The 2013 film Her features operating systems that have become sentient. They interact with people as if they were friends, responding and adapting with palpable humanity. Samantha, the OS played by Scarlett Johansson, becomes so intelligent — both intellectually as well emotionally — that by the end she is able to tell her human paramour exactly what she’s feeling.
If only your warehouse management system (WMS) could do the same.
Though researchers have made great strides in developing machines with artificial intelligence, we’re not there yet. And even once we are, it will be awhile before your WMS can tell you it’s suffering some aches and pains or falling behind your warehouse’s needs.
Therefore, you must read the signs yourself. Maybe it’s not keeping up with the pace of your growing omni-channel business. Or perhaps you know you could pack and ship more efficiently if only you could better use space within your facility.
The warehouse is a much more complicated place than it was even just five years ago. Retail customers demand value-added services, such as pre-tagged merchandise ready to put on the shelves. They also want product, when they want it — and they usually want it now. Customers themselves more frequently order directly from manufacturers, which means more pick orders involving smaller batches — often in unusual combinations of items.
These factors and more make a WMS critical to efficient warehouse operations. But the solution must be equipped with all the modern features that will help your operations excel now while offering the flexibility to evolve with future, as-yet unknown requirements.
Because your WMS won’t whisper in your ear when it’s time to upgrade, here are four signs it’s time to invest in a newer model:
- Your warehouse is cluttered. Warehouses today must stock more inventory than ever before, thanks to factors such as omni-channel distribution. But chances are, your facility is still the same size as always, which means if you’re not optimizing the space, you’re operating slower than necessary. The right WMS will show you how to manage your inventory more efficiently so you’re maximizing both storage space and labor productivity. Your WMS will give you visibility, for example, into items that are frequently picked together so you can store them near each other. You’ll save time and effort when it comes to preparing orders.
- Efficiency remains at the status quo. Does your WMS give you visibility across distribution, manufacturing and value-added services? If not, you’re missing out on an opportunity to create a meticulously tuned warehouse. Analyzing metrics gives you solid insights into performance so you know what’s working and what isn’t. An updated WMS can, for example, let you know that customers who buy shoes also frequently buy socks, making it logical to store those two products near each other. A shorter distance between oft-partnered products increases productivity while reducing strain on labor.
- You can’t precisely follow inventory through distribution. Because manufacturers are becoming distributors, and vice versa, companies these days must deal with a nearly immeasurable number of SKUs. Knowing where product is and how much is in stock is vital to maintaining an appropriately stocked warehouse. You don’t want to run out of down jackets before the first snow storm of the season, just as you don’t want to put them all on sale at the end of the season because you stocked too many. When you can see where inventory is throughout the supply chain, you improve productivity, speed up distribution and guarantee you have what you need to serve your customers.
- Customer service demands exceed your capabilities. The last straw for many companies on the fence about getting a new WMS is the first moment they have trouble fulfilling all of their customer service needs. Perhaps the current system can’t support a request that starts coming in ever more frequently. When you have a WMS that facilitates value-added services, such as greater reliability for delivery times, greater accuracy for both picking and shipping, and more personalization, customer satisfaction will shoot through the roof. What’s more, a WMS can even email them, automatically, letting them know their order is on its way. As you help your customers run their businesses better, you’ll become an indispensible partner in their operations.
If any of these problems sound familiar, it might be time to invest in a new WMS.
A simple, effective WMS tells you what you need to know, staying on top of the nuances and happenings in every corner of your operations. We may not be in an era where your WMS can tell you how it feels, but it will eagerly share with you the secrets of your warehouse — all in the name of building a stronger supply chain.
Bill Tomasi is Global Director of Product Management at IBS, a world leader in distribution resource management software, providing ERP and WMS business applications for the wholesale, distribution and manufacturer/distributor markets. For more information about IBS, or to contact Mr. Tomasi, email firstname.lastname@example.org.