Chain of Thought

Time to Drop Dad's WMS?

Despite the political unrest in the headlines lately, it's nice to see that our economy seems to continue its recovery unabated. Just watching what happens in the material handling and logistics sector is exciting. ERP Analyst Michael Koploy shares my excitement, particularly about trends in the warehouse management system (WMS) sector. He alerted me to a market analysis he posted, stating that projects that have long been postponed are now getting put back on the front burners. This is particularly the case among small and medium companies, he says. He cites Terry Harris, managing partner at Chicago Consulting, as his source.

“Small businesses are being a little more aggressive than larger ones, perhaps because their purchasing decisions are more predicated on their current earnings,” Harris says. And WMS capabilities are more likely to give these companies a bigger bang for their buck, considering many such small and medium companies are rapidly outgrowing their current warehousing capabilities and need to find ways to serve their returning customers.

“Warehouse managers need to act urgently to stop their operations from foundering, which means buying WMS solutions right now,” Koploy writes. “Cloud-based WMS systems are a great option for many smaller operations. A lot of small to medium businesses are choosing WMS software in the Cloud because it requires little IT assistance, and an attractive payment model.”

I think Koploy is onto something. Another reason there's pent-up demand among small and medium companies for the new-generation WMS is they've been relying on what limited material handling automation they do have to give them WMS capabilities. That can only take them so far in today's interconnected supply chain environments.

I traded e-mails about technology trends with WMS guru John Hill, vice president of the logistics consulting firm Transystems and member of the Board of Governors at Material Handling Industry of America. I told him that in recent years studies have shown that there's still a big population of companies out there that don't even have a WMS, let alone are considering replacement or upgrade. He told me many of them may have one without even knowing it.

“Back in my youth, the systems functions we offered with a Kenway AS/RS mirrored many WMS, but we never used the term,” he said. “And today you can buy an integrated handling system using a warehouse control system [WCS] that manages material flow and provides reports on throughput, exceptions, etc., without buying a WMS. At least hypothetically, in a fully “lights out” automated facility, given bar coding and scanners, you can receive into and dispense from automated storage systems, depalletize, convey, sort to shipping docks and, indeed, with extendable conveyors, load trucks and keep track of all transactions without a WMS.”

After digesting that, and before questioning the wisdom of investing in a new-generation WMS, consider a key capability those old workarounds can't give you: labor management. With this kind of tool you can measure the time cost of your non-automated solutions—your people. It can also help you deploy them more intelligently, through task interleaving. In one trip through your warehouse, a worker can complete multiple types of tasks, i.e., put away a pallet, move a container, and pick a last-minute priority order.

If you're one of those people considering your next material handling and logistics move, make your first step a visit to ProMat. You'll find a ton of WMS options displayed and discussed there. The fact you're reading this blog says you're hungry to learn more. A trip to Chicago March 21st through 24th will more than satisfy your appetite.

If you're already in the middle of a WMS implementation, share some of your learnings with us. Considering the potential for productivity growth, you'll be doing your colleagues in our audience a public service.

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