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From SCDigest's On-Target E-Magazine

Feb. 14 , 2011

Supply Chain News: The Overlooked Keys to Warehouse Management System Success

Fralick says Operations must Rule, Integration Convenience Shouldn't Trump Needs on the DC Floor, and Focus most on the Few Things that Matter


SCDigest Editorial Staff

There seems to be lots of Warehouse Management System (WMS) activity going on right right now, and clearly a WMS deployment can be challenging. What are some of the keys to doing the implementation well?

Mark Fralick, an SCDIgest Technology Editor, president of consulting firm GetUsROI, and one of the WMS industry's pioneers and thought leaders, has identified three areas not often discussed but which can have a real impact on the success of a Warehouse Management System project.

He recently discussed these issues in the first edition of our new regular video series: Fralick on WMS, which will run every few weeks via our Supply Chain Television Channel. The full Video can be viewed here: Fralick on WMS: The Three Often Overlooked keys to WMS Implementation Success Video.

According to Fralick, the first key is a rather simple one, yet something that often winds up being a major issue: remembering that the project is primarily an operational one, not a typical IT project. While that may sound obvious, Fralick says that often the WMS project can become IT-driven, with potentially negative impacts on the success of the implementation.

SCDigest Says:

In the end, the operational leader must be hands on enough that he or she is able to confidently sign off before "go live" that this is the system they want.
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Fralick told a story that in the early days of his WMS career in the late 1980s, current HP logistics exec John Daniels made the point very simple for him. Daniels said the mission in the end of the WMS project was to turn inventory into shipments going out the door that became revenue.

Because of the need to match up high speed physical product flows with information flows in the DC, WMS systems "are much more complex than typical IT systems, Fralick says, "Sometimes what happens is the IT folks get a hold of it and treat it just like a regular type of project, and they are incredibly different," he added, noting his own IT background.

One way this often happens is that the operational project lead for a company often still has other responsibilities, while the IT person on the project is more dedicated, and therefore naturally tends to take on more of the overall WMS project responsibilities. This is something companies must worked hard to avoid, Fralick says.

In the end, the operational leader must be hands on enough that he or she is able to confidently sign off before "go live" that this is the system they want, Fralick says. Too often, they are not really sure what they are getting, he adds.

The second key to success is similar, and that is that "interfaces should not trump operations." By that, Fralick means that in some cases, what may be easier from an integration perspective - say connecting the WMS system to the company's ERP software - can put a hamper on operational efficiency in the DC.

He cited an example of a company he recently did work with where the IT team wanted to manage the exchange of receiving information in a way that likely would have led to congestion on the inbound receiving dock.

Though easier than in the past, integrations can still be very complex, Fralick says, and sometimes IT staff "doesn't understand the consequences that interface decisions can have on operations."

A negative long-term impact on operational efficiency that might last for years is not worth making the integration job just a bit easier in the present, Fralick says.

"Sometimes IT wants to force more order down into the DC in areas where order can't really exist," he adds.

(Distribution/Materials Handling Story Continues Below)



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The third area on this list of overlooked keys to WMS success is rethinking the notion of "best practices." Fralick says too often companies implementing a new WMS try to adapt so called "best practices" across every process in the DC.

That can dilute the effort on the processes that really do matter to that operation.

Instead, companies should focus on identifying any really bad processes or areas in their current DC operations, and just worry about getting those up to average or a little better, not necessarily trying to get them to "world class."

The real effort should be on the relatively small number of processes that are critical to that operation's performance and success, Fralick says. In some cases, that might mean making them world class; in others, it might mean just doing the process in a unique way that is essential for that DC's way of doing business or meeting customer needs.

These could be high value processes, high risk processes, or other variables that make them essential to success. For those processes, doing customizations to the WMS may make perfect sense, Fralick adds, contrary to many who want to eliminate all customizations.

"I often ask companies: What are the five things that if we don't get right, the system is going to crash and burn?" Fralick says. "We don't need to dwell on the concept of best practices too much."

The next edition of Fralick on WMS will discuss keys to getting the WMS project team right.

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