There is a seemingly ever-increasing array of options available to companies seeking a Warehouse Management System or WMS for their distribution and fulfillment operations these days. So much so that web pages have sprung up dedicated to comparing the feature sets of the various WMS packages to help in choosing a WMS.
But choosing a WMS or any warehouse software for a business requires a due diligence process far beyond a comparative checking of boxes on a chart. And there are some costly mistakes I’ve seen decision makers make that can be easily avoided.
Here are six of the most common:
Mistake #1: Being Swayed by the Shiny Software Demo
This is the easiest mistake to make. I know. I’ve made it. During my 14 year tenure as an industrial automation consultant I sat through countless software demos. One in particular was for an off-the-shelf WMS solution that seemed to address all the features my client would need. And we were assured that whatever wasn’t included in the basic package could be pulled from the cloud as an add-on app.
But when it came time for implementation, we quickly learned that there are many interpretations for key WMS terminology such as “directed put-away” and that getting what the client actually needed to run their business versus what the off-the-shelf solution offered would mean customizing the software. Who knew an off-the-shelf solution would translate to a customized solution? That was exactly what we had hoped to avoid in choosing a WMS.
The custom modifications would not only take time, but would also cost a cool $100k more and what we believed was going to be simple and quick Warehouse Management System solution quickly turned into a quagmire of delivery delays. Three months later, we had gotten nowhere and we parted ways with the off-the-shelf solution and went with a purpose-built WMS solution that actually addressed all of the clients business requirements.
Mistake #2: Putting Off Until Tomorrow What Your Business Needs Today
What often happens when an off-the-shelf WMS solution is chosen is that in the interest of getting the system online as quickly as possible, the more complicated processing requirements of the system are put off until another day. Unfortunately, as is the nature with everything, that day rarely comes and ultimately the business makes due with a system that falls far short of their initial expectations. As a result their ROI falls short of what was called for in order to offset the cost of the new software as well.
Mistake #3: Losing Sight of the Big Picture
Another issue with off-the-shelf WMS solutions is that they often take a generic approach to the features offered in order to diminish the risk of delays in go-live schedules. This can result in a lack of key WMS processing capabilities such as cartonization and directed put-away, which both rely on complex algorithms to provide the best solution for a business.
What this means to the client is that the software installer may suggest what seem like perfectly reasonable procedural changes in order to accommodate the limitations in the software.
An example might be the suggestion of picking to a tote versus picking to a shipping carton and letting the packing decision be made farther down the line. It’s certainly cheaper than having to customize the software to accommodate the cartonization algorithms, but the big picture cost of the resulting additional handling and subsequent slow down in productivity is often overlooked — when it should be accounted for and attributed to the costs of the software upgrade.
Mistake #4: Neglecting To Monetize A WMS Feature-By-Feature
Speaking of costs, the only real way to understand and justify the returns associated with a Warehouse Management System is to monetize the benefits at the feature level. Not asking a provider to do this for you is a mistake.
Most WMS software providers only build the ROI around an entire WMS system. This plays to their advantage, because once implementation begins, many of the features are turned off or not built out, and it is not for months or years that the true costs of the system are realized.
Mistake #5: Overlooking The Critical Need For Integration Between A WMS And WCS
Despite what many siloed software providers may suggest, a WMS does not operate in a vacuum and neither does a WCS. To truly achieve the level of optimization needed to justify the costs of a modern automation system, full integration between a WMS and WCS becomes critical to the process of choosing a WMS.
The lines between a WMS and WCS have blurred over the years as an increasing number of companies are making the claims that their standalone WMS, WCS, or even WES programs can solve most automation issues. But standalone software applications created by different companies will never achieve the level of integration needed to enable the kind of system-wide visibility that allows for true optimization.
In fact, in many cases what happens with standalone applications is that the left hand (the WMS) doesn’t know what the right hand (the WCS) is doing. So, for example, a WMS may push work to areas that are already swamped with orders, causing managers to constantly pull resources from one part of the operation on a reactive basis to accommodate the overload in another area.
A fully integrated WCS, on the other hand, will offer visibility to the WMS, enabling the entire system to proactively anticipate and allocate resources on the fly to accommodate fluctuating demand.
Mistake #6: Assuming Purpose-Built Solutions are equivalent to Customized Software
This is perhaps the biggest mistake WMS shoppers make in choosing a WMS. They think an off-the-shelf solution will provide a simple fix, while they worry a purpose-built solution will send them down the dreaded path of having to customize their software — when, ironically, more often than not the opposite of that is true (see Mistake #1).
Here is the difference between customized software and purpose-built software:
Customized solutions are written from scratch and frequently tested onsite (as is the case with modifications to off-the-shelf solutions), while purpose-built solutions are assembled from a library of fully tested and field proven features that are configured based on unique specifications pertaining to the requirements of a client’s business.
Purpose-built solutions are configured based on best processes for each particular business as determined by comparative time/monetization studies on a feature by feature level. And they are fully supportable for the life cycle of the system, while being highly configurable to future changes in business demand.
In fact, the kind of purpose-built warehouse software we offer at Invata delivers the option of fully integrated WMS, WCS, Order Fulfillment, and TMS functionality in turnkey solutions that have been meticulously configured to the exact specifications of each clients business.
Our purpose-built software addresses all the processing requirements of a particular operation, meaning our clients fully maximizing the benefits of automation while gaining the competitive advantage of optimized productivity.
And in today’s market that’s an advantage worth pursuing.
Good luck in your search.