How to choose the right Warehouse Management System for your business needs
Selecting a Warehouse Management System is an important business decision, here are some pointers to look for in a best of breed WMS.
A Warehouse Management System (WMS) is one of the most important investments your business can make. It helps to eliminate paper processes and will enhance efficiency and accuracy across the whole warehouse. Every process – from booking in stock and raw materials to moving it around the warehouse, picking items for production or for customer orders and management tasks like stock counting – can all be managed using a WMS. It will ensure that you are making the best use of your available warehouse space, that your warehousing operatives are working efficiently, and it provides real time information to management about how well the logistics operation is performing.
Selecting a WMS is an important decision, an automated WMS is a relatively costly investment, and your business will be relying on the software solution for many years. It is important to identify the best WMS fit for your business needs.
Do you need manual or automated systems for your warehouse?
Manual systems are very basic record keeping systems, for instance a spreadsheet could be defined as a manual and very rudimentary warehouse system, although it isn’t officially a ‘WMS’. Manual systems are suitable for businesses with very basic requirements that are willing to perform ongoing data entry manually and have limited reporting requirements. The information in a manual system will almost always be out of date, because of the time required to update transactions on an ongoing basis. 80% stock accuracy is the very best you can hope for with a manual system as any updates will need to be “keyed” and updated in the back office.
Automated systems can capture information at source using scanners and automatically update stock levels. Updates to an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system can either run as a batch process or, as is more common today, in real-time, as soon as a transaction is processed. Automated WMS systems can also direct a workflow for operatives using a labour or resource management module, include built in safety checks to minimise errors and can help to minimise costs by improving space utilisation. They can also be integrated with automated handling equipment, like conveyors and storage and retrieval systems.
How to evaluate a WMS vendor?
The first step in selecting a WMS is to understand your long-term warehouse management requirements and business goals. Then, create a shortlist of suitable vendors by requesting recommendations from other users. Research their product capabilities, service levels, specific in depth industry experience and reference sites. Ask the vendor to connect you with their existing customers and if possible, ask for a site visit.
How to evaluate a WMS
One of the most important attributes of a WMS is longevity. It needs to serve your needs for a long time and the potential for scaling the system as your business grows, and adding new features and capabilities to suit an evolving operation is essential. You may want to introduce some additional automation and have the WMS communicate in real-time with robotic arms for example, or an AGV (automated guided vehicle).
Identify whether the WMS you are considering offers the following characteristics:
- Scalable architecture that can accommodate additional server capacity and feature requirements;
- Extensible architecture that can accommodate custom development to suit specific process requirements and third party integrations;
- Industry specific compatibility is important for certain industry sectors, food manufacturing is a good example. Does the system support ASN (advance shipping notifications), lot and batch traceability and stock rotation;
- Integration capabilities are essential to enable your WMS to seamlessly exchange data with third party systems and visual reporting tools.
Above all, make sure you speak to existing users, visit their warehouse facilities and get an understanding of the way the vendor supports them. If they have been using the WMS for some time and maintain a good working relationship with the software vendor, you know they will be a long term technology partner and asset to your business.