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From SCDigest's On-Target E-Magazine

- Sept. 29, 2014 -


Supply Chain News: Key Trends in Warehouse Management System Market Part 2

Current Trends Featured in Big Ideas Videocast on Present and Future of WMS


SCDigest Editorial Staff


What are the key trends in the Warehouse Management Systems (WMS) market?


That was among the topics explored in the recent "Big Ideas" Videocast on "The Present and Future of Warehouse Management Systems." The Big Ideas Videocast Series is a partnership between our Supply Chain Television Channel and CSCMP to deliver an on-going series of outstanding broadcasts on the top supply chain and logistics issues of the day.

SCDigest Says:

Still somewhat under the radar, there is growing competiton between WMS vendors and providers of Warehouse Control Systems, or WCS.
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Warehouse Management Systems represent about the most mature area of any category of supply chain software, with the first real-time WMS solutions being deployed in the mid-1970s, some 40 years ago.

Yet, WMS vendors continue to reinvent the category in many ways, as developments like omni-channel fulfillment provide new process and functionality requirements.

The Big Ideaas broadcast featured SCDigest editor Dan Gilmore, who has significant WMS experience, including implementing WMS systems many years ago, and Dinesh Dongre, VP of product strategy at Softeon, a leading provider of WMS and other supply chain software solutions.

The first part of the Videocast covered key WMS market trends. Two weeks ago, we published part 1 of this article series, which reviewed two of these developments:

Massive Consolidation of Vendors: The past decade saw a tremendous amount of consolidation in the WMS space. That has led to a number of at least reasonably well-known WMS providers to be swallowed up by others. Most notable in recent years was supply chain planning company JDA Software merging with RedPrairie in late 2012 and retaining the JDA name to create a planning and execution software giant.

Overall, that has meant fewer WMS alternatives for companies, though between the WMS offerings of ERP providers, best of breed offerings from Manhattan Associates, JDA, Software, HighJump and a few others, and a small new generation of Cloud-focused providers such as Snap Fulfill and Logfire, there are still a good number of options for companies interested in WMS.

WMS as a Platform: While this trend started more than a decade ago, it is just now really coming to fruition.

Leading WMS providers have or are building up a technology platform upon which all their solutions will work, with the same user interface, technology foundation, database and more across their entire suites.

This will enable much deeper levels of integration between modules, and the creation of custom processes and "workflows" between various solution modules without custom code, as well as the ability to easily add new modules into an existing implementation via plugging in to the platform.

Gartner analyst Dwight Klappich calls this new state of affairs "supply chain execution convergence," which he defines as companies adopting "an SCE application strategy and platform to model, orchestrate and synchronize end-to-end logistics processes. SCE convergence is where SCE functional silos are broken down, and business processes span, optimize and synchronize across traditional functional silos."


But while this trend has many advantages for companies implementing WMS, it also complicated the selection process. Now companies looking for WMS have to decide if they are buying a product or an entire platform. They also have to decide which parts of the integrated suite are really in  scope and which are not.


The evaluation process is likely to be extended as well, as there are simply more modules to evaluate, and companies must look at demos of complete integrations and workflows, such as between WMS and TMS.

(Distribution/Materials Handling Story Continues Below )


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This week, we look at two additional trends called out in the Videocast:

Reduced Investment in Core WMS: A combination of the very mature state of WMS solutions generally and the focus of the leading providers on building out these full platforms has meant in many cases a lot less invesment is going into the core WMS product a company wants to acquire.


Gilmore noted during the broadcast that there is an old joke in the WMS market about "what do we need, another pick method?" given that leading vendors generally already have plenty of such options.


But Gilmore and Dongre both believe there is still more that can be achieved within a WMS itself. Gilmore, for example, said he still believed there is an opportunity for use of additional optimization techniques to squeeze more productivity out of the DC - if WMS developers know where to look.


Dongre added that the requirements even just within the four walls of a DC continue to evolve and advance - and WMS providers need to move along with those changes. He cited omni-channel fulfillment requirements and continued advances in DC automation as two such areas where WMS functionality needs to continue to advance.


He gave as an example the traditional order release through a pick wave type process, and how that is now advancing to a more intelligent approach to sending work to the floor that is more optimized based on

material handling system capacities and constraints, in order to improve equipment utlization rates.


"There is certainly room for more improvement there," Dongre said.


And that is a good transition into the final trend:


Battle Between WMS and WCS Providers: Still somewhat under the radar, there is growing competiton between WMS vendors and providers of Warehouse Control Systems, or WCS.


And the issue is exactly the one described above, in terms of getting more throughput and utilization of materials handling automation systems. Some materials handling companies and independent WCS providers believe they can do a better job of optimizing pick release in tune with what us happening on the automation systems than WMS providers can - and in some cases they may be right.


So far, the WCS forces have had somewhat limited success in winning the control battle again WMS players, but Gilmore noted that in highly automated DCs, this is a competition that will play out over many years - and require shippers to make tough decisions about what systems will control what aspects of the DC.

The excellent full Big Ideas Videocast can be viewed here on demand: The Present and Future of Warehouse Management Systems.

What are your thoughts on our four WMS trends? Do you think there is still opportunity to improve WMS functionality or not? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback button (email) or section (web form) below.

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