As we consult with ecommerce and multichannel businesses on implementing Warehouse Management Systems (WMS), we see several reasons why they often take longer, exceed budget and cause management headaches. Here are four main culprits:
- The implementation is planned at the same time as the opening of a new facility.
Even if the opening is delayed and thus holds up implementation, management may not allow the WMS go live date to be moved back.
- Inadequate testing with the WMS and automation, conveyance systems and technology like voice picking.
- Insufficient associate training that allows little time for them to operate the system before being thrown into a live production environment.
- Assuming inventory is accurate, and no physical count is taken prior to go live. The system’s credibility is questioned when inventory problems are identified.
These 9 considerations need to be part of your WMS project planning and a readiness assessment prior to go live.
Do everything you can to minimize modifications. Many WMS are now in use in hundreds to thousands of ecommerce instances and companies should be able to implement out of the box in 90%-95% of cases. Configuration and setup routines will allow adaption to your company environment. Implementing with minimal modification reduces cost, timeframe, testing and risk.
The WMS setup may need tweaking to accommodate both B2B and B2C, store replenishment and ship from store. These environments are much more complex and may require modifications and much more testing.
Some larger operations may have a significant percentage of orders requiring value-added services, meaning orders are sent to in-house departments or external vendors and then back to shipping.
In IT testing, companies often set up multiple instances of the WMS, i.e. copies for different uses. Some may have one for training and testing and another for production; others will have three for the same functions. Testing instances will always be needed as new releases are pushed out.
All testing of modifications needs to be done first by IT and then by department management and users. Even if there are no modifications you still need to test interfaces to order management, shipping and manifesting, labor management and transportation management systems.
It’s important to do complete end-to-end testing and conference room pilot testing from origination of orders, returns, receipts and shipping through to WMS processes. This includes inbound product flow processes and outbound shipping functions. Be sure to process live data through to accounting and management reporting systems.
The WMS vendor will have some standard interfaces to UPS, FedEx and the U.S. Postal Service for shipping. If you use multiple carriers and rate shopping, there will be integrations with one or more multi-carrier shipping and manifesting systems or an extension of their software.
All standard WMS transactions have to be thoroughly tested both to and from the OMS/ERP (item master updates, ASNs, orders, shipments, inventory adjustments, etc.). These interfaces are the heartbeat of the WMS and thus accuracy with the host OMS/ERP. It is crucial to conduct repetitive testing of all interfaces to ensure a successful implementation.
Interfaces to Automation
Don’t underestimate the time required to fully test the WMS interfaces to automation. These include sortation, conveyor systems, pick and put to light, shipping systems, automated boxing and envelop insertion systems.
Training and procedures
Look at how much training and practice time you’re giving associates before go live. Are some employees going to have trouble adapting? Should you consider moving them to a different department?
Set up a training environment – such as a conference room pilot – where they can come in and get familiar with the new system and technology. Be sure everyone is scheduled and does this. Is there a need for new procedures to be in place?
With a new WMS and especially in conjunction with new automation and a facility, how much productivity do you expect to lose and for how long? Obviously, this is a concern that needs to be discussed early. For many companies, it takes a minimum of 6-8 weeks to get back to full productivity.
Is IT ready to provide support including knowledge of daily processes? Is all necessary equipment installed in IT and user departments (i.e. laptops, handhelds, etc.)?
Physical Inventory Prior to Go Live
How accurate is your inventory? We recommend a physical count just prior to go live so you begin with clean inventory. Implementing a WMS may also mean installing barcode technology, voice picking and other functions, higher levels of product labeling and warehouse aisle and bin/slot location changes. Launching the new implementation with accurate inventory eliminates one major concern down the road.
Project Task Schedule
Agree on the conversion process and everyone’s go live responsibilities. Include all stakeholders in the weekly distributions, including senior management. Involve them as well as department management on signoffs only after they’ve reviewed their respective processes and testing results and agree that all critical processes are ready.
Allow critical feedback from associates using the new system. Create an open communication environment throughout the project so they’re empowered and have the courage to say, “No, we’re not ready.”
For sure, there is intense pressure when you miss a go live date, as this means additional project costs and taxes limited resources. But the situation becomes much worse when the switch is flipped before you’re ready. You risk profitability and customer relationships while lengthening the inevitable clean-up and full use of the system.
Brian Barry is president of F. Curtis Barry & Company