I just completed the newest version of ARC’s annual warehouse management systems (WMS) market research study. For those of you who are looking to receive your copy, it is currently in editing and should be available before the end of the month. The research process behind this report is extensive and evaluates both quantitative and qualitative developments of the global market. I would like to take this opportunity to discuss a qualitative topic of interest to many, namely the functional enhancements that are WMS suppliers’ highest priorities. I have categorized these product development areas into a few of the most prevalent “themes.” In some cases, the enhancements are already available, and in others they are currently in development.
- E-Commerce and Omni-channel Fulfillment
- Dynamic or “Waveless” Order Processing
- Cross-Channel Fulfillment
- Cloud WMS
- Mobility/User Experience
- Improvements in Optimization and System Adaptability (ML)
The ongoing rapid growth of e-commerce and omni-channel commerce, and these channels’ effects on fulfillment requirements, continue to be a leading factor contributing to demand for WMS deployments and enhancements. Although e-commerce has been stimulating demand for WMS for a number of years, the demands placed on retailers and retail partners is evolving quickly. A number of WMS suppliers state that consumers are expecting shorter and shorter fulfillment times. This is placing pressures on retailers to get the order out the door immediately. In response, WMS suppliers are investing in dynamic order processing capabilities within their WMS offerings. These capabilities are providing warehouses with the ability to inject greater adaptability into their daily fulfillment operations. As a prime example, Manhattan Associates’ order streaming capabilities allow users to set the cadence of order release to the floor according to fulfillment priorities and available capacities. Similarly, HighJump’s dynamic waving capability leverages a rules engine that controls the flow and priority of orders to the floor. These capabilities better align operations with the demands and priorities of e-commerce fulfillment. Simply stated, fulfillment operations must now balance the efficiencies offered by waving with the responsiveness demanded by today’s online customer.
Retailers with both a storefront and an online presence are meeting consumers’ instant gratification expectations through omni-channel fulfillment capabilities. WMS suppliers are supporting multi-channel operations by extending their solution set to include in-store fulfillment capabilities and enabling inventory visibility and fulfillment across channels. In-store logistics is an area of ongoing development for a number of WMS providers including Manhattan Associates and Logistics Reply. HighJump and Hardis have also extended their solutions to support in-store fulfillment of online orders.
I noted about two years ago that I considered the WMS market to be a bit of a “final frontier” for Cloud deployments. But at the same time, I wondered if Oracle’s acquisition of Logfire was an inflection point in the transition of WMS to the Cloud. I may have been correct because WMS suppliers are now channeling substantial resources into the development of Cloud WMS offerings. Oracle continues to develop Oracle WMS Cloud (legacy Logfire) with functional enhancements, extended integrations, and additional web services. Similarly, HighJump and JDA have experienced an increase in customer interest in Cloud deployments. In the past I have had concerns about communications latency with Cloud WMS, due to the real-time requirements of the systems. At JDA’s user conference, executives informed me that latency levels are now below the threshold where this would be a concern for WMS. In fact, they mentioned that they see future WMS deployments in the Cloud, communicating with a local WCS for sub-second response times. JDA is developing a cloud enhancement to its WMS, as part of the Luminate initiative, that will allow customers to apply machine learning capabilities to intelligently adapt to changing circumstances within their operation. In general, WMS suppliers find that many prospects prefer Cloud offerings as a low-risk and often lower cost option of obtaining the benefits of an updated WMS.
Modern mobility and the proliferation of smart phones has accelerated the transition of warehouse mobility from legacy applications, that were often alpha numeric running on Windows, to touch screen devices that are more often running on Android. Similarly, other general IT advances such as HTML 5 have provided a foundation for the development of applications that more easily adapt to various form factors. The overall usability enhancements available to application developers has led to WMS with more intuitive user interfaces, efforts to develop more extensive functionality for warehouse handheld devices, and the development of tablet-based applications for warehouse supervisors, store workers, and other warehouse staff. For example, Manhattan Associates and HighJump continue to extend their mobile warehouse apps that are designed to be compatible with consumer-grade mobile devices running Android or iOS. This flexibility and the familiar user interface is especially useful for equipping seasonal peak workers with devices and getting them up speed quickly. WMS suppliers have also developed applications for warehouse supervisors that run on tablets. Manhattan Associates continues to expand the functionality of its DM Mobile application that provides warehouse supervisors with access to WMS and labor management activities. And JDA Software built-out its Mobile Supervisor functionality-set that provides real-time performance insights and enables supervisors to conduct worker observations with tablet in hand.
WMS suppliers continue to enhance the optimization capabilities within their WMS offerings. Slotting and containerization are the traditional functions in the warehouse where optimization algorithms such as linear programming are applied. WMS suppliers continue to improve upon these algorithms but are also adding additional optimization functions and looking at ways to leverage machine learning to enable the warehouse management systems to self-adapt to changing circumstances within the warehouse to keep the system aligned with changing warehouse priorities. It is indeed an exciting time in the WMS world!