Warehouse management system technology comes in all shapes and sizes. There are common features amongst all WMS software, but not every system is the same. There are business drivers -- such as deployment options, integration capabilities and support -- to which certain WMS vendors cater. There are also certain industries where some WMS software vendors are more suitable than others.
Once you understand the warehouse requirements that your company has, you can begin to consider various WMS software options. Here are the six most important criteria to consider when evaluating WMS software for your business.
The size, set up and number of warehouses
There are companies that use only a single warehouse at a single location with a single sales channel (e.g., direct sales through their catalogues). For these warehouses, it might not be necessary to implement WMS software with all of the bells and whistles, especially if the warehouse is a more traditional operation with low levels of warehouse automation.
At the other end of the spectrum, there are companies that must manage warehouses and distribution for multiple sales channels (e.g., brick and mortar, e-commerce, etc.) over many different worldwide locations. These companies usually require WMS software that can scale out to cover all of these warehouses, plus any new ones that could be added. There are WMSes that can handle multiple warehouses in multiple locations and multiple inventory locations within a single warehouse.
If your company already has an ERP system in place, your ERP vendor might also have a WMS module that is tightly integrated with the rest of your ERP software and that can easily be deployed. Much of the integration work that needs to be done is already done for you.
In other cases, your company might not have a need to tightly integrate a new WMS with an existing ERP system, or you might just prefer a stand-alone WMS. Stand-alone systems are generally the best WMS software options for companies that don't want the extra features of or can't afford larger ERP suites.
On-premises and cloud-based WMS software
WMSes also come with a broad range of deployment options. If your company has warehouses distributed over a wide range of geographical locations and time zones, a cloud-based WMS eliminates significant expenditures on hardware and software, and some WMS software vendors guarantee 24/7 support. Most cloud services providers let you run your own dedicated system on a single-tenant server in the cloud where you are not sharing any computing resource with other cloud customers There is a less-expensive cloud option where you share computing resources with others in a multi-tenant system hosted on the same server that still keeps your WMS data separate from that of other customers.
Some cloud-based WMS providers offer vendor expertise, consulting and training in warehouse operations and systems. These software-as-a-service offerings are a little more expensive, but they are very useful if your company lacks internal expertise for optimizing your warehouse operations and systems. Conversely, if you are a large or a mid-sized enterprise with internal WMS expertise and you are used to running your own on-premises systems, you can choose to purchase WMS software that you can run on premises in your data center.
For companies running large ERP systems, a WMS that is a module within the ERP suite that they already use can be advantageous because the WMS is already tightly integrated with other modules in the suite. Companies with a great deal of material handling automation in their warehouses might prefer a WMS that is strongly integrated with warehouse control system (WCS) software and automation so the systems can work together. In other cases, a company that only needs a WMS to run its warehouse might have relatively minor integration requirements. It simply needs a WMS.
Regardless of your company's selection criteria, WMSes must be able to exchange information with other systems in the order-taking and fulfillment processes. If the WMS software you select is not part of an end-to-end supply chain or ERP software suite, it is important to ask the vendor what system interfaces and integration are available to connect its WMS to other supply chain systems. This is especially relevant for companies that opt to go with first-class WMSes, which might be more stand-alone. Most stand-alone WMS software has integration capabilities with other systems, but it may require more manual work on your end.
WMS software also varies in its ability to handle warehouse automation. The WMS you select should be able to support mobile technology commonly used in the warehouse such as radio frequency ID (RFID) devices, headphones, smartphones, scanners and more. If your company is using or planning to use automated material handling equipment such as unmanned robots, automated conveyer belts and so on, there is WMS technology that offers strong integration with the WCS that drives this automation.
Implementation and upkeep
Before purchasing or subscribing to any WMS software, you should sit down with the vendor to thoroughly discuss the mechanics of implementing the new WMS. You should also plan to discuss IT and warehouse training for the new WMS as part of your implementation plan, as well as any additional upfront costs that could be encountered.
During these discussions with the vendor, both IT and warehouse managers should have a set of goals they want to achieve in the warehouse with the new WMS. You should take advantage of any free ROI model development that a WMS vendor offers. These models can show what the payback in operational savings will be with their WMS software. WMS vendors will also provide implementation planning and project management. Many vendors will personally visit your site to assess first-hand what might be needed for WMS implementation. If your company does not have strong expertise in WMSes and warehouse optimization, most vendors also offer an assortment of post-implementation training and consulting options that you can choose from.
The best WMS software for your company is a system that will keep pace with your business. Companies with outdated systems that are looking for new WMSes already understand this, but system currency is relevant for everyone. You should ask any prospective WMS vendor how frequently the WMS software is updated, and what the vendor uses to determine the content of updates (e.g., changing industry needs, new regulatory requirements, client enhancement requests, etc.). Ask the vendor what the opportunities are for you to submit your own requests for enhancements.
There is the issue of ongoing support and maintenance as well. Most vendors offer a selection of standard and premium support offerings. If your company is a 24/7, global warehouse operation, a premium option that offers 24/7 support with issue escalation, a dedicated account representative and on-site service might be a consideration. For smaller companies that do not operate warehouses 24/7 or that need to keep costs down, standard support options that are more web-based but do include telephone support might be good choice. You can always engage a vendor for an on-site visit or specialized training on a per-request, pay-for basis, if needed.
WMS software must be able to grow with your company
If you already have multiple warehouse locations, or you are planning to expand into multiple warehouses, you will want WMS software that is able to support multiple warehouse locations. For companies with warehouses in many different areas of the world, it is important to seek out a WMS software vendor that can resolve anytime-anywhere system issues quickly.
It is equally important to think about where your warehouse operations will be going in the future. Will your company be investing in more automation and automated material handling? If so, you will need a WMS that is able to integrate with this new technology. Additionally, if you want to extend the visibility of the warehouse so you can see goods flowing into and out of the warehouse, a WMS that includes visibility of inbound and outbound logistics would prove fruitful.
Lastly, it is important for all companies, regardless of size, to have agility with their warehouse management systems. In the warehouse, this means that managers and IT should have easy ways in which they can modify work processes and warehouse operations, and also straightforward ways to produce analytics and new reports. You should seek a WMS with a user-friendly interface that enables users to easily add or revise warehouse workflows and business rules without the need to "hard code" these changes into the software.
A final area of WMS consideration is the end-user experience that the system offers. Many warehouse operations use mobile devices like RFID readers, scanners, smartphones and headsets. On top of supporting these types of devices, the WMS software should present easy-to-use UIs on which workers can easily operate.
There are also WMS vendors that offer versions of WMS that are tailored to the needs of specific industry verticals like the food and beverage or pharmaceutical industries, and that might have systems ideally suited to the needs of your particular business. On the other hand, if your warehouse operation is relatively straightforward, you don't necessarily need a WMS that comes with more features and functions than you would ever use.
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