WMS Does Not Mean Warehouse Made Simple
Never let a WMS vendor tell you that deploying a Warehouse Management System is a walk in the park, because it isn’t. It’s a complex process that takes many weeks, if not months, of preparation. It requires a deep dive into operations and the ability to turn a critical eye toward accepted practices that will probably lead to radical changes in standard procedures. Most importantly, a WMS deployment needs buy-in from most employees, and a project champion who has the vision and patience to see the process through every step of the way. Putting all of these pieces in place is a tall order, but the payoff in productivity, inventory visibility and control, and customer service is well worth the effort.What to Expect From a WMS
Most distributors today rely on some form of an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system to help manage their businesses. ERPs are very specialized and offer tools to handle important functions such as employee payroll, but they lack the ability to manage physical inventory effectively in the warehouse environment. A WMS will offer complete stock controls at an exceptionally granular level, ensuring the highest levels of inventory and order accuracy while also helping management to maximize employee productivity.
A WMS offers five key benefits to every enterprise:
- Accuracy: the ability to pick, pack and ship the right item from the right location every time
- Efficiency: optimized pick paths and zoned work areas that allow multiple orders to be picked simultaneously in a single pass
- Visibility and Reporting: accurate and detailed performance tracking and reporting, with the ability to set and report against standards for every task in the system, and visibility into where people are spending their time
- Accountability: complete visibility and history of all product movement
- Flexibility: scalability to adapt as requirements change and the organization grows
One of the most popular features of PathGuide’s offering, Latitude, is its ability to keep track of materials that are cut to order for customers, such as hose, electrical cable and chain. Many competing systems only track items by basic SKU numbers, so employees often get an inaccurate view of what is available, leading to a lot of wasted materials.
With the growing popularity of 3PL and eCommerce fulfillment, many distribution centers are seeking added value from their WMS purchases, such as the ability to cater for advanced product labeling, return labels and customer-specific packing lists. A good WMS will easily accommodate these and many more customizations.
By this point, you may be sold on the benefits of implementing a WMS, but you may also have lingering fears about the potential for workflow disruption. This is where planning and expertise are vital. Having a smooth implementation really boils down to making sure that everyone shares the same vision for success, and having the right people fill the right roles. Nobody is more important than the person assigned to be the “warehouse champion.” This person doesn’t have to be a project manager, but he or she will need to develop the strongest working knowledge of the WMS to ensure that best practices are being implemented and followed. This person will also need adequate time and resources to perform warehouse setup and employee training.
The Importance of Bullet-Proof Support
Keeping a tight rein on the implementation process is challenging, but this is where the WMS vendor can become your best ally. Apart from supplying the software, the WMS vendor’s role throughout this stage is to maintain order and help customers ‘eat the elephant’ one bite at a time. There are a lot of parts to keep organized and sequenced correctly, and this is where the vendor’s implementation team can provide true value. A smart WMS vendor will never let the customer feel alone in this process. The vendor will keep implementations on track and stress levels low by providing clearly defined steps and milestones, along with realistic deadlines.
When working with a new client, our implementation team conducts a full-day discovery session. We spend time with all of the relevant operations managers and end-users to learn about the business, the current work flow and their expectations for improvement. This is followed by a detailed walk through of the warehouse to gain a baseline understanding of how the company ships orders and manages other functions. Insight to a client’s operations is absolutely vital as plans for the WMS rollout come together.
In my experience, most customers are fully live within six months of deciding to implement a WMS solution. In fact, many are up and running within only three or four months, while more complex implementations may take up to eight months to become completely operational. If we look at the average deployment, roughly 90 percent of the work falls within standard parameters and can be accomplished relatively easily. It still takes a lot of work, but it’s not a case of reinventing the wheel. The last 10 percent is the piece that can be the most difficult and time-consuming, because this is where specific configuration issues and requirements for system customization come into play.
Any company considering the adoption of a WMS needs to fully understand the changes that the business will face. Abandoning trusted, ingrained practices is not a process to be taken lightly, as it will have a profound impact on the business from the ground up. When managed poorly, this process will be costly and disruptive without providing the desired functionality, usability or efficiency gains. The flip side of that is a successful WMS deployment helps the warehouse improve accuracy and many other important metrics. In order to succeed, the burden is on the customer to find a consistently reliable and flexible vendor with the expertise and willingness to support the process from beginning to end. Speaking from experience, the more effort invested upfront into selecting a bullet-proof WMS vendor, the better the short- and long-term results.
George Lindholm has worked with PathGuide’s new and existing clients on training and implementation since joining the company in 2003. He heads a team of skilled engineers, providing expert project management and technical troubleshooting while working hand in hand with teams from Sales, Engineering, and Support to ensure that customers have an exceptional implementation experience. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org