Date: July 27, 2020
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:
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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, 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 here.
Scott Carter is Consultant, Industrial Engineer at F. Curtis Barry & Company. F. Curtis Barry & Company is a nationally recognized supply chain and distribution consultancy that provides operations and fulfillment services to: Retail, ecommerce and multi-channel businesses, manufacturers and wholesale distribution businesses, and time sensitive and critical parts warehousing, fulfillment and distribution businesses.
3PL Central provides cloud-based WMS solutions for 3PLs so they can transform paper-based, error-prone businesses into service leaders focused on customer satisfaction, efficient operations, and growth.