5 Ways to Step Up Your WMS Game
A play-by-play guide to choosing the warehouse management system that will help you win the supply chain.
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Selecting a new warehouse management system (WMS) can be a dizzying experience. The selection process requires that companies sort through a variety of vendors and systems to narrow their focus to the solution that is the best fit for their unique operation.
The decision is crucial. An effective WMS plays an essential role in a productive warehouse operation—and in your supply chain as a whole.
The number of variables that shippers need to consider when selecting a WMS requires a proven methodology to their approach. Otherwise, “they risk madness,” notes Amit Kirpalani, vice president, supply chain solutions for enVista, an Indiana-based software, consulting, automation and managed services provider recently acquired by Körber.
Here are five key steps that should be part of any WMS selection process.
1. Know thyself.
Looking internally with a thorough analysis of your company’s business and IT requirements is an important step to ensure you include the right solution on your short list of vendors.
If you are not clear on your requirements—if you oversimplify them or miss key needs—then “you run the risk of selecting a sub-optimal solution,” Kirpalani says. “You need to ask what it is that you’re trying to get out of your WMS.”
Different industries, for instance, have different needs.
“It is important to understand the nature of the commodities being managed and shipped,” says Tim Wolin, senior vice president and founder of Wolin Design Group, a California-based provider of supply chain management software solutions.
Shippers should consider hiring a consultant who specializes in warehouse operations and can help throughout the selection process, including understanding the core requirements.
Companies should strive to understand what is driving them to invest in a new WMS. Looking inward includes defining your challenges— such as service issues or inventory accuracy—and defining the processes that need improvement.
When shippers understand how complex their operation is they can understand how sophisticated a WMS they need. Too often, shippers “don’t pay enough attention to their requirements,” notes Amit Levy, executive vice president, customer solutions and strategy at Made4net, a New Jersey-based provider of supply chain execution and warehouse management solutions.
“Shippers share how they do things and often expect the vendor to identify areas for improvement,” Levy says. “But it is not the WMS vendor’s job to analyze operations and identify those challenges.”
2. RFI to RFP.
Shippers typically start with a request for information (RFI) to a large group of vendors. They then narrow that list to a smaller group of three to five vendors that they solicit for a request for proposal (RFP).
Once you select the short list of WMS vendors to consider, build a list of requirements.
“A supply chain consulting firm can provide RFP templates that you can use,” Levy says. “Consultants can run this process for you and guide you through it.”
“If you choose to do the RFPs on your own, build a list of requirements—a spreadsheet of a requirements matrix—send it to all the vendors and request their response,” he advises.
“Build a score sheet that allows you to collect all the answers from the different vendors, and then assign a score to each piece,” Levy adds. “Using this scoring sheet to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each vendor can help you find the right fit for your organization.”
Dig below the surface on price, recommends Brian Kirst, vice president, sales and business development for Synergy North America, a Colorado-based WMS.
“Successful WMS adoption is all about foresight rather than hindsight, so when evaluating WMS suppliers be sure to check their rate structure and recurring fees,” he says.
“Understanding how rates and fees impact your own business projections keeps total cost of ownership low and manageable,” Kirst adds.
He recommends asking three questions to get an idea of how deeply you’ll need to dig to get to an accurate calculation:
1. What percentage of total revenue comes from professional services—not including implementation?
2. How many engineers carry a billable hour requirement?
3. What is the services hourly rate and is that flattened? Or are there specific rates for various tasks such as development, testing, integrations, administration, and technical documentation?
“If your WMS supplier receives most of its lifetime revenue from other chargeable activity, then there will be serious and expensive commitments to pay for at frequencies long through your partnership,” Kirst notes.
3. Talk to other clients.
Once you narrow the field of potential vendors, conduct reference checks to get a clearer picture of what working with a particular WMS vendor and solution will look like. Speaking with a vendor’s clients should provide unvarnished feedback about customer service, ease of use, and other issues.
“Reference checks allow potential clients to ask questions directly of other clients who have implemented these solutions in the past,” Kirpalani says. “They can have candid conversations about what works and does not work for them.”
Levy agrees that reference checks are invaluable when researching a vendor’s customer support capabilities.
“Talk to customers and get their experience in working with the vendor support desk,” Levy says. “How knowledgeable is support? How often do they have to escalate? Look at key performance indicators such as average of number of tickets, time to respond, and time to resolve. WMS is mission critical; it’s a big issue if it stops working.”
4. Demos are revealing.
Once you narrow your list of contenders to two or three, a demonstration of each WMS provides hands-on understanding of how they work in action.
“If the shipper has specific scenarios or concerns about the ease of use, I recommend that they provide scripts for key processes and ask the WMS provider to walk through these processes,” Wolin says.
Seeing the system in action is the best way to understand the user experience.
“Be specific on what you want to see in a demo,” Levy says. “Build a ‘scripted demo’ that represents your daily operation. In these scripted demos, each vendor will show you how your day would look using their system. You’ll get a good feel about the system’s ease of use and if it is a right fit for your operation.”
Demos work best when you “make sure the right people are in the room,” Kirpalani says. “It’s not just executives and decision-makers, it’s also the people who actually use the systems.
“When we bring the right people in—the receiving supervisor, the shipping supervisor—they can see what the steps are to execute a certain process,” Kirpalani says. “They can see if it clears their comfort level and decide if it is too complex or will make life easier.”
During demos, Levy recommends paying special attention to navigation and data visibility. “Spending too much time looking for data across the system can be exhausting and overwhelming for end users,” he says.
He provides a simple example. “When you manage the outbound shift, you need to have the entire operation displayed on the wave management screen so you can track the progress of all your orders, loads, tasks, and labor, as well as any challenges, alerts, or exceptions,” Levy says. “This is key to ease of use and the ability to perform the work.”
5. Look ahead.
Selecting a WMS is not just about picking the right system for the moment. It’s about choosing the right system for the years ahead, too.
“Think about your future needs from a scalability standpoint,” Kirpalani says. “If you think that in the next two or three years, you might need a transportation solution, an inventory allocation solution, or a solutions that uses artificial intelligence or machine learning then you can decide to go with a vendor that is making the right level of investment in these areas.”
Put future plan scenarios in front of each vendor and see how they support them. Future plans or needs should be part of the discussion from day one.
“For example, ask the vendor about their plans for automation?” Wolin says. “Do they plan to add different shipping channels in the future? Do they plan to switch ERP systems? Do they plan to enter into different markets or expand geographically? Weight these future plans based on whether they are near- term or distant considerations.”
Forward-thinking companies also will want insight into a WMS vendor’s level of sophistication going forward, based on factors such as how much they are investing in research and development, and how quickly they have adopted the newest, most effective technological advancements in the past.
“You want information on where the WMS vendor is currently and what its roadmap to the future looks like,” Kirpalani says.
For WMS users, the vendor’s roadmap could hold important answers about their own futures.
10 Ways a WMS Can Solve Retail Distribution Challenges
Major changes in the retail landscape have accelerated rapidly in the past few years, and with that change comes new challenges for retail distribution operations. Retailers can overcome many of those challenges with a best-in-breed warehouse management system (WMS). Here are 10 ways a WMS can help your operation become more agile and more efficient, faster and smarter.
1. Use the Labor You Have More Efficiently. Labor shortages abound, but a top-notch WMS will help you use what you have to the best advantage. Through task prioritization and performance monitoring, your WMS can help employees on the floor do more with their time.
2. Keep a Tighter Leash on Inventory. Top-rated warehouse management systems can help you track inventory to the case in real time. Since inventory control and visibility are serious issues for many retail distribution operations, improving inventory management via a better WMS is a common-sense solution.
3. Help Get Products to Customers in New Ways. A good WMS will help you get products where they need to go in exactly the way it was originally set up to. A great WMS will help you evolve the way you get products to their end destinations, opening up new omnichannel distribution solutions to your company through agility and adaptation.
4. Help Get Products to Customers Faster. A quality warehouse management system helps inventory get through your warehouse and on to its final destination faster. It can help you prioritize which products should move first and how they should move to ensure consistent customer satisfaction.
5. Handle Store Allocations. When there isn’t enough inventory to supply all stores, the WMS can look in real time and run an analysis of how to allocate the product. It can also handle distributing new items or slow-moving items to stores without orders.
6. Give You Better Data. Data makes the cogs in a warehouse keep turning just how they’re supposed to. An ideal WMS collects data at every touchpoint so that you know where you stand, and provides insights into how you can do better.
7. Keep Shipping Costs Down. When you keep a better handle on your inventory, you can plan shipments better so you don’t have to rely on the spot market to keep items available. Since shipping rates are incredibly volatile, this WMS benefit is rapidly becoming a priority for many retailers.
8. Simplify a Complex Supply Chain. Today’s warehouses often have to cope with thousands of unique SKUs and ever-changing rules. A great warehouse management system can help companies see over the top of the complexities, integrating seamlessly with solutions, equipment, and other technology up and down the supply chain.
9. Provide Better Visibility. End-to-end visibility is more than a buzz phrase; it’s the future of supply chains. A world-class WMS helps you collect and interpret data to provide more visibility across your entire network.
10. Improved Visibility Leads to Better Customer Service. Everything in retail comes down to customer service, whether you’re standing in a brick-and-mortar store or at home with your shopping cart. A more effective, more efficient distribution operation translates to happier customers.
–Amit Levy, Executive Vice President, Customer Solutions & Strategy, Made4net