The Evolution of WMS Customer Requirements

Last month I posted a Logistics Viewpoints article on the evolution and growth of the WMS market. Today I am going to take a slightly different perspective and discuss the evolution of WMS customer requirements – how are WMS customers’ requirements different now than they were in the past, and what factors are driving these changing needs?

WMS Evolution

A Holistic Perspective
The WMS market is a mature enterprise software market. The growth rate of WMS sales has modified and the features and functionality of WMS applications have improved and expanded significantly.  The “core” WMS functionality today is typically sufficient to meet the needs of practitioners. Today’s customers are making purchasing decisions based on a more holistic perspective. Many of these considerations, such as integration with other applications and a holistic view of the enterprise, often fall under the moniker of “supply chain convergence.” But customers are looking for more than than to simply break down silos. They’re also interested in the ability to standardize and replicate business processes across their organization, and to minimize implementation and upgrade costs. Essentially, the WMS buying perspective has evolved in scope from point solution to overall enterprise footprint, and from short-term focus to life-cycle costs.

More Modern Usability
WMS Customers are also looking for a modern user experience. For example, modern mobility is increasingly being utilized within distribution and fulfillment. Today’s smart phones and tablets provide robust, mobile platforms that can often be leveraged at a lower price point than legacy warehouse mobile hardware. Customers are interested in leveraging the inherent capabilities of tablets and smart phones in support of operational fulfillment roles as well as for warehouse supervision and task management.

Customers are also looking for improvements in traditional user interfaces. User interface improvements and pre-configurations can lower the TCO by streamlining the implementation process and by making the end-user business process more intuitive by presenting role-based information sets.  For example, shipping clerks engage in different processes and require different information than yard managers or packing station workers. Role-based configurations provide users with the ability to better match the solutions to their particular business processes, while minimizing upgrade and customization costs.

Evolving Fulfillment Requirements
Although “core” WMS functionality is more often sufficient for customers today than it was in the past, there are some fulfillment processes that are evolving and require WMS modifications. Most notably, the rapid growth in e-commerce has placed additional burdens on fulfillment operations. Retailers, manufacturers with direct-to-consumer operations, and 3PLs need functionality that supports the changing fulfillment requirements driven by the growth of e-commerce and omni-channel fulfillment. For example, practitioners are increasing using put walls in their fulfillment processes to manage high volumes of e-commerce orders. They’re also looking for more flexibility in the software to mirror the increased complexity and shorter lead times driven by e-commerce. Packing and other processes have become more labor intensive as well. At the same time, retailers have been increasing warehouse automation investments to cost effectively handle the high volume of small, multi line-item e-commerce orders. The increased use of warehouse automation has increased the importance of warehouse control systems and interoperability between WMS and WCS. Practitioners also want choice in their material handling equipment vendors, so the option of standard integration with multiple third party MHE vendors is also of value. These are all examples of WMS features and functionality that retailers require to manage their changing fulfillment operations.

Concurrent with the evolution of user requirements, the WMS vendor landscape has consolidated through a wave of software company mergers. The result is a set of software suppliers offering broader solution sets delivered on native platforms, competing for a more stable market of potential customers. Many of today’s WMS suppliers offer a robust suite of solutions complementary to WMS along with a technology platform and a detailed product development roadmap. WMS market competition has undoubtedly benefited the customer.