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WMS – Forty-Six Years: Dead or Still Evolving?

News Flash: June 2020—Metropolis, USA – Born on August 28, 1974, in Santa Clara, CA, and after nearly 46 years of sometimes spotty, but always well-intentioned service to the logistics community, the often praised and occasionally maligned warehouse management system or WMS is dead!

Time of death could not be precisely determined, but physicians agreed it had occurred within the past few days.  In private interviews with hospital staffers, the cause of death ranged from “market saturation” to “inadequate care and feeding” to “widespread confusion triggered by the plethora of alternatives and confusing acronyms (LMS, SaaS, SCES, WCS, WFS, WES, WMS in a Cloud, etc., etc.) now flooding the marketplace.” Funeral arrangements were not disclosed.

This news release may be farfetched, but nonetheless, the thought of it is disturbing!  It’s time to take a moment to reflect on whether we have exhausted the options for giving WMS a renewed lease on life. We know that he’s still breathing. After all, he’s only 46 years old!

While some might perceive that WMS has lost his efficacy, hundreds of would-be users continue to attend conferences, seminars, and webcasts on how WMS can be used to fine-tune both conventional and automated warehouse operations while optimizing resource performance.  Further, even if 100,000 best-of-breed ERP-based, on-site, and more recently, cloud-based WMSs have been installed in this country, the number is less than half of the available market.  Further yet, consider the number of opportunities for WMS deployment outside of the warehouse, in light manufacturing and assembly, markets that have been barely touched. Has WMS really outlived his utility?  I think not; to revitalize him, however, we have a good bit of work to do. For example:

WMS Suppliers

Populate your business development and sales teams with people who understand and can “talk” warehousing.  For all of you, under-promise and over-deliver.  Disclose the likely total costs of ownership upfront.  No one likes surprises.

Clearly differentiate your packages from the alternatives – leverage your strengths and address the gaps.  If you have not done so already, consider offering a “WMS as a Service” or in a cloud-based model for vertical markets and smaller users.  Take a hard look at how artificial intelligence and machine learning can enhance your offerings.  For ERP suppliers, quit suggesting that adding a warehouse management module is “free.”

Finally, as a community (and you know who you are), find yourselves a “poster child” and periodically speak with “one voice supported by many” to the current and potential marketplace.  It will resonate with them and restore the old guy’s spirit!

Existing Users

If you have successfully installed a WMS, tout it to the press, in webcasts, and at conferences (you don’t have to reveal proprietary information that might compromise your competitive position).  It will help build the market and protect your investment.  If your WMS is not performing, get help fixing or replacing it.

Actively participate in user groups.  Your contributions will help suppliers to refine their offerings, offer a broader menu of features, build revenues, and add resources to assure you of continuing support.

Prospective Users

Do not attempt to overlay WMS on flawed layouts and processes; it is a certain prescription for disaster.  Fix them first and then look at how a WMS can enhance performance in core areas like receiving, storage, and picking.  Add functionality as confidence grows and needs expand.  Take a measured approach to evaluating new features, subjecting them to the same due diligence you used in vetting the original system.  Do the homework necessary to build a detailed, defensible investment case.  Acknowledge that there are few shortcuts and recognize that only the Lone Ranger carried silver bullets

Depending on your level of in-house expertise, understand that the “educating the prospect” component of the supplier’s sales cycle and associated costs are not free.

Embrace configurability, but avoid customization. It’s rarely needed with contemporary packages, adds cost, lengthens implementation time, increases risk, and complicates “upgradeability.”

–John M. Hill, St. Onge Company

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