5 Ways to Achieve a Successful Warehouse Management System

CIOsspend a heck of a lot of time trying to make their company?s enterpriseresource planning (ERP), customer relationship management (CRM), and supply chain management (SCM) systems responsive to business needs.  

Toooften, though, the real reason a shipment to a customer arrived late, or acustomer received an erroneous shipment, can be traced not to ERP or CRM or SCM, but instead to a place in theorganization that?s considered much more mundane: shipping. Problems with pickingorders, packing shipments, or cross-docking of inventory, can quickly lead tocustomer dissatisfaction.

Enter thelowly warehouse management system (WMS). A veritable Rodney Dangerfield of enterprise software, the WMS doesn?t command a whole lot ofrespect, at least not when compared to its front-office big brothers, ERP, CRM, and the likes.

Butgetting a WMS implementation right the first time can go a long way toward ensuringa company has satisfied customers that are receiving accurate orders deliveredon time. Phil Obal, a consultant and author of books on WMS, points to a survey that foundthat ?only about 40 percent of warehouse management systems result in satisfiedcustomers,? he says.

Author ofSelecting Warehouse Software from WMS and ERP Providers, Obal cites five key areas which,if overlooked or short-shrifted, have the potential to wreak havoc on a WMS project. While some of thesefactors are common to most enterprise software implementations, all areparticularly critical to WMS.

1. Get on the same page.

Obal says the objectives of anew WMS must be clearly laid out andagreed upon by all stakeholders parties in advance. ?You really need threeimplementation teams for WMS?a vendor team, a company team, and a systems integrationteam,? he recommends. ?They all have to be on the same page when it comes tothe project?s objectives.? Also critical is making sure that as team membersleave and new members join, the latter must be carefully clued in to theproject goals.

2. Manage expectations.

Both the company and the vendormust have strong project managers who are skilled at saying ?no? to requestsfor additional functionality, Obal cautions. ?It?s okay to have positiveexpectations for a WMS, but it?s not okay for the list of expectations to grow,what they call ?project creep,?? Obal warns. ?You need to know how to handlethe extra things people ask for later on.?

There should be a formal processestablished to handle new requests. Obal recommends avoiding any customizationof the system. ?Ninety-eight percent of all software is not unique toeverybody?it is what everybody needs,? he adds. Also, customization tends to bea killer later on, when it comes time to test the system, and people find outthe codes are wrong.  

3. Take advantage of data-mappingtools.

These areautomated tools that let you map one type of data to another. This is essentialfor companies trying to deal with different shipping data formats, such asadvanced ship notices that can come in XML, EDI, spreadsheets, or otherformats. Companies should leverage these to the max, using them in dealing withsuppliers, customers, shipping carriers, banks, etc.

4. Test, test, test. 

Sufficient testing is the best way to avoid a meltdownwhen you go live with a new WMS. ?In a high-volume warehouse youcan do parallel testing,? Obal says. ?Unfortunately, testing is oftenoverlooked. The question is, how surprised do you want to be when you go live??.

Of course, in a low-volume warehouse with, say, 1,000 shipments per day, acompany can throw manpower at the snafu until it gets straightened out. ?But ahigh-volume shop that won?t work,? Obal says. ?It has to be right every time.?Warehouses need to process-test each workflow, including inbound, outbound,cross-dock, cycle count, etc.

5. Be sure to get buy-in. 

?You want people to buy into it, including the softwareselection process,? Obal suggests. Too often, companies purchase software withlittle concern for the employees who are the ultimate users. ?Involve warehousemanagers and key workers and supervisors in the software selection process,?Obal says. ?Once they?ve sat through four or five software company presentations,they can rate which package is stronger. Getting people to participate iscritical. It helps to dissipate some of the fear factor they may have overwhether they may lose their jobs. Instead, they can see how the system isdesigned to make them more efficient and get more labor done, so the companycan grow the warehouse.?  

He recommendstraining workers to use the new system no more than two weeks before thego-live date, so they don?t forget what they?ve learned.

Among the scores of WMS vendors, Obal cites half a dozen marketleaders:  Manhattan Associates, High JumpSoftware, Red Prairie, Infor, Softeon, and Sterling Commerce.


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