Your warehouse sits squarely at the intersection of company profitability and customer satisfaction. It’s a highly complex ecosystem that has the genuine opportunity to build or break your business. Supply chain disruptions and increased consumer demand as a result of the global pandemic are prompting many retailers to implement new warehouse management systems to improve inventory visibility and order fulfillment.
Implementing a new warehouse management system (WMS) can be complex, but with pragmatic planning you can optimize profits and satisfy customers with minimal disruptions. There are a variety of factors to consider when implementing a new WMS, including:
- Data sources and inventory accuracy
- Fulfillment channels such as ecommerce, direct-to-store and partners
- Workflows and processes, which may vary by channel
- Interface requirements with devices, automation and material handling equipment
- Training and change management
A WMS implementation can take six to eight months to complete. How long this process takes depends on supply chain complexity, data quality and required integrations. A WMS will integrate with an operation’s existing tech stack differently and a thoughtful strategy is required to achieve a successful implementation. Using a phased approach ensures your organization follows best practices, including defining project goals, evaluating data and working with an experienced provider.
Leverage a Phased Approach
Applying best practices is crucial when starting a WMS project to ensure long-term success. This includes following a phased approach for implementation. By doing so, leadership and your warehouse teams will gain confidence in the project, make thoughtful business decisions, and become self-reliant through user training and system testing. A phased approach will often follow a tailored implementation methodology that accelerates deployment and achieves faster ROI. Milestones often include:
- Planning by defining goals, analyzing requirements, reviewing data and evaluating existing processes
- Designing and configuring WMS to test alignment with functional requirements
- Ongoing testing for implementation
- Converting training, documentation, and production cutover
Each phase typically includes a quality review. Throughout the project, leaders track scope changes, issues management and budget.
Optimize Existing Operations
Legacy systems limit warehouse operations and impact a retailer’s supply chain capabilities, including channel diversification, analyzing costs to serve, maintaining inventory levels and meeting customer expectations.
A WMS will optimize existing data and processes, but you may not get the results you expect if your data is inaccurate or your processes are inefficient. Inventory data that you are migrating to your new WMS needs to match the actual quantity of inventory you have in your warehouse. A full inventory count with on-going cycle counting helps keep your data accurate.
This will not only benefit a retailer’s WMS implementation, it will also create a solid foundation for analytics including:
- Real-time data that enables accurate forecasting and demand planning
- The ability to run a lean and efficient operation with minimal inventory
- Visibility of stock across the supply chain
- Ability to optimize processes based on data Integration capability with point of sale (POS) systems, ecommerce and other platforms
Work with an Experienced Provider
A successful implementation can’t happen without the services of an experienced WMS partner. Implementation is made up of several complex steps, including integrating your WMS with existing data, processes and systems. A good WMS provider will help determine what processes are business differentiators that add value, and what legacy processes do not add value that should be improved, revamped or replaced. Working with an inexperienced provider can leave leadership and employees discouraged and frustrated with their new WMS.
Warehouse operations suffer when a WMS is improperly installed, or data is inaccessible. Improper installation facilitates system inaccuracy, the delay and lack of access to information and several rounds of data entry. A bona fide professional understands an industry’s best practices, their organization’s business requirements and the ideal solution to adapt to changing consumer demands.
Proper solutions include migrating to the cloud. The cloud takes information sharing to a whole new level—affordably, securely, and timely—and enables new ways of working with digital technologies. The cloud encourages proper application communication to provide an organization with accurate inventory information and the ability to forecast operation and inventory levels down the line. Accenture research shows that cloud is the number one technology currently being scaled up by supply chain executives, with nearly all (93%) expecting 50% or more of their business to be in the cloud over the next three years.. An experienced provider that uses project-based solutions, including proper installation and a cloud-based WMS, helps organizations achieve long-term goals and experience project success.
According to a survey of 1,675 CTOs and enterprise architects, more than half of organizations that have gone through WMS upgrades report project failure. To plan for and experience a successful system implementation, leadership should know discipline is the key ingredient in planning, implementation and use of a good WMS. Improving your WMS by following best practices, evaluating existing processes and working with an experienced provider is an investment not to be taken lightly. When done correctly, effectively implementing a WMS can accelerate time to value, reduce labor costs, streamline processes and improve warehouse performance.
-Steve Shebuski, Blue Horseshoe VP of Digital Strategy
Steve Shebuski is the Vice President of Digital Strategy at Blue Horseshoe, part of Accenture. Steve has 20+ years of experience as a Program Manager/Design Lead/Project Manager implementing both Microsoft Dynamics AX / Dynamics 365 as well as tier I and tier II warehouse management and transportation software solutions. Steve's deep knowledge within the distribution industry and his innovative approach to solution architecture are the backbone of the solutions being implemented and deployed by Blue Horseshoe.