In the last warehouse management software (WMS) blog, we discussed how WMS packages and their implementations evolved immeasurably in the past few decades. In brief, differentiation in WMS functionality continues to narrow in Tier 1 providers, the volume of customizations required is lower, and accordingly, the risk profile associated with implementations has waned. The new WMS and functionality landscape available to organizations, combined with increased end-customer demand and expectations, posits an important question – In a world where supply chain, distribution, fulfillment speed, flexibility, and agility are key tenets to a successful customer experience, how do the best organizations leverage WMS to differentiate themselves?
As recent as three to five years ago, I could have easily argued that the differentiation was the quality and efficacy of targeted enhancements to the WMS packages. Enhancements that improved throughput, customer experience, and dynamism. I can do that no longer. In today’s age of WMS deployments, differentiation and quality are driven by two primary factors:
- Speed and consistency in WMS and technology deployments.
- The ability to couple a strong foundational execution package, WMS, with best of breed lightweight software packages to enhance the overall solution.
Most organizations have a tapestry of distribution technology software – WMS packages in particular. This occurs naturally through acquisition and the inheritance of WMS solutions deployed at the acquired organization. Additionally, this patchwork quilt may also be the output of failed or stalled network-wide deployments. The condition is evident in an organization’s use of multiple software vendors, multiple versions of a single software vendor, and a rotating door of executive sponsors pushing the ‘new’ solution and path to consistency and standardization every few years.
On the 3PL side, poor deployment ability manifests in protracted implementation windows and deployments. These implementation challenges exist on a continuum from mild disruption to outright implementation failure that leaves customers wondering why they opted to outsource their distribution to the so-called experts. Arguably, the ability to quickly and safely stand up the technology necessary to operate a new client’s distribution needs is table stakes in the 3PL world. However, there are plenty of real-world examples to the contrary every year.
Conversely, the 3PL and manufacturers that embody WMS deployment perfection, and we work with several from both industries, have moved beyond these deployment challenges. What unites these firms is their ability to organizationally commit to the process of successful deployments, templatize, and add rigor and process to a very fluid and dynamic software deployment.
- Organizational Commitment – These firms unite across departments towards their goal of safe, successful, and rapid deployments. Operations is committed to the process and understands the limits of where they can stretch the solution without veering into risky unstable territory. IT recognizes the importance of compromise and helping operations meet their distribution needs and the executives support and nurture this cross-departmental quest.
- Templatization – They recognize both the value and necessity of building from a shared and validated foundation. Operations and IT appreciate the ability to extend the solution up to a point, knowing deployments are safer and support is much easier and more consistent when each deployment isn’t a bespoke solution, known by one or two resources. In addition, leveraging a standard template trims deployment windows by as much as 50%, when the foundational IT/infrastructure asset deployments are automated, configuration doesn’t begin at square one, and standard operating procedures (SOPs) and training manuals exist in a refined state.
- Rigor and Process – This is the twin to templatization. Without appropriate process and process adherence, templatization will not succeed. Templates are built and honed over time as the process and needs of the business evolve, while knowledge of the systemic limitations is uncovered and mated with operational goals. The best organizations are able to build a dedicated team capable of walking this path quickly and adeptly to not only succeed early, but maintain momentum, learnings, and further refine the process, protocol, and rigor necessary to pull deployment windows down to their minimum levels without impacting the operation’s success.
WMS as the Foundation
Analogous to the deployment perfection section, let’s start by looking at how organizations below the top tier view their WMS and distribution systemic ecosystem. These firms have a WMS deployed, but it lives an isolated life from other systems, aside from those necessary for standard operation – Think ERP, and perhaps conventional automation (conveyance) in a slightly automated facility. Ultimately, these organizations fail to harness the data and capability of their WMS to act like a hub to other lightweight, best of breed solution spokes that can extend the ability of their WMS, further reduce deployment windows, or connect the WMS to other systems seamlessly to create multi-system visibility and workflow automation.
The most successful firms recognize their WMS is a platform or foundation to build upon. They explore vendor-based solutions that offer the opportunity to extend the value and usage of the data the WMS generates. Examples of these include labor or workforce management solutions (WLM/WFM). They leverage data and timestamps within the WMS to compare performance against engineered standards. In its most simplistic sense, it knows how long it should take an operator to pick up product, transport it somewhere else, and then deposit said product. This allows the operation to understand true employee performance, their best and worst performers, reinforce best practices, and implement incentive pay for those capable of beating standard. Other examples include modules with enhanced benefits to functional areas like slotting, tasking, or visibility.
The second area area they explore consists of purpose-built, SaaS solutions meant to bolster and improve aspects of the WMS, or its deployment. We outline several solutions below.
- Cycle, by Tryon Solutions – Cycle is a continuous testing platform built to automate the testing and validation steps associated with deployments, upgrades, configuration changes, and performance testing. While the upfront work to configure the tests and setup the solution to match an organization’s specific needs is a material investment in time and resources, it pays off significantly on future deployments and upgrades. Particularly in large scale templatized deployments that can lean on the same scripts across multiple deployments and facilities.
- M.Folio, by MacGregor Partners – M.Folio is an eBOL and ePOD SaaS solution that allows an organization to transform the paper reports generated by their WMS and other systems into digitized multi-system automated workflows. It takes the extended document workflow, think everything spanning shipment creation, driver arrival and management, electronic signature capture, integration with yard gates, weight scales, YMS (like PINC), TMS, real-time transportation visibility (FourKites/Project44), and any other system, and turns it into a digital, contactless, and highly automated process. M.Folio allows an organization to create deep connective tissue between their WMS and external and internal stakeholders, massively transforming their digital landscape and customer experience.
- PackManager, by Nulogy – PackManager aims to relieve the WMS of the co-pack and manufacturing requirements in specific operations. While strong WMS applications possess capable work order capabilities, this is not their forte. By bolting PackManager to an existing WMS via integration, an operation can gain the efficiencies of a best in breed WMS paired with a best in breed co-packing and light manufacturing solution.
- M.Toolbox, by MacGregor Partners – M.Toolbox allows an organization to take the disparate systems across their distribution network, WMS, WFM, WCS, YMS, TMS, OMS, Robotics, along with any other and with a turnkey solution stitch that data together into a comprehensive picture of not just a single distribution center, but an entire distribution network. Modules exist to stretch to solution into true control tower application formats for network-wide traceability and recall use cases, and the ability to take action and deploy said action across multiple systems in multiple distribution centers.
While far from a comprehensive list or in-depth review of the options, this list is meant to whet the appetite and spark creative thoughts around how the WMS can be viewed as a foundational piece of technology. For many top-tier supply organizations, WMS is a platform from which a savvy organization creates a best of breed masterpiece. The key takeaway is that companies are no longer confined to monolithic, single vendor deployments. Options, often incredible options, exist in the ecosystems surrounding these vendors.
Interested in learning more about how to improve your WMS deployments, differentiate yourself from the competition, or how to effectively build value atop your existing WMS? Reach out to us here at MacGregor Partners. We love nothing more than talking about technology in distribution and the supply chain and how organizations can best leverage their existing solutions to generate additional value.