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Focus: Distribution/Materials Handling

Feature Article from Our Distribution and Materials Handling Subject Area - See All

From SCDigest's On-Target E-Magazine

- May 13, 2014 -


Supply Chain News: Warehouse Management Consulting Market Continues to Evolve

Do You Need a Project Manager, or Real Technical Expertise in Making Project a Success? Not Enough Companies Well Analyze What Skills they Really Need at Each Phase


 SCDigest Editorial Staff

The market for consulting services relative to Warehouse Management System (WMS) design and implementation is large one, with literally dozens of firms offering services, from some of the largest consulting firms in the world to literally one-person shops.

At one level, not much has changed in the basics of the consulting approach since WMS solutions first hit the market in a big way in the 1980s.

SCDigest Says:

A consultant which is excellent at helping a company to select the right WMS provider may - and often does - lack the kinds of technical skills that may be needed during implementation.
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On the other hand, much has changed. For example, the scope of so-called supply chain execution (SCE) software has expanded far beyond just WMS - complicating the selection process both for WMS vendors and what consultants have the best fit for the project.

Some consulting firms have found niches by WMS vendor, technology expertise (e.g., material handling systems integration), vertical market experience (e.g., retail) and more.

Also still present after all these years: the on-going tension between some WMS companies and consultants over which firm is going to do what work for a given engagement. This is usually a sort of behind the scenes discussion between the vendor and the consultant, often hidden from the company deploying the WMS. How it plays out can be dependent on the overall relationship between the two firms, if any, which side brought the other one into the deal (the firm bringing in the other generally gets to call more of the shots) , and more.

These decisions can involve big dollars, as "professional services" for a WMS project can be substantial. Leading WMS provider Manhattan Associates provides a good example: in 2013, Manhattan had about $62 million supply chain software sales - and $283 million in services revenue. A substantial portion of the latter number includes on-going software maintenance revenue, but the WMS industry for years has been characterized by services revenues for a project exceeding software costs.

WMS customers often don't fully realize some of the consultant-WMS vendor dynamics. For example, most WMS vendors have a person that heads professional services who has specific financial targets each year for revenue and profit, as of course do consulting firms. There can even be tensions inside the WMS provider relative to where to shave the total price - in software o services?

How Will the Pie be Split?

The question in the end is how the pie that is a company's budget for a WMS project going to be split between software provider and consultant.

There are numerous ways that can happen, often in an amicable way, but sometimes more contentiously too, though again that contention is often hidden from the joint client.

The table below provides a summary of the type of professional services that are required before, during and after a WMS implementation, and some idea of which type of firms most often does what.


Who Can Do What at Each Stage of a WMS Project?


WMS Vendor
Pre-Deployment Phase
Business Case Development
Requirements Definition
Vendor Selection
Deployment Phase
System Design
Some vendors (JDA, SAP, HighJump) have a path for consultant to do some modifications
System Configuration
Post Deployment Phase
Some consultants will provide a back-up support service for emergencies


The two areas with the greatest contention between consultants and vendors are the following: system design and WMS system configuration and set-up.

But even here of course there are a lot of "it depends," as captured in the notes. Obviously, a consultant has to be highly knowledgeable of a given WMS vendor's system to take on the configuration role - many would rather just "project manage" the configuration.

(Distribution/Materials Handling Story Continues Below )


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An interesting twist is that some WMS, providers, notably JDA and HighJump Software, have tools for tailoring their system without truly making modifications to the code. JDA has a tailoring framework called MOCA, while HighJump has a tool it calls Advantage Architect. Knowledgeable consultants are able to use these tools on their own to achieve needed functionality at a given site - though JDA is said to be rethinking its approach in this area a bit to limit consultant tailoring.

SAP also has a path for consultants to make true modifications using so-called "user exits, which link out to custom-written routines.

And this exposes a large divide between. Traditional WMS consultants generally did not want to get that deep into the technology, either from a lack of technical skills or concern about the risks of taking on that type of work. When a consultant takes on the technical side, they can transfer much of the responsibility for the system working correctly from the WMS vendor to themselves.

But this has been changing, in part as implementation managers have left some of the larger WMS firms (voluntarily or not) and started their own consulting companies. They therefore come with strong technical capabilities in a given WMS.

Take for example a company such as Longbow Advantage, started by a former JDA WMS customer, Gerard Brady, who was CIO or a form that implemented JDA (RedPrairie at the time). Longbow now focused on JDA implementations, using its deep technical expertise in the product to go where many consultants do not want to tread, including tailoring using MOCA, ERP and material handling systems integration, and more.

"We're about delivering project success," Chad Kramlich, VP of business development, recently told SCDigest, "and we have the capability to roll up our sleeves and get the technical work done to do that."

The number of consultants willing to get that deep technically is still very small, says SCDigest editor Dan Gilmore. Is that what you need? Companies considering a new WMS really need to think this through.

"Many companies know they need help for a WMS project, but they don't take it a step further and critically analyze what specific type of help they need at each phase of the project," Gilmore said.

And as discussed above, the type of assistance that may be needed will often depend on which WMS is ultimately selected for deployment.

Gilmore says very few companies now contract with a given consultant for both the selection process and the deployment under one commitment, with at least two consultant selection processes usually in place for the selection and possibly design phase, and then another for implementation.

"What skills sets do you really need at each phase? That is the key question. A consultant which is excellent at helping a company to select the right WMS provider may - and often does - lack the kinds of technical skills that may be needed during implementation," Gilmore added. "Are you just looking for a project manager with deep WMS and hopefully sector experience, or do you need someone that can be directly involved in systems integration? There is no right answer to that - you just have to make sure it is the right answer for you."

He adds that it is important for the WMS customer to be involved in the discussions about who is going to do what work for their project, rather than simply letting the WMS vendor and consultant work out their own arrangement behind the scenes.

What are your thoughts on the WMS consulting market? Do not enough companies really analyze the skills they need at each phase of a project? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback button (email) or section (web form) below.

Recent Feedback

Thanks for this article!  And there is another reason to consider a consultant over a WMS vendor... A successful distribution operation is a finely-tuned combination of the proper design, the proper systems (WMS, WCS, LMS), and the proper operation (processes, organization structure, training, metrics.)  A consulting firm that brings all of that to the table, along with the WMS deployment expertise, can develop a more efficient, integrated solution.

Kate Baar
Marketing Director
May, 29 2014