April 2001 | How-To | Ten Tips

Selecting a Warehouse Management System

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You don't have to be a software guru to select a good warehouse management system, but you better know what you want to accomplish. Don Dalton, president of Columbus, Ohio-based ScanData Systems. Inc., says companies need to clearly identify their operational requirements before asking a software company to provide a solution or respond to an RFP.

"A well defined written list of requirements is the first step toward a successful implementation or vendor selection. You should also have the software vendor demonstrate the functionality you require as part of the sales process. Next check references and make sure the vendor has a history of being able to do what you are asking them to do. And finally, make sure they can demonstrate on platform and scale what you require."

Here, from the Dallas-based EXE Technologies, a provider of WMS software, are ten tips for selecting your WMS system:

1. Search for a financially stable company. There are hundreds of niche companies out there that can offer a one-time solution. Make sure they are in it for the long haul and can provide assistance as you grow.

2. Look for software that can adapt to your changing business needs. Look at the big picture not just same feature functions—what one vendor has the other won't, but then will make up for it with something else. Look for rules based and configurable features that allow the software to adapt to your needs. You don't want software that needs to be modified to fit your needs.

3. Choose an operating platform that is flexible—both the software and the hardware. Don't choose a package that goes with just one platform unless the hardware/software combination is relatively leading edge and can provide you with a solution to last at least 8—10 years.

4. Choose a solution that is scalable. Simply put: You must be able to add hardware without "reinstalling" the software. You should be able to add hardware and simply make the additional resource available without interrupting operations.

5. Go beyond web accessibility. The solution should be web enabled native XML interfaces, i.e., it can provide user and program interfaces. The supplier should have a clear strategy for how to link your enterprise information needs using the "free network."

6. Look for component product strategies that are truly plug-in or switch enabled. This enables you to have lower entry costs, add on capabilities for changing business needs, and earlier recognition of value from your software.

7. Look for flexible pricing. Choose a vendor with pricing strategies that allow you to buy at either a site level - - per warehouse or per location—or a heavily discounted enterprise level - - across the entire company or organization—depending on your needs. They should also have the ability to upshift the license within a reasonable timeframe.

8. Make sure the vendor can deliver. Ask for some sort of demonstration. Ask for references where a customer has had something similar to you. Or where the vendor had to personalize the system to meet a company's needs. Ask how much was hard coded and how much was configured.

9. Look for the vendor with extensive partner relationships with consulting firms, so that you will have alternatives for the professional services you will need. Many WMS companies have limited skilled resource to deliver on their sales. Partnerships with these firms provide an additional avenue for these services.

10. Look for a formal training program with a separately staffed department. You don't want programs that are tailored to your needs or based on your individual situation. This typically implies a techie or project manager cooking a course up just for you and may not really show you what the system can do in a generic form.

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