Warehouse operations have traditionally been siloed from the majority of other enterprise departments. Even in retail environments, warehouses were once largely considered sources of inventory with no real connection to day-to-day processes other than stocking new or sold-out products. With the ever-increasing importance of e-commerce, however, that view is no longer viable.
A siloed warehouse management strategy will lead to a variety of issues for organizations across numerous industries, including errors in picking and mishandling of available inventory. To keep every aspect of the enterprise perfectly aligned, decision-makers should look to incorporate omni-channel solutions that integrate their warehouse management system with every other facet of their operations.
Better WMS tools required
High-performance warehouse management systems can be drastically improved upon by making them a part of broader omni-channel processes. As the core engine underlying industries ranging from manufacturing to retail, the warehouse needs to be fully integrated with every network regardless of how disparate the related department may be. This is especially key as more businesses rely on increasingly complex supply-chain networks. Companies are unlikely to use a handful of facilities for their warehouse needs, increasing the possibility of miscommunication and delivery delays.
Over-arching monitoring is necessary to ensure that every phase of the inventory picking and shipping processes are carried out accurately and quickly. Competition in the e-commerce sector is fierce, and companies cannot run the risk of falling behind the pack in regard to service delivery due to an outdated warehouse management strategy.
The ARC Advisory Group recently conducted a study on current WMS trends, finding that the global market increased 6 percent last year. The need for solutions targeting omni-channel, e-commerce and supply chain platforms were cited as significant driving forces behind the documented growth. Researchers noted that more organizations are repositioning their warehouse facilities to support a wider variety of commercial channels, requiring comprehensive oversight capabilities in this field.
"[M]ulti-channel warehouses require new logic to manage omni-channel waves, put wall processes, and shipment documentation," ARC Advisory Group stated. "E-commerce fulfillment generates the need for functionality to support the piece pick, pack, labeling and other processes driven by the high labor requirements of e-commerce fulfillment."
What to look for in a WMS solution
Because warehouse processes have become so complex, only the most sophisticated management tools will be able to effortlessly handle an enterprise's various nuances and seamlessly integrate with broader omni-channel systems. WMSes must tap into every facet of operations, including in-store inventory databases and e-commerce order fulfillment networks.
Logistics Viewpoints contributor Clint Reiser noted that by condensing everything related to warehouse management into a single, comprehensive system that provides a high level of oversight, businesses can execute on their order statuses with ease and deliver products to their customers more effectively and accurately.
"[M]any [distribution centers] are integrating the fulfillment operations of the traditionally distinct channels," Reiser wrote. "For example, some of the more visionary objectives for fulfillment channel integration include the sharing of labor and inventory across traditional and e-commerce fulfillment operations within the DC, the inclusion of fulfillment costs in the fulfillment and order promising decision-making processes, and the development of more efficient e-fulfillment from stores."
Features of a high-quality WMS include:
- Real-time order and inventory status updates
- Warehouse operations oversight at a granular level across a global network
- Customizable deployment options to meet an enterprise user's specific needs
Customization is key when browsing warehouse management software. No two organizations are alike, so why implement a one-size-fits-all solution for such an important aspect of enterprise operations? Some companies may only rely a single warehouse while others may have an entire network of facilities that need to be overseen and coordinated. The right WMS will account for the specific pain points and operational demands of a business and other effective solutions.
Visibility is absolutely essential as well, particularly with more companies looking to connect their disparate delivery channels into a single system. A business that runs both brick-and-mortar stores and online shops should not have distinct facilities supporting those outlets. Not only would it be inefficient, but it would likely discourage customers who shop at one only to find that the products they're looking for are only available through the other.
Support the move to omni-channel with a reliable WMS
Omni-channel is clearly becoming the standard framework for all manner of business operations, but this approach is only as good as the warehouse management software that backs it up. Businesses need to be able to guarantee that items picked from one facility will reach a customer in another region as quickly as possible without any issues along the way. Industry-leading WMSes will provide the oversight and coordination needed to ensure that every facet of this process is carried out efficiently.
The high level of oversight offered by a WMS solution will also enable organizations to be more resilient in the face of operational disruptions. The complex nature of delivery channels makes them highly susceptible to unforeseen delays. If an item is mis-picked or a storm prevents shipping movement at a distribution center, the effects of those incidents can be felt far down the supply chain. WMS allows managers to spot where a problem occurred and quickly get to work addressing it. Alternate warehouses can be contacted to temporarily alleviate congestion at other places along the distribution line. This way, businesses can make good on their customers' orders even in the most trying circumstances. This translates into happier customers and, overall, healthier business.
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