Getting it all together – Successful integration of warehouse management software
At every stage of your supply chain processes – indeed, at every stage of every process managed by your ERP – the software you use to manage warehouse activity (WMS) must be seamlessly integrated with every other software product you use. Not only will this improve the performance of your WMS, but it will dramatically increase efficiency and accuracy in every other phase of your operations. It may be frequently said that the integration of your WMS is often more important than the advertised functionality of your WMS, because a poorly integrated WMS cannot deliver the promised functionality.
Supply Chain Management (SCM) and Warehouse Management System (WMS) integration can improve the performance of both software systems. SCM / WMS integration comes with some IT challenges, such as data field mapping.
Any decent WMS supplier will offer customized integrations. If the WMS you are considering doesn’t offer true customization of those integrations beware! There is no WMS that integrates seamlessly with the other software that you use. If the WMS software supplier you are considering doesn’t offer sophisticated team members to develop custom integrations RUN, as quickly as possible!! A WMS supplier that leaves you to develop your own integrations is doing you a great disservice. The WMS supplier knows the intricacies of their software. No third-party developer can be aware of the subtle, but critical, nuances of the WMS. The WMS supplier is the best, and perhaps the only, source of a complete and effective integration.
The WMS will receive orders, output receipts, publish inventory transactions, create shipping orders, manage transportation, create automatic reorders and perform many other activities. The manner and frequency of financial information to your accounting system will be a critical decision and will seriously impact the performance of all of your systems. A variety of scanners will be in use and all must operate perfectly, quickly and simply. The WMS should offer such a simple operating solution that training of new employees ought to take minimal time. Automation of all material handling systems is another key function of a superior WMS. Labor management and report creation to permit labor evaluation should be a deliverable of your WMS. Equipment management is also an important feature. Your WMS should help you ensure that your employees are working at optimal efficiency levels and your equipment is used efficiently and productively – helping you be sure you don’t have too much, or too little, equipment and that it is configured ideally to your operations.
With all of these important features to consider – indeed many of them being what used to be ERP functions – it is more than ever critical to focus on the integration with your other systems.
This is not a project for your IT team. It requires a sophisticated WMS partner with significant integration experience.
Why is that? Your IT team has integrated countless other software systems. What makes a WMS so hard to integrate?
The answer lies largely in the lack of industry standardization among WMS suppliers. While financial accounting packages take similar approaches to product design, many WMS packages haven’t been updated in many years, resulting in their being burdened by outdated technology. Additionally, every company that needs a WMS will have unique and complex approaches to their internal processes. How their products are identified, received, putaway, picked, packed and shipped will be highly dependent on their industry, customer profile, geography, etc. This is frequently further complicated by the channels through which the company sells, whether their products are controlled by date or regulatory agency (e.g., the FDA) and whether they sell B-to-B, or B-to-C. As a result, each individual WMS customer will need some customization and the more antiquated the underlying technology in the WMS, the more difficult that customization may become. Invariably, it is the customization that causes problems when a new WMS is launched. The complexity of the problem generally results in a difficult and time-consuming detective project to discover the cause of the problems, diagnose a “fix,” and implement a patch, or workaround, to resolve the issues.
In addition to installation challenges and the need for unique customization, many WMS software products are complicated to use. This results in significant training challenges, both for existing staff and as new staff are hired in the warehouse. Documentation of the software gets very complicated, as each of the “fixes” and workarounds must be documented separately from the documentation for the main body of the software.
In spite of these challenges, companies implement new WMS software every day. What distinguishes those that enjoy a pain-free “go live,” from those that suffer delays, unanticipated expense and shipment errors and customer dissatisfaction?
It may sound trite, but the first and most important thing a WMS customer can do is to accurately and comprehensively document all of their operating processes. This includes all processes external to the warehouse that impact the functioning of the WMS, including purchasing, new product identification, quality control, etc.
Your WMS supplier ought to be able to translate your description of operating processes into WMS software functionality. But even the best WMS supplier can’t be expected to create functionality that the customer didn’t tell them was currently in use, or desired in the future.
Once you’ve selected your WMS supplier, based on their experience, how modern and up-to-date their software is, customer endorsements, etc., you must plan for a reasonable period of testing (running both the old system and your new WMS for a reasonable period of time before “going live” with the new system alone.
Also, you must be reasonable in anticipating the length of time to train your staff to use the new WMS system. Your WMS supplier can guide you when anticipating how long the training process should take and what particular training each member of your staff may require. Don’t forget to train upper management. WMS functionality is your lifeline to your customer and a vital connection to your suppliers. It is truly the lifeline of your business. The better everybody in the company understands the functionality and limitations of your WMS, the better it can be utilized.
Where do you find a WMS supplier with the experience and technology to launch you into a new world of efficient operations and superior customer service?