August 2016 marked the anniversary of a major milestone which started a seismic shift in the way the majority of us work, communicate and consume products and services. 25 YEARS OF THE INTERNET.
This technology has completely transformed the way we live our lives and altered the way businesses and logistics operations provide us with the products and services we use daily through to the most basic of requirements including how we feed ourselves and families, many using online food delivery services.
Technology continues to change, customer expectations evolve
Business systems being delivered as a service over the internet still feels like a fairly new concept but as a previous article outlined, they have been around for a number of years. Technology continues to change, customer expectations evolve and costs are driven down by new providers, often referred to as disrupter businesses, offering better services in more innovate ways.
4 things to start reviewing NOW to improve your warehouse operation
We’ve lost count of how many businesses have published their 2020 visions, but to see things clearly (nice play on words?!) below are 4 things to consider to make sure your warehouse operation holds up in a rapidly changing and brave new world.
For software providers, these suggestions are not bleeding edge radical, they are well established concepts but for many warehousing operations, which historically haven’t been at the forefront of technology, these 4 simple ideas could be the difference between continued success or finding yourselves falling very behind.
1. Exchange data with clients and partners
Interfacing, EDI, data exchange, API and web services are just some of the terms which relate to the topic of systems communicating automatically with one another.
The pre-mentioned terms often get thrown around incorrectly as each term does indeed mean something slightly different but they all relate to the same idea, exchanging data electronically.
Businesses do this to reduce manual error and increase efficiency which results in accurate information for better decisions and improved working relationships. This in turn helps to support common goals including better service to clients, lower costs and increased profits.
The vast majority of system providers have moved away, or are slowly moving away, from legacy technology such as sending flat files (e.g. csv files) from one system to another because there are now significantly better ways of communicating using web technology which is far more robust and works in true real time resulting in multiple systems acting working closer together. This is very important especially when one of more software providers are working together to provide a solution.
Our recommendation would be to speak with your existing warehouse management system provider to see what they are capable of. Unfortunately, for many businesses, the legacy warehouse applications they are using come paired with a strained relationship with the software provider which will cause them to review the market.
make web services and a well-documented API an absolute must
If you are reviewing warehouse management systems (WMS), make web services and a well-documented API (application programming interface) an absolute must for future proofing your investment. This is the way all technology is moving so anything which doesn’t support this technology is a short term fix.
2. Make job roles easier to succeed in
The warehouse is the heart and soul of many fulfilment operations but is often the first to be blamed for any shortcomings in the service provided to clients.
Common issues include sending the wrong products, wrong quantities, wrong batches or sell by dates, stock out of rotation or simply losing stock in the warehouse resulting in the businesses is taking orders they just can’t fulfil and letting clients down are all common complaints.
The result is usually increased costs with replacements sent on expensive express shipment services and more importantly, a loss in customer confidence reducing the chance of repeat business.
In our experience, the vast majority of employees working in warehousing and fulfilment roles take pride in doing a good job and getting things right first time.
The problem they often face is their roles become increasingly complicated because the operation has changed beyond recognition but the systems haven’t.
By implementing suitable processes and associated a best of breed cloud WMS to support their roles, you give employees the best chance of success every time.
This will result in higher levels of job satisfaction, better staff retention an overall improvement in business culture and of course better service to clients.
3. Remove dependency on individuals
We have seen many small to medium warehouses and regional depots running remarkably well with a relatively small amount of automation. However, experience has shown that these operations are very dependant on key people who really make the operation tick and keep things working well.
When planning medium to long term, removing dependency on key people within a warehouse and fulfilment operation should be a very high priority for any business. This is not about removing these key people from the business however; alongside a tier one cloud WMS they will add even more value being able to focus their efforts on value added services and people management rather than keeping the basics running with responsibilities such as locating stock, typically when no one else can!
Removing this dependency is not just about implementing a great cloud warehouse management system, it also needs strong operational support. This should include regular training and refresher training for long standing employees – bad habits are easy to pick up which inhibit growth.
An ideal way to introduce change and remove dependency is to implement new technology
An ideal way to introduce change and remove dependency is to implement new technology around processes so if those key people can be better utilised or if they do choose to move on, the operation can continue as before without a period of chaos and workarounds which will impact customer service, increase stress for everyone and ultimately reduce profitability.
4. Embrace technology, review your systems
Technology advances very quickly and with new innovation comes new opportunities to streamline operations and increase the value of the data which can be retrieved from systems allowing businesses to make better decisions.
Web technology has brought about a huge range of benefits that still only a small number of forward thinking businesses are benefiting from.
A good cloud WMS will enable you to benefit from constant improvement and innovation because as soon as a new feature is released, your business is able to benefit from it without the risk and cost of an upgrade as all users access the same, consistent platform. Some of the worlds most successful software products such as Salesforce.com CRM work exclusively using this model.
It is best practice to review all systems at least once every 5 years but in reality, if you have had systems in place for longer than 5 years, reviewing annually is recommended especially for growing businesses wishing to innovate.
Having a ‘quick look’ or initial high level review of different warehouse technology platforms should not be time consuming. If it is, you are talking to the wrong provider.
Modern, cloud based technology platforms including cloud based warehouse management systems are far more open to letting you have a free trial of the software so you can browse the solution in your own time in a non-pressured environment.
The main reason for this, should be, they have nothing to hide. They want you to fully understand what the system does as standard so you continue to use the service as there is no large upfront cost or restrictive, fixed contract period so you need to understand what you are buying.
Businesses still selling legacy technology will normally demand repeated on-site visits followed by teams of people turning up to overwhelm businesses into handing over large sums of money for a promise of a working system in 6 months’ time.
Buyer beware! Changing systems is a risky process, make sure you understand what you are getting before committing to anything.
Change is good
Business who evolve, review and adapt to changing markets and client requirements will survive. Businesses that actively look to innovate and offer new products and services clients in way they didn’t know they needed add true value and become market leaders.
Solid, carefully considered IT strategy is at the heart of successful business in 2016 and by 2020 will become even more important. The Amazon’s of this world have set client expectations very high for small and medium sized business but young, innovate software partners offering cloud warehouse management and associated applications offer a way forward. These smaller businesses can now afford to utilise tier one functionality to drive their operations forward.
For more information on how to support growth, improve efficiency and plan for 2020, speak to one of our experienced consultants by filling in the below form and we’ll call you back.