Warehouse Management Takes on the Supply Chain
Extending themselves beyond the four walls of the warehouse and into the world of the supply chain, Warehouse Management Systems have become powerful tools. Most now serve one of the three key functions of the supply chain - source, make and distribute - as defined by SCOR.
The evolution from warehouse preoccupation to distribution management system is the driving force behind PkMS, a software solution offered by Manhattan Associates, Atlanta, Ga.
Manhattan Associates' supply chain view of the distribution center serves host and retailer. It sees the center as having five basic parts:
- A receive/stock locate function
- A pick function
- A pack and verify function
- A ship/manifest function
- A replenishment through bulk storage function.
PkMS acts as the means for these functions to transmit orders and data among host, retailer, and carriers through EDI, reflecting Manhattan Associates' concern for the larger strategy and execution issues of the supply chain as they relate to the new distribution business.
The system manages inbound logistics as well as outbound, says Neal Thall, vice president of supply chain strategy at Manhattan Associates. "Our inbound business is as strong as our outbound business," he says. "And inbound needs to be strong. The supply chain is one continuum. Outbound for one company is inbound for the next.
"Inbound is simpler as a process," Thall says. "It is not as supply chain compliance-oriented because the one receiving is the one making the demands. The company that is shipping is the one that must meet those demands."
Manhattan Associates' software connects to the data collection side of the supply chain. But what about its connection to other manufacturing and SCM software such as ERP and MES? "Absolutely we need to connect to those systems," Thall says. "Our master files are the ERP master files. They are not duplicates. We prefer not to be a stand-alone system unless we have to be. We prefer to be connected."
Manhattan Associates works with preferred ERP companies, Thall notes. "We are a certified SAP partner. We also work closely with Intrepid and Richter because we have relationships with them. Some ERP companies have their own Warehouse Management Systems. We don't get involved directly unless it is with a specific site and the customer asks us to be involved. We also need to be able to connect to homegrown versions."
Manhattan Associates is also unique in that it takes a very active role in industry organizations. "We think this is very important," Thall says. "We co-chair a committee on VICS (Voluntary Interindustry Commerce Standards) concerning vendor shipping instructions because that is supply chain-oriented. Vendor routing guides are published, and are now available on the Internet. But they are problematic because there is no standard terminology. There is no standard of how information is communicated. There is no standard of how frequently it is communicated.
"With VICS, we are developing an electronic standard for communicating this information between retailers and their suppliers," he says. "The standard would include not only shipping instructions such as what kind of trucks or which carriers to use, but also how to pack, what value-added services are required, and what the chargeback rules are. It will be an electronic standard that will go into our system and won't be interpreted. The system will just react to it and act accordingly."