Industry 4.0 is changing the way warehouse management systems (WMS) function. In fact, today’s warehouses are looking more and more like distribution centres, as digital and physical architectures intersect. Leveraging the latest supply chain technology and the Internet of Things (IoT), a ‘smart warehouse’ can now serve as a hub to boost efficiency and speed throughout the entire supply chain.
From wearables on workers to sensors and smart equipment, Internet-enabled devices and technology can profoundly change logistics management. Connected devices and sensors can help manage the right quantity of products at the right price, time and place. The objective is to manage the route (journey) of merchandise from the pickup point to the endpoint. Across the warehouse management system, there’s a need to allocate every square metre effectively to ensure easy retrieval of specific goods followed by processing and speedy delivery.
Legacy systems traditionally used for warehouse management, however, are inefficient in the modern era — even systems as young as five years old. So, if you’re considering an upgrade or want to determine if your current WMS system is still fit for purpose, look out for these five key qualities:
1. Ease of use
If a WMS is easy to use, it will reduce the amount of time you spend on employee training. A well-designed WMS lets users spend less time setting up and monitoring daily operations, so they’re able to quickly adapt to new requirements. Most importantly, clear navigation ensures that all employees are able to leverage the WMS functionality to the fullest.
2. Maximum functionality
Obviously, the first thing you need to learn about a WMS solution is what it can do for you. When analysing a WMS solution, ask yourself: “Will this WMS streamline our business processes?”
For instance, if your company has a hard time measuring employee productivity, a good WMS solution will help. A WMS should be able to track which tasks an employee has performed (and where they were performed) giving you direct visibility into your workforce’s efficiency. A good WMS maximises the things it can do for you, while minimising the work on your end.
3. Complete transaction management
A good WMS will let you manage everything from door to door; from receiving to shipping. At a minimum, the following are some of the steps that should be tracked:
- Putting away received goods
- Order picking
- Cycle counting (inventory audits)
- Any item movement
When you can track everything that is going on in your warehouse (from people to movement to products), you can conduct a detailed analysis that will help you hire smarter and stock products more efficiently.
An effective WMS solution needs to be able to scale with your organisation’s growth and adapt to meet future requirements. Otherwise, it’s not a long-term WMS solution.
To determine whether a solution is scalable, first find out if a WMS works with most ERPs. As your organisation grows, it might need to change ERP systems, so it’s crucial to ensure that your WMS will be able to seamlessly work with other ERPs.
Another consideration is if the WMS is built around an open architecture. If it is, your WMS is more likely to work with future applications and operating systems (rather than locking you into a particular platform).
5. Useful, easy-to-read metrics
It’s one thing to have metrics that help you track the performance of your warehouse operations; it’s quite another to be able to understand the data.
A good WMS should allow you to easily create reports and charts that let you see how your warehouse is running. You want to invest in a WMS that measures the performance of individual employees in real time against standards that include both speed and accuracy.
It’s entirely possible that, within the foreseeable future, the warehouse management system will be much more worthy of the title, able to control every single aspect of warehouse operations and even some, if not all, maintenance. It’s therefore crucial to consider these (and other) aspects first.
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