The core warehouse management system (WMS) market is mature and dates back over 30 years. However, in the market overview of its Magic Quadrant for Warehouse Management Systems paper, research and advisory firm Gartner reports that WMS is still innovating fast.
The paper says leading WMS vendors are continuing to expand the breadth of their WMS footprints, providing more value-added capabilities that surround the core WMS, something Gartner calls extended WMS. This includes capabilities important to improving warehouse performance, governance and control, such as slotting, labour & resource management, advanced task interleaving, dock scheduling, yard management, visibility & business activity monitoring and performance management.
Linda Rodway, market development manager at WMS supplier Proteus Software, backs up this description of modern WMS.
“The role of the WMS system in today’s business environment extends far beyond the warehouse walls, and properly interfaced to the ERP (or accounting system) and the transport management system (plus other add-ons like load planning software, e- commerce, sales order processing, for example); it forms a vital part of the supply chain,” she explains.
While WMS technology continues to innovate and offer end users more ways to add value and positively impact bottom line, Gartner has also reported that “some end users have difficulty translating their business goals and objectives into specific WMS process requirements, which is a barrier to exploiting advanced functionality”.
The report reads: “We found that users often have specific WMS project goals, yet they are unclear on the functionality that would be best-suited to helping them achieve their objectives. To compound the problem, WMS vendor consultants were typically focused on and best-equipped to help with configuring the application to address specific functional needs. Likewise, there is minimal availability of third-party consultants that might help with this translation process.”
Linda Rodway says the best way forward is for the software vendor to keep clients’ business processes, goals and aspirations in mind, so they can be supplied with a system suited to their specific requirements.
“The only way this can be achieved is by sitting round the table, discussing the way they currently operate, looking at what they are trying to accomplish, the areas of their operation that are causing them the most pain, and what their future growth plans are,” she explains.
“At Proteus we take a consultative approach to our clients, often taking on the role of business process engineers. When buying a WMS system from Proteus, the client is also purchasing our expertise.”
The Gartner report also suggests total cost of ownership is a key factor driving the rapid increase in interest for Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) WMS in low to moderately complex warehouses, where subscription pricing models reduce short-term costs.
Linda agrees. “SaaS WMS, or Cloud WMS, will be driven by the smaller client that needs a system, but has not got the big ticket capital expenditure. There are many benefits to Cloud WMS including no capital expenditure, only a weekly or monthly rental fee. No in-house team is required to maintain the system as this is carried out by the software vendor. The WMS system can be downsized or up-scaled to adjust with the seasonal requirements of the company. There is no investment in a server or annual maintenance.
“However, in terms of security, end users must also be comfortable with putting business systems on the internet. If the benefits outweigh the objections, which I think they clearly do, I am sure that SaaS WMS is the way to go in the future.”
In terms of ‘what customers want’, Gartner says that over the last 18 months, WMS buyers have placed a particular emphasis on WMS product breadth and depth, vendor expertise, and customer service and support. Vendor and product viability and TCO continue to be very important criteria, but play less of a role in complex WMS engagements. However, they are becoming differentiating factors in less demanding transactions, says the research firm.
Talking with clients, Gartner also found that many organisations see the present climate of subdued economic activity as an opportune time to invest in stronger supply chain technology. Clients reported to Gartner that they are seeking to position themselves better for a future return to growth, and are upgrading warehousing and fulfillment capabilities.
Also looking to the future, Linda Rodway of Proteus sees predictive capability becoming much more important. “It’s all about the supply chain and looking at the bigger picture,” she explains. “Over-stocking is such a waste of money. Just in Time revolutionised manufacturing and the same can be said for warehousing. WMS needs to be predictive, alerting operations managers when stock is running low and in need of replenishment; and only then replenishing the stock. It needs to give the management team accurate and up to the minute information and reports, as well as controlling the operation in a leaner, quicker and slicker way.”
Published in Handling & Storage Solutions Warehouse Supplement June 2012