February 23, 2014
Reinventing the Wheel: Automating Paperwork
In this post, we explore the magic of compliant configuration. It’s far too common to see systems customized where standard configuration is the best practice.
Framing the issue
You’ve done it. You invested in a best of breed, tier one warehouse management system with all the bells and whistles you could ever dream up. Life is great, but you’re finding it difficult to implement a business process or two.
I don’t know about you, but stories resonate best with me so let’s start there.
You are Jane and manage a warehouse. You require that every outbound pallet be affixed with an appropriate shipping label before it is loaded onto a trailer and ultimately leaves the facility. The best place you have identified to carry out this operation is when the inventory is deposited to its final staging location. Oh, and you have a label printer in close proximity to the staging area.
How do you tell the system that you need a shipping label at that point in time?
Unfortunately, this is where many an implementation goes wrong. This happens for a variety of reasons, but we have found the most common reason boils down to an inexperienced implementation resource or team.
The wrong way
RedPrairie’s framework provides an unparalleled ability to customize its products and many technical folks see it as a solution to every challenge.
A famous quote by Abraham Maslow comes to mind here:
When you only have a hammer, you tend to see everything as a nail.
While building this enhancement is relatively easy, heading down this path adds implementation, support, and maintenance costs. Especially, when you consider all other forms of paperwork.
In the end, you also have a solution that is unlikely to scale as your needs change.
Is there a better way? We think so.
The right way
In a nutshell, the RedPrairie WMS defines a few key concepts that we’ll use to make our point:
- Document Type – an abstraction that represents multiple labels or reports
- Exit Point – a trigger point within the system that can be acted on
- Compliant Configuration – a set of rules to determine if and when to print paperwork for a given exit point
In continuing with our story, we would define the label format within the WMS and then associate that format with a document type. Here we would use a shipping label type given that is what the label represents.
Ready for the magic? We’re just scratching the surface below…
We now need to create our compliant configuration. For this scenario, we would indicate we need to use the document type from above, specifically our shipping label format, and we want to leverage the inventory movement exit point.
Let’s step back and discuss what this all means. We’re essentially telling the system that, for any inventory movement, we want to print our shipping label. That was easy, but we want to narrow our focus a bit…that’s a lot of wasted label stock.
Next, we want to indicate which areas should be considered valid. We’re talking about a shipping label so we only want one to print when inventory is deposited into an outbound staging area.
Finally, we need to tell the system where to print the label. Here, we want to use that printer closest to the staging location in order to minimize labor costs.
Is that it? Yep. You will now get a shipping label printed whenever inventory is deposited to an outbound staging location.
I told you it was magic, but there is so much more possible.
Let’s pretend your story changes. I know, like that would ever happen. You now need to print a Lowes specific label while still producing the original shipping label for every other customer.
With the magic of compliant configurations, this equates to two changes:
- Add a duplicate compliant configuration, but instead select the Lowes shipping label and add a condition to only execute the configuration if the customer type is Lowes.
- Change the original compliant configuration to only execute when the customer type is not Lowes.
Do you see what we did there? We added a few new conditions to the WMS and were able to satisfy your new business rules.
What would this have cost if you had gone the customization route?