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Today, warehouse management software needs to accomplish considerably more than just managing and organizing a warehouse: business executives expect a warehouse management system to optimize warehouse processes, reduce costs, and make workflows transparent. International corporations, in particular, call for a warehouse management system (WMS) that is able to control the entire flow of goods with only one software version – even across borders and in multiple languages, and with each individual site or subsidiary having different sets of requirements.
The flexibility of a software solution and its level of integration are equally important; for example, to connect complex warehouse technologies, such as automated warehouses, materials handling technology, or Pick-by-Voice systems. The focus here is on fulfilling requirements not only today but going into the future. Quite often, warehouse management systems that are only a few years old to some degree no longer meet current requirements as the functions or configuration options needed are not part of the software.
Experience in recent years has demonstrated that warehousing issues and concerns frequently do not receive the attention they deserve. Many organizations, for example, still use paper-based lists in certain areas; areas which have been proven to accomplish better results when using system-driven picking methods. In the spare parts business or in online retail, in particular, significant increases in efficiency can be achieved using modern, paperless technologies, such as RF data transmission.
This was also demonstrated in a warehouse upgrade study carried out by the Institute for Applied Warehouse Logistics in early 2011. Participants were able to take note of the goals they achieved following a warehouse upgrade, in terms of reducing their cost per unit, increasing processing time, and reducing inventory. 51% of participants evaluated their results with a grade of “good,” while 10% even assigned a top grade of “excellent.” Logistics is an area that, from a business perspective, is relevant to almost every organization and needs to be developed on an ongoing basis. Accordingly, continuous improvement of in-house logistics processes will result in a competitive edge for most companies.
The list of features offered by warehouse management systems has been growing steadily in recent years. Companies require ever more functions in order to take full advantage of the cost-savings potential within the warehouse and to be able to respond to future requirements placed on the warehouse environment. Here, efficient warehouse management systems such as EPG´s LFS go well beyond ordinary warehouse functions and functionalities and allow for an active management of the warehouse – which is also connected to human resource planning and to smart, real-time warehouse technology control systems.
Users need to be able to expand the software with little effort and customize it in accordance with their specific needs. Because they are highly customizable, systems that are designed as modules have the upper hand and can easily be adapted to future, customer-specific process workflows. This aspect plays a major role, as a high level of adaptability is pivotal to the future success of a company.
Technological interdependencies come at a price. The more self-contained a software is in terms of database and server architecture, the more flexible you get to be. Systems that were built on a “single code base” offer a particularly high level of flexibility, meaning that a uniform, standardized software code was used which can then be used and applied within the organization regardless of operating system. Using the warehouse management system’s open interface architecture, even solutions offered by third party providers can easily be embedded in the IT ecosystem. Moreover, certified system interfaces are highly configurable in terms of the data contents used. An open system can be seamlessly integrated into all common and existing IT structures, without the need for making changes to a customer’s tried-and-tested hardware and software architecture.
When it comes to a warehouse management system’s usability, problems arise frequently. Many users spend a substantial part of their work day “wandering” between the various screens of their software system. The efficiency of their work, then, largely depends on a software’s usability. By way of example, try to test how much time you need for a specific workflow process, and how many steps it takes you to get there.
For companies with an international focus, WMS projects must be coordinated on a transnational level. Ideally, a centralized software installation for the various countries and warehouses can handle a multinational’s entire inventory management and flow of goods in the various countries. One aspect to keep in mind is what languages the software solution needs to be available in later on. This will save on costly investments in terms of IT staff and/or cost-intensive hardware installations across multiple sites. Together with an international business focus, offering support in several languages is also of great importance from the point of view of a WMS provider.