In our last blog, we discussed 11 tell-tale signs that it’s time to automate your warehouse. Here we are looking at how to avoid the pitfalls & risks of a poor WMS implementation.
No matter what size business you are, to get the best results from a WMS, successful implementation is vital. Failure to plan effectively can lead to data loss, reduced efficiency and even system failure.
It is natural for a business owner to be wary of making the initial leap from a manual approach to a WMS, fearing the potential prospects of disrupting their warehouse, incurring large upfront capital expenses, creating a whole new system and set of processes and complexities (such as retraining their workforce), and doubts about whether the system can handle their way of doing business and variety of goods.
These concerns are not unfounded, but they can be addressed by taking an incremental approach to implementation, properly addressing change management, using a cloud-based system, committing adequate resources, addressing data and integration properly, and ensuring that good testing is done before going live, thereby mitigating many of the risks.
Warehouse Management Systems (WMS) are not just for large enterprises
There’s a common misconception that ‘WMS systems are only for the big boys. We’re too small to automate.’ However, there have been many developments in technology such as cloud-based deployments and implementation methodologies that dramatically simplify adoption and lower the risks and upfront costs. This is not to say that there are no risks or that you don’t have to be diligent about your implementation, but the risk of staying with a manual approach could far outweigh the risks of implementing a WMS. If you answered yes to some of the questions in our previous blog, then very likely you’re not too small to get started with a basic WMS system!
The first step when preparing for an WMS implementation is to develop and understand your operational strategy by looking at your supply chain network and overall technology needs. It is key to understand your distribution centres, plants, 3PLs, and vendors/customers. Where are they located? How can you best meet customer demands at minimal cost? Understanding how each component works together, and if any adjustments are needed, will help you plan your WMS implementation. Skipping this step can actually cause the application to be implemented improperly.
There is a growing trend towards more agile WMS implementations of enterprise solutions, starting off with the ‘minimum viable implementation’ of a solution. If there is a natural segmentation of the physical space and inventory in a DC, a company can start by doing WMS for only one segment of the warehouse or part of the business. For example, if there is a small e-commerce operation, with its own dedicated inventory, and a separate larger bulk store deliveries operation, the WMS implementation could start by managing only the e-commerce operation first. Then once that initial implementation is running well, the WMS could be expanded to manage the store deliveries as well.
Change Management: The Key to Success
Moving from a manual paper-based approach to a WMS driven approach entails a significant change for warehouse workers. It is important that workers and their direct supervisors are involved from near the beginning to get their input, help them understand why the new system is being put in, how it will impact their job, and ultimately have their full buy in. Workers should be given plenty of opportunities to discuss their concerns and give input and feedback before final final implementation plans are drawn up.
An internal team with clearly defined roles and responsibilities should be formed and given the bandwidth to do their part of the WMS implementation. This may mean bringing in extra help during the implementation. One or more warehouse workers, who are highly respected by their peers, should be recruited to be the local site champions involved in the discussions and design of the new system from the start. Workers need to be trained on the new processes, including why things are being done in a new way, with a system that is much more prescriptive than they are used to.
Be sure to allow enough time for training for all workers before the go-live date.
Team Building – Adapting to a WMS’s Prescriptive Approach
Prior to using a WMS, your warehouse environment might be less structured and workers doing their own workarounds as needed, making their own decisions on things like which sequence to pick items, which orders to pick, and other details. With a WMS, all these decisions are made for themand workers may think the new system is slowing them down with a more regimented process. Without proper education, they may not appreciate how much time and money is being saved both for others (reduced returns, etc.) but also for them personally in no longer having to search for items they can’t find or taking inefficient putaway and picking paths.
Real time Data/Integration and Testing
Implementing a WMS requires integrating data about incoming shipments, outbound orders, and product/package data (such as dimensions and weight). The integration of all this data needs to be factored into the project plan, since the WMS can’t do its job with incorrect or incomplete data. A system that is pre-integrated with your ERP and other systems will help tremendously in ensuring that all the needed data is there. Also critical for a smooth transition is having a thorough test plan and allowing sufficient time for testing all product flows, warehouse workflows, and integrations.
Choosing a WMS that has been pre-integrated with your ERP helps to dramatically reduce the amount of integration testing required, but you will still want to test out your specific configuration and workflows.
Additional Resources Required During WMS Implementation
There is no getting around the additional resources and warehouse staff’s time that is required to make the transition to a WMS. One strategy is to implement the WMS after a busy season, keeping on a few of the best of the temporary peak season staff so that the WMS can be successfully implemented during the slow season without impacting business. This approach can also reduce the risks and impact of any unexpected delays in the implementation.
Modifying your Warehouse Layout, Flow, and Processes
A WMS system does not magically fix a warehouse’s wrong layout, poor slotting methods, and suboptimal flow and processes. When embarking on a WMS project, it is a good idea to engage an independent, knowledgeable expert who has completed several implementations before. They can not only help you in system selection, but also ensure that the critical success factors are all addressed, such as change management. That same person should be able to assess the physical layout and flow of your warehouse, your approach to slotting, and your overall warehouses processes. The physical basics must be addressed to get the full benefits of the WMS.
Post WMS Implementation
Working with a recently implemented warehouse management system often reveals issues that were not addressed during implementation. Support is an important part of a successful project because the complexity of a warehouse management system project always demands solutions to problems that arise during operation.
Speak to one of our team to understand how Clarus’ WMS system can cost effectively support best practice warehouse management processes, better customer service and highly efficient working for a range of warehouse operations with pay per month options and no IT infrastructure needed.
Our platform can scale from a one user, small depot system to a 100’s of user distribution centre operation. The ClarusWMS platform will cost effectively scale with your business based on demand.
ClarusWMS is a UK based supplier of warehouse management solutions with a wealth of industry experience in third party logistics, wholesale / retail distribution, online fulfillment and manufacturing warehousing.