Every warehouse has a computer aided warehouse management system. Yet, a specialised, extensive warehouse management system (WMS) is still missing from many companies. Often, this software is only used when the warehouse has larger or more complex tasks to fulfil. The most frequent reasons for introducing a WMS are:
- E-commerce: in order to adhere to online standards such as real time posting, multi-channel logistics, priority control amongst other things, tailor made process control is required.
- Automation: logistics technology provides a multitude of possibilities. In order to be able to use these effectively, coordinating control elements as well as planning and control strategies are required.
- Paperless handling: in particular, with high employment of staff, paper managed handling has its limits. Appropriate software and hardware is necessary for the conversion to paperless working.
A WMS can do everything! Really?
A WMS introduction is a complex project, in which numerous difficulties can occur. There is one basic error in particular which causes many problems: many believe that a WMS is a standard program, which is suitable for any logistics. However, the software is comparable to a blank, which is specially adjusted to the individual logistical requirements. 11 further, typical problems of a WMS introduction are described below.
1. Responsibility: logistics or IT?
Already the responsibility for a WMS introduction often brings up questions: does the software belong to the tasks of IT? Or is logistics responsible for the most important instrument in warehouse management? As logistics ultimately uses the program, it is recommended to give them responsibility for the introduction. However, IT is the most important project partner, as it is the master of installation and expert for company DP. Therefore, a WMS introduction will go best if both cooperate.
2. Resources: more time, more staff, less investments
A big difficulty with the WMS introduction is inadequate resources. Often, too little time is allowed for the whole implementation. Too few employees of the relevant departments are available, or not at the same time, for content adjustments. In addition, they often have to manage day-to-day business and projects at the same time, which causes significant strain, particularly during implementing. However, it is necessary to give the WMS introduction your full attention throughout the whole project duration. Because, a considered system selection, comprehensive discussion of function and detailed tests provide a high functionality guarantee, and ensure the investment budget. Unfortunately, a rushed WMS introduction frequently leads to significant additional costs, right up to total failure of the system.
3. Scope of functions: never buy A WMS, but always YOUR WMS!
In the case of warehouse management software, there are no standards that 100% match all logistics. At the same time, end customers often request special packaging, particular delivery agreements and other individual processes. To satisfy them and handle the logistics efficiently, companies therefore require tailor made warehouse control. Therefore, it should first of all be determined in a detailed requirements specification, which functions the warehouse management requires. It only makes sense to approach WMS providers after this. This procedure enables an internal situation assessment, which is not influenced by the sales interest of the manufacturer.
4. Choosing a provider: systematic and integral is the motto
There are few logistics services, where a detailed service comparison is as necessary as for warehouse management systems. Purchase decisions should not be dependent on individual functions or fashionable buzz words. By proceeding in this way, in our experience, it later turns out that important functions are missing or inadequately integrated. This often leads to additional charges which stretch the budget, and cause conflicts in the business relationship.
Instead, the top priority is to find the warehouse management software, which can be adjusted to your own logistics processes, with the least changes. The warehouse management systems available on the market differ in numerous functions. For this reason, a systematic selection according to scope of services is absolutely necessary. The adjustment services should form an important component of budget planning.
5. Contract: client or contractor friendly?
In contractual negotiations, commercial topics such as price or payment conditions are often a priority. Yet, availabilities and completeness guarantees should also be dealt with. Then the contract not only ensures the delivery, but also the functionality, and therefore the whole investment. Therefore, it is advisable to rely on your own contracts instead of a manufacturer’s contract. Any good logistics consultancy will provide support in these matters, and buyer oriented standard contracts.
6. Coordination of details: now it gets serious
You might think that all questions will be answered in a detailed tender. Yet, after award of contract, interfaces must be coordinated, sequences and processes must be transferred into the selected software, and many other details must be clarified. Once again, your full attention is required: the final important content of the scope of services will be agreed. In our experience, intensive discussions at this point often bring the last aspects to light, which have not been considered before. If you do not take sufficient time here, you will lose the chance for important corrections.
7. Hardware: it is only good if it fits the processes
The introduction of a warehouse management software also requires the selection of the right hardware. Radio data terminals, printers and other components must fit the agreed processes, and the overall concept of technical communication. Does the mobile printer need a peel-off function? Is the roll of labels inside sufficient for a shift or a day? And where does the electricity come from?
8. Testing: too much is just enough
One of the most important phases in the WMS introduction is the test phase. It consists of four sections: supplier tests, in-house tests, integration and individual function tests as well as test operation. The duration and expense of these project phases are often underestimated. In order to carry out tests properly, test plans must be created, the result documented and evaluated. In practice, the elimination of errors is often not carried out consistently enough after the first round of tests. Insufficient test management in this phase is a typical cause of later problems.
Test phases at a glance
Supplier tests: Software testing by the developer and implementing staff of the manufacturer
In-house tests: Introduction of key processes to the supplier
Integration and individual function tests: Coupling the WMS with the host system and all sub systems (e.g. warehouse technology), Testing and acceptance of all individual functions
Pilot operation: Testing the WMS and all neighbouring systems under increasing load, if necessary performance tests
9. Training: intelligent controlling requires intelligent users
Training employees to use new warehouse management system is unfortunately still carried out inadequately in practice. This involves various risks, which are for example:
- Operating errors can lead to significant disturbances in the operating sequence. So, lack of knowledge in priority controlling sometimes blocks the whole outsourcing.
- Controlling potential is wasted, if the WMS functions are not used to their full extent.
- Errors in the process are not noticed because the employees do not know the sequences planned. The logistics lose productivity.
A further problem is that both the training content and the software itself are often insufficiently documented. In this case, no sufficient information is available for new employees or later questions.
10. Go-live: now you must stay on the ball
In the first few days of go-live, the support of the software manufacturer is urgently required. Buyers and sellers must also take the time to carry out systematic error documentation and analysis, every day in the first few weeks, and agree deadlines to eliminate them. This monitoring must be part of the budget planning.
11. Tuning: no “plug and play” with WMS
Go-live does not mean that a warehouse can automatically perform its full service. This is often only the case a few weeks or months later. In order to exploit the complete potential, the warehouse operation must continue to be observed and optimised. This includes all the aforementioned areas, from the refinement of individual work steps, to employee training, right up to the methodical further training of managers. So, for example, the daily “controlling through key figures” can receive valuable support from a targeted controlling system. Tuning is not self-sustaining, but should be seen as a stand-alone project phase.
The biggest risk in introducing warehouse management software is underestimating the project. However, if a company calculates enough time and other resources, the foundations are laid for a successful implementation. If the project team also has knowledge of the software market, and experience in project management of a WMS introduction, this secures the investment.