There are many factors that impact the success of any warehouse management system (WMS) implementation. But according to Curt Sardeson, Managing Principal of the consultancy Open Sky Group, there are seven key variables that determine ultimate success. As part of our Expert Insights series, Supply Chain Nation sat down with Sardeson to explore the implications of his list. In Part I of this series, Sardeson recapped the significance of the seven variables and discussed how to address the “we have always done it this way” cultural issue. In this post, he will discuss the importance of process and integration.
SCN: The flipside of culture is company processes. How should companies determine which processes are critical differentiators and which should be adapted to the best practices a WMS represents?
Sardeson: I think this is similar to the last question in that you have to ask ‘why.’ With any WMS today you are going to see that best practices are typically imbedded in the software. This industry has evolved and matured. We all know that there are a dozen pick methods that make sense, so every good system is going to have those pick methods. We know that there are different ways of receiving products with ASNs or blind receipts or whatever, but you have to use those best practices, use the system as best as you can until someone says why they can’t do it.
Typically, there are only two acceptable answers, in my opinion. The first is if there is a legal reason why we have to do something— legally this is just not allowed here. We have seen this in some countries where this is the way we have to do a process differently because that is the way the law works. The second reason is for competitive purposes. I think most companies and people know intrinsically what is going to make them competitive. I think they are going to know that the reason we do better than our competitors is, for example, because this is a process that we do better than anyone else—we turn shipments around in two hours or we can stitch your name on a shirt without delaying your shipment. Then it might make sense to use a non-standard or non-best practice for a competitive or legal reason. I think those are the only two reasons that can justify the cost of customizing and using a non-standard solution.
SCN: Your last variable deals with systems integration, which you rightly point out involves a lot more potential systems than just an ERP. Have advances in technology such as services-oriented architectures (SOA) and warehouse control systems helped to simplify this issue?
Sardeson: This question makes me laugh because it reminds me of the old days when we used to run serial ports out to printers and PLCs and how difficult that was. And if we had a fail-over, you had to have switches to switch from server A to server B. So there is no question in my mind that the simplicity of integration has gotten much better. SOA lends itself naturally to raising events and triggers of when to notify something. Warehouse control systems have made it so we are not dealing with the bits and bytes coming off of an electric eye on a conveyor. Today it is easier than ever to focus on the quality of the integration, making sure everything is reconciled and balanced at the end of the day. There is very little excuse with all of the good tools and technology out there to not have good integration.
I think the biggest area for improvement today is the architecture and planning of how you are going to integrate and how you are going to architect your real-time execution systems along with your planning systems. I can’t emphasize enough that with the move to the cloud, this does not mean you can’t execute on the cloud, it just means you really have to think how you are going to offload your work, and how you are going to deal with latency or temporary outages. I think more than ever it is not about the tools or the bits and bytes and file transport protocols. Now it’s about what is the right architecture to enable me to grow my business and to easily update, replace and upgrade my systems as time moves on.
SCN: It’s interesting that the issues you raise I saw years ago implementing other types of systems.
Sardeson: I’m glad you brought that up. I have had people from other industries look at this Seven Variable Infographic and say that is the same with my accounting system or my payroll system. These seven variables of WMS are fairly timeless. It is really about learning to recognize and adapt to these points early on. We’ve used this tool in sitting down with a customer for the first time and saying this is all the things to think about, and it really makes the conversation flow and makes them think about things that they may never have considered before that are going to be of very material consequence to the success of the project.
SCN: Thank you for your insights, Curt.