What to Consider When Considering a WMS

The following is excerpted from The Distribution Factor, a monthly newsletter written by Flanders and available at www.2wmc.com

Computer software, such as the warehouse management system (WMS), can be a godsend to your operation, dramatically improving performance over paper-based or manual systems. A WMS normally manages everything within the four walls of your warehouse, including material transactions, inbound, outbound, stock put-aways, replenishment, and transfers. Plenty of software vendors will gleefully tell you about the amazing benefits you will receive by purchasing their product. But a WMS, when properly deployed, really will dramatically improve accuracy, performance, and in-stock positions in the distribution center.

That said, it is important to understand that a WMS is not a magic bullet that can solve any facility’s problems. If you have operational problems, you need to fix those problems whether or not you purchase a WMS. In addition, if you have highly unusual or customized processes, it is important that you carefully consider if standard WMS functionality will work for you or if you need vendor customization.

Because the typical WMS will interact with your other business systems (enterprise resource planning, e-commerce, legacy), managing receiving, your physical inventory, your orders, and your people, many companies find that they have to change some of their processes for effective implementation. Don’t just take a salesperson’s promises that the system “will work great” at face value. Put your functional requirements in writing, and get the vendor to demo all functionality that it says will work right out of the box. You may find that the vendor’s perception of what works is different from yours.

Be sure to check several references, including at least two references from customers whose business processes are similar to yours and who installed their system within the past two years. Ask specific questions about flexibility, how long the implementation took, what issues came up, and how the vendor responded to them. Find out who the project manager was; if the customer liked him, make a request for that person.

Above all else, be prepared to be flexible. Don’t expect everything to work the same after the WMS implementation as it did before. Be prepared to dedicate a reasonable amount of time from your IT and operations staff to work through the implementation details. Get outside help if you feel you need it.

Sam Flanders is the president of Durham, NH-based operations consultancy Warehouse Management Consultants.

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