Selecting the right Warehouse Management System (WMS) is not just about keeping up; it's about setting your operations up for scalable growth and enhanced efficiency. Whether you manage a private warehouse, operate within the realms of third-party logistics (3PL), or navigate the complexities of fourth-party logistics (4PL), the essence of making an informed decision lies in understanding the specific requirements and features a WMS should offer. From ensuring real-time inventory visibility to enabling seamless integration across various platforms, this article delves into the foundational and specialty features crucial for fast-growing companies looking to stay ahead of the curve.
Basic Features to Look for in a WMS
Selecting the right Warehouse Management System (WMS) is crucial for optimizing warehouse operations, enhancing efficiency, and staying competitive in today's fast-paced market. Here are some of the most basic yet indispensable features that any WMS should offer:
Real-time Inventory Visibility
Critical to any WMS is granting real-time visibility into inventory levels and counts. This feature ensures that stock information is accurately captured and continuously updated, minimizing data entry errors and significantly uplifting the success rate of fulfilling orders. The cornerstone of operational excellence, real-time data allows for informed decision-making and efficient management.
A premier WMS should seamlessly integrate with core business systems, including your ERP system and e-commerce platforms. This creates a cohesive ecosystem that boosts supply chain efficiency, facilitating smooth operations and consistent data flow across various business functions.
Anticipate your business's growth and ensure your WMS can scale accordingly. A system that adapts to growing order volumes, expanding warehouse storage spaces, and evolving market demands is indispensable. Such scalability and flexibility in the face of bottlenecks are vital for sustaining high performance and operational efficiency as your business scales.
Advanced Picking and Packing
Refining the picking and packing warehouse processes is crucial for minimizing the time between receiving an order and shipping it out. Look for a WMS system that leverages RFID technology, SKU management, and automated workflows to streamline these operations, thereby directly enhancing customer satisfaction. Directed Putaway identifies the optimal location to store incoming stock at the time of its receipt based on rules that you design for your specific operations. For example, 3PL Warehouse Manager leverages your rules to compare specific location and item settings, which effectively defines your preferred putaway strategy and determines the best storage location for each line item on an incoming receipt.
Comprehensive Reporting and Analytics
Making strategic decisions requires access to accurate and actionable insights. Opt for a WMS equipped with robust analytics and reporting tools, capable of tracking KPIs and providing detailed analyses. These features are invaluable for optimizing strategies, improving warehouse performance, and forecasting with precision.
The effectiveness of a WMS also lies in its usability. An intuitive interface ensures that users of all technical levels can navigate and utilize the system efficiently, bolstering productivity and reducing the likelihood of operational errors.
Support and Technical Services
Beyond its capabilities, the true value of a WMS is reflected in the quality of support and technical services it offers. Comprehensive support is crucial for maximizing the system's potential, with resources readily available to address any challenges.
In today's competitive landscape, surpassing customer expectations is paramount. A WMS that enhances the customer experience through efficient order management, reordering, streamlined returns, and fulfillment processes is essential for any business aiming to thrive. For example, a WMS that makes it easy to perform cycle counting allows you to rectify current inventory. It is a way to perform an inventory count of exactly what is in your warehouse. In Extensiv’s WMS, cycle counts can be performed via a handheld barcode scanner or the mobile application
Incorporating these warehouse management system features into your selection criteria ensures you're not just choosing a system; you're selecting a strategic ally that champions operational excellence, scalability, and unwavering commitment to customer satisfaction.
Specialty WMS Features for Fast-Growing Companies
As fast-growing companies scale, their warehouse management needs become more complex and nuanced. Advanced WMS solutions offer specialty features and modules designed to address these challenges, enabling businesses to stay ahead of the curve. Here are some key specialty features that such companies often seek:
Advanced Analytics and Business Intelligence
In-depth analytics and business intelligence tools go beyond basic reporting to offer insights into operations, trends, and performance metrics. These features allow companies to harness data for strategic planning, identify inefficiencies, and optimize workflows based on predictive analytics and trend analysis. For example, allocation is the logic in wich the system assigns received inventory to an open order. Systems like Extensiv automatically allocate available inventory to an order upon import or individual line item entry.
AI and Machine Learning Integration
AI and machine learning capabilities enable a WMS to improve over time, learning from past data to optimize operations, forecast demand more accurately, and automate decision-making processes. This can include everything from predictive stock replenishment to intelligent routing for pickers, significantly enhancing operational efficiency.
Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR)
While it’s still a long way out for most operations, Incorporating AR and VR into warehouse management software can revolutionize warehouse operations. For example, AR can assist with picking and packing by overlaying picking information directly into workers' field of view, reducing errors and improving speed. VR can be used for training purposes, allowing new employees to familiarize themselves with warehouse operations in a risk-free, virtual environment.
Robotics and Automation Integration
The integration of robotics and automation within a WMS can drastically reduce manual tasks, speed up processes, and minimize human error. Automated guided vehicles (AGVs), robotic pickers, and automated sorting systems can all be managed and optimized through a WMS, creating a cohesive ecosystem that boosts productivity and scalability.
Third-party Logistics (3PL) Integration
For companies that leverage 3PL providers, seamless integration with these partners is essential. WMS software that offers easy integration with a wide range of 3PL services enables businesses to expand their logistics capabilities without the need for manual intervention or separate systems, ensuring a smooth flow from order to delivery.
Customization and Extensibility
Fast-growing companies often have unique processes that off-the-shelf solutions can't fully address. A WMS that is customizable and extensible allows businesses to tailor the software to their specific needs, whether that means adding custom workflows, integrating with niche tools, or developing new functionalities as the company evolves.
Labor Management (For 3PLs)
In Extensiv’s WMS, Labor Analytics is a premium offering for 3PLs that provides critical insights on labor productivity by associate and fulfillment labor costs by customer. Labor Analytics utilizes scan event data to provide data insights generated directly from your team’s warehouse activity. The Labor Analytics Dashboard provides highly granular data by associate and customer – for the current day and over historical periods. This enables data-driven processes for improving team and individual performance and helps you improve profitability with each of your customers.
Billing Management (For 3PLs)
Running a successful 3PL can be very difficult. High overhead costs combined with razor-thin margins mean getting paid correctly and on time by your customers is critical. Extensiv Billing Manager helps 3PLs capture more monthly revenue, get paid faster, and save valuable administration time and resources. Extensiv Billing Manager brings together front-of-house warehouse activity with back-of-office bookkeeping, creating a feedback loop that increases billing accuracy. Automating charging, invoicing, and payments can allow 3PLs to bill confidently and serve more customers with higher quality.
Beyond integrating with core business systems, leading-edge WMS solutions are part of a larger ecosystem of apps, platforms, and services. This connectivity ensures that companies can easily add new capabilities, from ecommerce platforms to customer relationship management (CRM) systems, maintaining flexibility and responsiveness as market demands change.
By focusing on these specialty features, fast-growing companies can ensure their WMS solution meets their current needs and is poised to support their growth and evolving operational challenges. These advanced capabilities provide the foundation for scalability, efficiency, and ongoing innovation, keeping companies competitive in a rapidly changing marketplace.
How to determine WMS requirements for your business
Selecting the right Warehouse Management System (WMS) is a critical decision that can significantly impact the efficiency and scalability of your operations. Understanding your needs and requirements is crucial in choosing a system that aligns with your business goals. Here's a step-by-step guide to help you determine the WMS requirements for your business:
Outline Business Processes
Begin by documenting all your current warehouse and inventory management processes. This includes everything from receiving and storing inventory to picking, packing, and shipping orders. Understanding these processes will help you identify which areas could benefit most from automation and optimization through a WMS.
Define Goals and Objectives
Clearly define what you aim to achieve with a new WMS. Whether it's improving inventory accuracy, increasing order fulfillment speed, reducing costs, or scaling operations, having clear goals will guide your search for a system that offers the features and capabilities needed to meet these objectives.
Gather Stakeholder Input
Involving key stakeholders from various departments (such as warehousing, IT, finance, and customer service) early in the process ensures that the selected WMS meets the needs and expectations of all parts of the business. Stakeholder input can also highlight any potential challenges or requirements that might not be immediately obvious.
Analyze Inventory Characteristics
Examine the types of products you store, including their size, quantity, and any special storage requirements (such as temperature control for perishables). A WMS that can handle the complexity of your inventory while providing flexibility for future changes is essential.
Forecast Future Needs
Consider not only your current needs but also how your business might grow or change in the future. The ideal WMS should be scalable and flexible enough to accommodate new product lines, additional warehouses, and increased order volumes without requiring a complete system overhaul.
Consider Integration Needs
Assess the need for the WMS to integrate with other systems such as ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning), SCM (Supply Chain Management), eCommerce platforms, and accounting software. Seamless integration is key to ensuring smooth, efficient operations across your entire business.
Identify Who Will Be Using the WMS
Consider the users of the WMS, including warehouse staff, managers, and IT personnel. The system should be user-friendly and accessible for all user levels, with appropriate training and support options available.
Consider Budget and ROI
Evaluate the cost of different WMS options, including upfront implementation costs, ongoing subscription or maintenance fees, and any additional costs for customization or integration. Compare these costs against the expected return on investment (ROI), considering factors such as efficiency gains, error reduction, and potential revenue growth.
By thoroughly assessing these aspects, you can develop a clear set of WMS requirements tailored to your business. This groundwork not only streamlines the selection process but also ensures that the chosen system will support your operations effectively, both now and as your business evolves.
Things to Consider When Selecting a WMS
Often, third-party logistics (3PL) warehouses find themselves needing and wanting to improve their operations but learn that system functionality may be holding them back. They determine that a Warehouse Management System (WMS) is the right step for them to improve and become more efficient. That’s only step one. The next step is just as important, determining which WMS is going to be the best fit for your company.
These five considerations should be included in your WMS selection and investment process:
1. Project team and project manager
The first and arguably most important consideration is who to include on the project team. This is an important decision because the project team will manage the project from start to finish. Deadlines, budgets, and people all need to be managed properly to ensure 100% success.
It is important to note that this is not strictly an IT project. Members from all departments and all levels of staff are needed and should have input. The best team possible chosen from the beginning will have a good bearing on the outcome of the project. Many times in projects of this magnitude, a consultant can be utilized to augment your internal team.
Who will manage the project? The selected finalist will have their technical team manager. However, you need to have someone responsible to all stakeholders for the planning and project control of the implementation in your company, while drawing on the experience of the vendor's team.
2. Set realistic timeframes
Setting realistic timeframes is an important step. So many times a “go live” date is arbitrarily set by a management team without first identifying the total detail project plan and all the steps in the project.
Having accurate, realistic timeframes will ensure that the project runs smoothly and has a successful outcome. Important tasks that should always be considered are the amount of time to evaluate, perform due diligence, and select a vendor.
Timeframes to implement and go live should be itemized as well. Training will need to occur to ensure the best chance of success early on from all employees.
An often-overlooked element is that initial productivity after go live may be lower than planned, or lower than in the existing environment. There will always be a period at the beginning where bugs and processes will be worked out. Even with training prior to go live, employees always need real time use of the new system before getting back to and exceeding prior productivity levels.
3. Determine your functional requirements
What you require functionally as a company should be documented. What are the system and business processes that hold operations’ performance back today? These requirements and other “wish list” items are what allow you to compare vendors and their capabilities to one another.
One major WMS requirement is to determine how many users need access to the system at any one time. This should include seasonal workers, temp workers, and full-time employees. You will need to distinguish the counts between users that need tablet or laptop access and users that need handheld or other device access.
Are there any mandatory modifications? It is advisable to make use of the system as it’s designed with appropriate configuration setups. Avoid modifications which often add costs, schedule slippages, and potential risk.
What pick batching functionality is needed, is lot and serial tracking required, do license plates play an integral part in tracking the flow of inventory? These and other questions need to be answered and documented during this step.
4. Vendor selection and their team
As a company you will want to compare multiple vendors against the requirements you determined in the prior step. This is important in addition to investment amount for each vendor.
There will also be a factor of how well you see your two companies interacting and progressing through the training, implementation, go live, and post go live support. This is just as important.
It is vital to evaluate vendors that have a large user base. This is to ensure that you are not one of the first companies to go live. These vendors also tend to have been around longer and are much quicker to develop additional functionality and share with the user group.
5. Total cost of ownership and return-on-investment
As we said in the requirements above, what are systems and business process functions that hold operations back? From the very beginning of the project, keep an eye out for what the benefits and savings there are going to be and what their cost justification may look like. Is it scalability, flexibility, measuring productivity, multi-warehouse or distributed order processing, etc.? From a system perspective, this includes: licenses or transaction processing; hardware and software; annual maintenance; professional services for installation, conversion, training, etc.
In looking at the total cost of ownership, include internal company costs for project management requirements, overtime for employees for training and process change; and conversion and lost time from decreased productivity in the first few months of implementation.
Picking the right vendor and WMS is a big decision. Making the correct choice will set up your operations for success as you continue to grow and improve. The considerations above will set you on the right path to making that right decision. A solid team, accurate timelines, explicit requirements, and vendor due diligence are a recipe for success that we have seen many times. If you need help determining exactly what are the needs of your warehouse's WMS, feel free to talk to an expert. Partner with Extensiv and Quickly Transform Your Business
WMS Requirements and Features Checklist
|Real-Time Data Access
|Order Management & Processing
|Shipping and Receiving
|Billing and Invoicing Capabilities
|Customer Portal Access
|Reporting and Analytics
|Integration with Ecommerce Platforms
|RFID & Barcode Scanning
|Warehouse Layout & Optimization
|Labor Management & Workforce Planning
|Compliance and Regulatory Management
|Automated Picking, Packing, and Sorting
|Scalability and Flexibility
|Disaster Recovery and Data Backup
|Mobile Access and App Support
|Customer Support and Training
This checklist aims to streamline the selection process for a WMS by focusing on the specific needs of your warehouse operation type and facilitating direct comparisons between potential vendors and Extensiv's comprehensive features.