse operations faster and more efficient, these Internet of Things technologies generate a wealth of real-time information that all supply chain stakeholders, including the warehouse, can capture and analyze for actionable insights.

One key objective of many companies is to future-proof warehouse operations as the pace of business change continues to accelerate. Companies are looking for the agility to not only react swiftly to change, but to drive change by taking advantage of disruptive technologies for greater efficiency, partner collaboration, and competitive advantage. To meet these objectives, companies are growing more interested in agile, cloud-based WMS solutions that don't hamstring them with the high cost, inflexibility, and delays of outdated, on-premise legacy systems.

Building the connected warehouse is a milestone in maximizing warehouse efficiency, and positioning a company to decisively navigate changes across the supply chain. Real-time data intelligence delivers the visibility and control needed to effect measurable improvements across the entire extended supply chain. Companies that pay as much attention to data as they do to forklifts and daily shipments gain a competitive advantage.