The Pentagon agency that manages the military’s $35 billion commodity supply chain is piloting a new cloud-based Warehouse Management System in one of its distribution centers to simplify storage and distribution processes and better align with industry standards.
The Defense Logistics Agency’s distribution center in Corpus Christi, Texas, is reviewing and off-the-shelf WMS – the first of its kind within the DLA network. If successful, DLA will put together a deployment plan to incorporate the system in its other distribution sites by the end of fiscal year 2021.
DLA currently uses a Distribution Standard System to program customer requests and software upgrades, but it uses an old programming language called Common Business Oriented Language, according to Paul Abel, DLA Distribution J4 director.
“COBOL was used and built for transactional-based business mainframes that are now outdated, so we are moving WMS to the cloud. We recognize this update as a strategic move toward the future for DLA Distribution,” he said.
Using the SAP–based WMS will align two of DLA’s major operating systems on a single software platform, reducing complexities and streamlining processes, since DLA also uses an SAP-based Enterprise Business System.
The pilot distribution center worked with system developers to create a system that would improve movement and tracking of goods, physical inventory and real-time metrics reporting while enhancing interface capabilities to external systems like EBS and military service-used logistics systems.
“We are keeping this deployment to commercial out-of-the-box as much as possible as DLA moves to a software-as-a-service model, which means we will buy the service and future updates from the vendor, similar to when smartphone companies push out updates,” Abel added.
Through several future releases, WMS will continue to expand capabilities and processes for DLA, improving logistics and information technology interoperability. In coordination with system developers and aligned with the progression of WMS, DLA teams continue to develop and refine training packages, system updates and standard operating procedures.
“Our analysts ran complex queries to identify over 1,900 NSNs [National Stock Numbers] to maximize workload volume for a viable pilot while mitigating risks to specialized programs and our customers,” said Jeremy M. Beckwith, deputy commander at DLA Distribution Corpus Christi, Texas. “A three-person storage branch special team then sterilized over 2,500 locations in less than a month; segregating a production environment for WMS material, validating inventory accuracy and enforcing location identification program precision as we prepared for go-live.”
After just five months of development, testing and training, WMS went live on June 11, 2018, introducing a system of record capability to receipt, store and issue the specific population of material.
“In the four months after going live, a small team of highly talented DDCT members processed over 2,500 receipts and issues, executed daily process audits, cleared transactional errors and built storage locations in the WMS system to support 4,116 locations containing 577,259 units of DLA-owned material through the end of calendar year 2018,” said Beckwith.
“Throughout the implementation process, the workforce continues to test and provide quality control from an end user’s perspective to ensure this new warehouse management system meets the requirements that DLA expects and that our warfighters deserve,” he added. “We feel fortunate to lead this initiative down here in Corpus Christi, and to exploit the new system to its maximum potential to revolutionize the distribution and disposition process.”
DLA expects to complete the pilot by the end of this fiscal year, according to Abel.
“Once all capabilities that are needed to run a distribution center are in the WMS, we will have a 90-day period to assess that everything is in the software, working correctly and that the system is auditable. It is imperative that we get it right at DDCT before we move to another site,” he said.
Diana Dawa is at the Defense Logistics Agency Distribution.