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Right Time, Right Place


There’s an evolution underway from the existing physical and technical warehouse management infrastructure to capabilities that offer multiple methods to store, pick and process orders.

Dan Grimm, VP, solution strategies at Scottsdale, Ariz.-based JDA, sees progress in a number of areas of warehouse management systems (WMS), including value-added services (VAS), food safety, the use of voice, and mobile technology.

A VAS — and food safety — example Grimm provides is the ability to capture the temperature in the nose, middle and tail of an inbound trailer to make sure it’s within the proper range for a refrigerated or frozen load, and whether the product can go on to the store, requires further testing or even be rejected outright. This process ensures that standard operating procedures, rather than operator decisions, are followed.

According to Grimm, one major warehouse trend is the use of voice as a replacement for paper- and RF-(radio frequency) based technology, giving grocers an increase in productivity of 10 percent to 20 percent in aspects of the operation that require two hands free.

Mobility, Grimm points out, has at last given warehouse supervisors the simultaneous abilities to do their job and be on the floor. “The new mobile technology finally allows them to have complete real-time visibility, be able to make changes from a tablet device and be on the floor with their employees, all at the same time,” he notes.

Future trends he anticipates are omni-channel fulfillment and the ability to configure capabilities to offer multiple methods to store, pick and process orders; warehouse optimization by having better visibility of the demand within the network; and in-store logistics in which retailers are adapting WMS to be used in stores.

No Longer Secret

Eric Lamphier, senior director, product management at Atlanta-based Manhattan Associates, says that labor management (LM) issues — long a “best-kept secret” — have been addressed by his company by embedding the LM module inside the WMS solution and making the LM module part of every conversation, including sales, implementation, customer support and upgrades. He adds that food retailers’ “pioneering efforts in this area have paid off.”

“One of our primary focal points,” he says, “has been a set of tablet capabilities delivered via a hybrid mobile app that provides DC [distribution center] managers with unprecedented amounts of information about the operation in real time.”

Reducing total cost of ownership (TCO) is an ongoing challenge, according to Lamphier, who points out that Manhattan Associates is continuing to advance its Management Center module, which handles installation, cloning, monitoring, patching and synchronization for all platform solutions.

“These capabilities have [been] proven to reduce implementation times and costs so that our customers can realize benefits more rapidly,” he observes.

Lamphier notes that e-commerce order fulfillment expectations, approaches and SOPs (standard operating procedures) have evolved rapidly over the past decade and require sophisticated, nonstop integration between the WMS solution and the Enterprise Order Management suite.

“We expect the next decade to be full of these types of projects as investments go mainstream, and upgrade and replacement cycles transpire,” he adds.

Store Into DC

At Minneapolis-based HighJump, Territory Manager Roger Falkenstein says that online grocers are meeting the e-commerce challenge by turning the retail store environment into a DC, resulting in such new requirements as supporting consumer-grade devices, displaying product images that help locate mixed-SKU item locations, enabling new workflows for item substitutions, handling variable-weight and -temperature items, and facilitating the interaction between store associates and customers to manage special needs, exceptions and various customer delivery methods.

“As a result,” he notes, “we’ve taken the foundation of our traditional WMS platform and built applications that support the unique requirements of a retail store, as well as the need to drive efficiency, control and visibility throughout the in-store fulfillment process.”

A remaining WMS challenge for grocers, as Falkenstein sees it, is the training of high-turnover staff. Driving efficiency is a priority, he adds, and grocers are looking for user-friendly tools to onboard and train employees quickly.

“HighJump’s philosophy has been to provide simple instructions,” Falkenstein explains, “directing users step by step with optimized workflows and minimized walk times. This helps keep the learning curve low and labor costs at a profitable level for the retailer.”

In addition, seamless integration is required among all of the systems that power the retail operation, from e-commerce websites to order management, ERP (enterprise resource planning), planograms and POS systems. “HighJump’s in-store fulfillment solution offers pre-built interfaces to many of the common solutions on the market,” he observes. “We believe that the future of WMS is not just within the four walls of the warehouse,” Falkenstein continues. “The retail store will be treated much like any other distribution center. This trend is being dictated by the demands of highly dynamic consumers whose expectations continue to evolve, requiring more high-touch customer service, real-time order status and timely communication.”

Cloud on the Horizon

According to Kirk Anderson VP channel and alliance sales at Snapfulfil SaaS WMS North America, with offices in Charleston S.C., and Chicago, “The most significant change in the warehouse management system in recent years has been the adoption of cloud technology where the WMS solution is hosted for clients via an internet deployment model. It’s a real game-changer in the way software is deployed and consumed, giving the user flexibility and scalability as their business expands or contracts.”

In the Software as a Service (SaaS) Cloud WMS model, the WMS is architected from the ground up to operate efficiently over the internet, Anderson explains, and the single-instant/single-tenant SaaS model is geared toward a fully inclusive model that includes software, hardware, implementation services, host integration support, training, upgrades and ongoing support for a monthly subscription, removing the need for a big upfront investment.

A principal benefit of Snapfulfil’s WMS, Anderson notes, is that it bundles the software license, essential RF hardware, and access infrastructure and services, along with the implementation services and training, into a solution with no cap ex required. “Our latest innovation,” he adds, “is the inclusion of new Business Intelligence (BI) and Dashboard tools within our WMS, giving customers actionable data in real time.”

Anderson believes that legacy, on-premise WMS solutions must evolve or risk becoming extinct. “The only evolution we can see is for them to move to the cloud; however, the challenges of architecting these systems to fit the fast-changing cloud technology model are significant,” he cautions.

The Cross-dock Advantage

At Miami-based Ryder System Inc., VP of Lean Supply Chain Solutions Bob Arndt says that omnichannel, e-commerce and subscription-based services all have the effect of creating smaller shipment sizes, and that a cross dock can facilitate this paradigm by consolidating these orders into larger orders that can be shipped efficiently, or deconsolidated from a large summary shipment to smaller shipments.

“In the search for a lower-cost model and more rapid fulfillment levels, retailers are trending towards utilizing smaller, less expensive cross-dock solutions that are closer to major networks of stores in medium-density areas, particularly in the Northwest, Southwest and Southeast,” he notes.

Arndt lists the benefits of a cross-dock solution: more frequent replenishment to meet customer demand, more efficient and minimal use of store back rooms, more efficient transportation use like backhaul, and fulfillment of omnichannel or forward stocking on fast-moving items.

As warehouse operations evolve from pure distribution management to more complex, value-added services within the building, retailers must look for ways to lower costs while providing supply chain solutions with added customer requirements and complexities.

“In the search for a lower-cost model and more rapid fulfillment levels, retailers are trending towards utilizing smaller, less expensive cross-dock solutions that are closer to major networks of stores in medium-density areas.”
—Bob Arndt, Ryder System Inc.

“We believe that the future of WMS is not just within the four walls of the warehouse. The retail store will be treated much like any other distribution center.”
—Roger Falkenstein, HighJump

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