Evolving from clay tablets to the cloud, mobility, and analytics, WMS technology is poised for take-off

Warehouse management systems (WMS) have a long history behind them. Warehouse managers in ancient civilizations already had control and tracking systems on clay tablets and scrolls. Today’s digital WMS are still designed to accurately and efficiently record the location and flow of inventory, so managers exactly and reliably know how much of any item is in stock at which location.

Beyond their core functionality, WMS can deliver other business benefits you might keep in mind as you plan a WMS deployment, including:

  • Process optimization: You can define in your WMS how you want picking, packing, put-away, and other processes to take place and combine. Process optimization algorithms help you determine the most cost-effective use of labor and space, enabling you to improve process productivity while reducing costs and waste.
  • Resource management: WMS can accurately assign tasks to workers by performing task interleaving, a best practice that reduces travel time, which in turn minimizes deadheading.
  • Inventory management: Using the WMS to maintain accurate, reliable inventory counts with exact location data also can help you decrease stock levels and reduce fallback inventory.
  • Customer satisfaction: Companies can take advantage of their WMS to accelerate order processing and make order fulfillment more accurate, both of which help to minimize delivery times, back orders, and shipping errors.

WMS in the digital era

Much like other technologies, WMS today are quickly advancing in what they help companies achieve, especially if you surround and support them with cloud and mobile solutions. From genesis to take-off, we can distinguish four phases in the more recent WMS evolution:

Genesis in the analog era (ca. 1975 – 1990): WMS supported basic warehousing tasks and were more accurate and timely than inventory tracking cards and other non-digital tools. People still needed to check on processes, which slowed things down. Because available solutions supported only a small part of companies’ requirements, IT had to step in to develop and customize functionalities. That meant upgrades and support could be challenging and costly.

Ascent (ca. 1990 – 2005): In these years, WMS matured greatly. They became more robust and gained such functionalities as task interleaving, cartonization, kitting, and cross-docking. They also became more configurable, making it easier to adjust them to how a company’s processes worked. Eventually, they connected with such other systems as human resource, transportation, and distribution resource planning solutions. Full integration with ERP, which also evolved rapidly, was the next, relatively small step.

The reveal (ca. 2005 – 2016): WMS have become mature applications that can support 80 percent or more of the warehouse requirements in most companies. Fast-growing markets outside of the traditional industrialized regions – for instance, in Brazil, China, or Mexico – and WMS adoption by smaller companies prompt vendors to refine the functionality. WMS become yet more configurable and transparent, and it becomes easier to manage inventory commitments even before the items get to the warehouse or distribution center. Leading ERP vendors spearhead WMS innovation within their overall ERP solution strategies. WMS and ERP in the cloud vastly enhance the usability, scalability, and economy of the systems.

Business transformation with ERP and WMS in the cloud, enhanced by mobility

Today and into tomorrow, we’re in a take-off phase for WMS. The technology can support companies’ digital transformation initiatives and meet a large variety of warehousing requirements in fast-growing, changing businesses operating pursuing ambitious goals under challenging conditions. Together with the cloud, mobility plays a key role in supporting warehousing processes. Customers who understand what solutions are capable of perform implementations with only minimal customization, preferring instead to optimize system configurations. Mobile and wearable technology will become complementary and interoperable once business managers realize that wearable, connected devices can boost warehouse efficiencies by as much as 30 percent. Mobile and wearable connected technologies can guide forklifts by means of GPS and beacons, or even monitor the health and stress levels of hard-working employees.

Cloud subscription models for WMS are quickly becoming ubiquitous, enabling companies to take advantage of the elasticity and scalability of the cloud, where they can access virtually infinite computing and data storage resources. Similar to ERP, CRM, and other software in the cloud, WMS become more powerful as solution providers resolve the security concerns associated with the cloud itself, mobility, and anywhere, anytime usage. The WMS functionality that is part of Microsoft Dynamics 365, running on the Azure cloud platform, is a typical example.

Business intelligence extends WMS

Business intelligence – such as the Cortana Intelligence Suite and Power BI on Azure – will continue to enhance the effectiveness of WMS stakeholders and users in different roles. By using visual analytics, people will faster reach more actionable and meaningful insights. Companies where large numbers of transactions take place, or where it is important to share subsets of data intelligence with logistics and warehousing services can use advanced business intelligence to bring yet greater control, speed, and reliability to warehouse and distribution events.

To-Increase is evolving its mobile solutions, including warehouse management and logistics tools, with new capabilities and a more resilient architecture, so they can help you realize more value from Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Operations as well as Microsoft Dynamics AX and NAV. By using the new 365 Anywhere Mobility Studio you will be able to create and optimize your own mobile capabilities in a way that is similar to working with the AX Anywhere Framework and NAV Anywhere Framework to build and manage mobile functionality for those ERP systems.

If you would like a demo of what we help companies accomplish with WMS mobility and see where we’re taking it, let’s talk. Please send me a note at fgrosso@to-increase.com.