Supply Chain Trends and Issues: Our Weekly Feature Article on Important Trends and Developments in Supply Chain Strategy, Research, Best Practices, Technology and Other Supply Chain and Logistics Issues  
  - August 15, 2010 -  

Supply Chain News: WMS Thought Leaders Discussion - Warehouse Management and the Logistics Suite

Warehouse Management Solutions have Changed Dramatically over Past Decade; Vendor Evaluation and Selection Now more Complex, as Cross-Application Workflows Must be Considered

  by SCDigest Editorial Staff  
SCDigest Says:
The word is changed from modification to configuration, and that is a good thing.  It is a good thing for us and a good thing for our customers.

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SCDigest editor Dan Gilmore recently sat down with Tom Kozenski – RedPrairie’s VP of Product Strategy and one of the industry’s recognized WMX experts, to discuss a variety of topics related to WMS and logistics technology adoption. The article below is an excerpt from that video interview, the full version of which is found at our WMS Resources Page.


Gilmore: It wasn’t that long ago that companies were looking just for WMS.  Now, the connection between WMS and some of these other logistics applications means it’s not that simple anymore – in a good way.  What’s happening with prospective WMS customers in terms of what they are really looking to buy?

Kozenski:  I would agree. I remember those days where it was just the WMS and in some respects you almost had to customize the system to meet the specification, so we have come a long way. I also remember the days when even within specific organizations, the persons responsible for warehouse management and transportation management were separate. There wasn’t the concept of a supply chain vice president or executive.  We would actually have parallel sales cycles in the same company at the same time for a transportation system and a warehouse management system. 

Well, those days have very much gone away.

I think from a standpoint of a market-maturity and an integration standpoint, we are seeing more and more customers wanting to buy the platform or integrated suite, which means they now want more intimate interactions between what used to be disparate applications and get to a point where one plus one equals three. Not just the simple closed loop where transportation plans order, throws them over the fence, and the warehouse deals with them, but a more iterative process to where TMS and WMS are interacting more frequently based on new orders being added, carriers failing to appear, order changes, inventory issues, etc.

Gilmore: Both for you on the solutions side as well as the buyers on the end-user side, that has to make the whole sales cycle more complex. I assume it means when you get RFPs those, they have to be more complex because they have to think about more things than just what is happening in the warehouse.  When you go into demonstrations, I assume you have to demonstrate a more comprehensive way of how these components work together, and more end to end workflows. 

Kozenski: Yes, and that implies that we bring more and more products to the table when we do our demonstrations and our product presentations and answering the RFPs.  In some scenarios, they may say they know they want WMS/TMS, they know they want them to communicate, but they don’t really understand what the optimal upside of that itegration might be, and the RFP may not call that out. 

Gilmore: It used to be these logistics suites were lumpd under the term supply chain execution.  Typically the analysts and others said that included WMS, TMS,and  Labor Management. But one of the things you said that increasingly it also includes some of the newer age applications – things like distributed order management (DOM), and web visibility.

Kozenski: Correct.  They’re trying to bring extended capability and sophistication down to the logistics/execution layer.  To state the obvious, we are very commonly sitting under a big ERP system to where that ERP system is managing the higher level business aspects of financials, order management, customer management, supplier management.  But at the point of execution, some of those capabilities around order sourcing, available to promise, item substitution, determining whether it needs to be shipped internally or from a drop ship provider, what is the freight cost implication – those are issues being dealt with in what we like to call the shipping window. 

When it is too late for planning systems or potentially ERP to get involved, I’ve got orders I need to ship today or tomorrow or tonight, I need to be able to provide some level of sophisticated tools to the operational staff within a supply chain.

Gilmore: Focusing specifically back now on just WMS, certainly if you have a system that is even 5-7 years old but certainly 8-10 years old or older, many of those were characterized by a lot of customization, very long and painful implementations. Those days are mostly long gone, for a variety of reasons – maturity of the software, etc., but also because all these things couldn’t work like that integrated in a way if there was all the customizations going on.  Are you really putting in straight, out of the box solutions today?   

Koenski: The word is changed from modification to configuration, and that is a good thing.  It is a good thing for us and a good thing for our customers.  It provides flexibility without creating added cost for services or wrecking their ability to upgrade and increasing their total cost of ownership. So, as the WMS market matured, we picked up all these little parts that were lying around us years ago.  The labor capabilities that used to be stand alone are now integrated in the WMS.  The slotting system used to be a little PC in the inventory office, now that’s part of the WMS. And they interact so that we can optimize all of those and provide value and make them more usable and frequently usable.  

But over and above that, it still holds true that the warehouse market has a variety of nuances based on either vertical process or material flow.  There is a lot of different ways to process orders and inventory within a facility so therefore the new systems of today provide what we call configurable workflows - the ability for our users or when we install it, set up very unique scenarios based on their business rules, and they are flexible enough that if they acquire a new company, they increase the size of their facility, they bring in automation, or they change their location, that configurable workflow can be changed and maintained and stay flexible overtime as they use our application without saying they’ve modified it or wrecked their upgrade path.  This point is especially important to certain companies that actually take it to the next level and say they want to utilize that configurable workflow to differentiate myself in the market.  Either as a retailer, a 3PL provider, a distributer, or manufacturer, these tools are now turning on the light bulbs if you will to say, you know what, if I do that, maybe I can win more business with this capability.


(Supply Chain Trends and Issues Article - Continued Below)



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Gilmore: Just to take it down to a fairly granular WMS point, this concept of task-interleaving, which is really to look at a set of tasks that can be combined together to get rid of deadheading or empty driving.  It has been around as a capability for many, many years – 15 years at least – maybe even longer.  My sense though really was it was not, except in a few instances, well implemented in DCs - they just couldn’t get their arms around it or maybe the layout wasn’t right or something.  But my sense is that over the last 3-5 years we really are starting to see a surge of companies that are benefitting from task-interleaving – am I right in that observation?

Kozenski: Yes you are.  And probably there were some biases from the old days around the importance of a dedicated resource because they’re accountable for that task.  I think overtime that has watered down and gone away as the next generation of supply chain experts are running these facilities and seeing the benefits and how they can optimize travel and resources but still keep them accountable.

I think another big uptick of applications that helped us achieve that connection with the operations folks is the use of the labor products that can actually calculate travel time and the actual how much time am I really spending traveling in a facility and I think that was a big eye-opener for some of the protagonists to this idea to say “holy cow, I should be paying my employees by the mile instead of by the tasks because of the lengths of travel they are doing.  Now they can see the travel time, they can measure it as a performance metric, work its way down.  If you really want to get it to an optimal level, you have to embrace task interleaving.

Gilmore: That is a great point.  In the past, the only way to get that was to send an industrial engineer out with a stop watch and weeks of time studies.  Or you did it once, but then change things around it got lost.  With labor management, it is right there in front of you.  One of the things you mentioned to me in the past is that you are seeing customers who really get the benefit of task interleaving may need to not think only about the WMS and its configuration but maybe even rethink the layout or the design of a building in a green field project or even an existing building rethink about things because the way you layout storage, shipping, etc., you may be actually able to get more out of task interleaving if you think of those things as integrated elements.

Kozenski: You can do many things to promote the benefits of task interleaving.  If you only did one operation on a night shift, it is very hard to interleave when you only have one activity going on at one end of the building.  So, to that point, clients can look at their facility – do they receive on one side of the building and ship from the other?  They could rethink that and cross-pollinate on both sides of the building where you comingle inbound and outbound docks. 

When do you schedule your outbound loads?  When do you schedule your inbound loads?  Are they at various times of the  day?  Can we in fact schedule them at consistent times of day?  Those types of activities will help promote interleaving.  Another example is even more mundane tasks, like let down replenishments or cycle counting.  Some customers and companies like to say they want to do that off shift because they want to optimize their picking and putaway. That is a very valid point, but what are the benefits if you comingle those tasks right in the middle of everything else – can you truly get them done with minimal impact on labor? They should look at these kind of concepts to maximize the interleaving potential.


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