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Choosing a Warehouse Management System Provider

Key considerations for choosing the right WMS provider

Once you’ve decided you need a WMS (the key criteria for which we have discussed here), you need to decide on which WMS and implementation provider best suits your business needs. This is no small task as there are literally dozens of WMS package vendors, custom development houses, implementation providers and system integrators that could potentially be right for your requirement.

Let's break down the core elements of choosing the right WMS PROVIDER to ensure you have a successful outcome and long term value realisation.


Before you proceed, please be aware that choosing your WMS implementation provider is of equal and more often than not more importance than the software you choose, because purchasing great software, but not implementing it successfully will obviously result in high levels of dissatisfaction.

What type of WMS providers are there?

There are four main variants when it comes to companies that you can partner with for your WMS journey:

Packaged Software

A packaged software company typically develops software that is sold to a large customer base. These companies have spent many years and significant amounts of money building out software that focuses on meeting core requirements of warehouse management and can be broken into two core categories:
  • Best of Breed – these companies focus specifically on developing software built specifically for warehouse management.
  • ERP – Enterprise Resource Planning software is focused on the entire enterprise, but some vendors in this space offer warehouse management system modules.

Custom Development

There are many companies out there that can “build” you a WMS, whether from the ground up, or using a base shell of WMS features and then adding to those based on your requirements.

Implementation PROVIDERS

These companies typically step in once a best of breed or ERP module has been sold and support the vendor via technical and domain expertise in implementing the software.

System Integrators

System integrators will work with you to ensure the core software, hardware and even the physical design and layout of your facility are managed under a single banner during the implementation process. 

What should you expect from a WMS provider?

In many instances, it might be obvious as to which type of WMS provider suits your business, but there are always aspects that are not known. It's important to call out some of the important differences between what each partner type typically offers and explain the detail behind the core offerings they provide:

Packaged Software Vendor

Packaged software vendors such as Manhattan Associates develop warehouse management software as their core business. This software is designed to be used across their entire customer base. This has several benefits and considerations:

Benefits

  • If multiple companies in similar industries are using the software, it’s highly likely that what you need is already in the package or is being added in the future based on customer and industry requirements.
  • The software is built on industry best practice, i.e. many companies, just like yours, are performing specific tasks and functions in a similar way – and whilst each might do it slightly differently, they all are doing it pretty much the same and this is where the term best practice comes from.
  • Standardised, optimised processes drive efficiency. The core functions of a packaged WMS will drive this and if you are constantly changing the way you do things, you will never bend down and optimise.
  • Packaged WMS software is often highly configurable, thus allowing for multiple scenarios and variants of those scenarios utilising the base application.
  • There is a low likelihood of your firm becoming beholden to one or two developers, thus eliminating dependencies on key resources retaining knowledge and development timelines.
  • There are significant R&D budgets being utilised each and every year to build out the software applications.

Considerations

      • What you asked for isn’t always best practice and changing this will require additional development.
      • As your business grows the speed and depth of functionality required might be out of reach for the size and scale of the development firm.
      • System stability and reliability will become an issue the more complex your requirements become.
      • Your firm may become dependent on the software developer and even one or two of its key employees who have developed your specific code.

    Custom DEVELOPMENT SOFTWARE

    Custom development software companies develop applications that are purpose built for their customers there are benefits and considerations:

    Benefits

    • You get exactly what you ask for.
    • You'll typically get changes quickly.
    • Your company’s thinking and processes are being used to develop the software to your needs.

      Considerations
      • What you asked for isn’t always best practice and changing this will require additional development.
      • As your business grows the speed and depth of functionality required might be out of reach for the size and scale of the development firm.
      • System stability and reliability will become an issue the more complex your requirements become.
      • Your firm may become dependent on the software developer and even one or two of its key employees who have developed your specific code.
      • You are the R&D of these types of firms.

      Defining your functional requirements

      Functionality is key when choosing any software as the reason you are investing in a WMS is that the functionality will help you execute actions in your warehouse that you either can't do today or do in a manual and labour intensive manner.

      When considering the various features and functions provided by WMS providers, the most important thing is to understand, define and document what is important for your organisation not only today, but also for the future. Remember, once you’ve chosen a WMS you’ll typically have it in place for 10-15 years.

      One of the worst mistakes that can be made when you are building out your functionality requirements is to download one of the many free functional checklists that are available on the internet and using that as the basis for your company’s requirements – these lists are too generic and don’t take into consideration what the important considerations for your organisation are.

      To ensure you define which functionality is important for your organisation you should take the following process steps:

      • Build an internal WMS selection team that will be involved in the entire WMS selection, implementation and post implementation cycle.
      • Determine if engaging and external industry expert is appropriate – more often than not it will be.
      • Make a list of your top 15-20 current and future challenges, plans and objectives.
      • Engage with WMS providers to understand how they can solve those challenges
      • See this in action in a demo and at reference sites
      • Ensure you understand how future functionality is being developed and can be leveraged, as it is highly likely that you will continue to improve your operation using that functionality after you go live.
      • Distribution management is an umbrella term for all of the activities and processes within your warehouse. This includes things like inbound logistics, inventory management, outbound order processing and shipping.

       Where possible, adopt best practices, thus avoiding lengthy development timelines and costs.

      Looking to achieve industry benchmarks and follow best practice? Use this helpful checklist to ensure you have all the right steps in place.

      Get your free benchmarking checklist

      Why is Deep Domain Expertise Important?

      Domain expertise can be defined as a person with special knowledge or skills in a particular area of endeavor. There is a common perception that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at anything, but this differs vastly according to what you are trying to master. When is comes to WMS, we would suggest that once a company has achieved the following they will have built a high level of domain expertise:

      • Years of experience in a specific industry vertical – Typically 15 or more
      • Number of customers in a specific industry vertical – Typically 100 or more
      • Number of employees that service a specific industry vertical – Typically 200 or more


      It is more common that packaged software vendors have a greater level of domain expertise as their software is sold into specific industries based in its capability, whereas custom development houses are built to specific customer requirements and will be experts in your business and the software language they use, but not necessarily in your specific industry vertical.

      Looking for a warehouse management system vendor that has industry experience with the very best WMS, Manhattan Associates? Supply Chain Junction is here to help or answer any questions on the Manhattan WMS. You can also try our ROI calculator to determine the financial benefits of a new WMS.

      Get in touch

      ERP vs. WMS

      Whether you are considering an ERP, best of breed or custom development WMS provider, the question that will need to be answered is: “which is right for my business ERP or best of breed?”. This is because ERP WMS are sold as a module to the ERP and very few ERP vendors offer standalone WMS, whereas a best of breed WMS has been built with the specific aim of focusing on the warehouse. Custom development companies often act as a hybrid of these options as in many cases they have also developed the ERP or are engaged to specifically build the warehouse software.

      The below two core strategy considerations often drive whether a company chooses to go with an ERP or a best of breed WMS:

      Is the requirement an IT lead process?

      IT departments typically want to deal with as few vendors as possible and as such advocate for a single solution regardless of the operational functional requirement. 

      Is the requirement an operationally lead process?

      Supply chain and warehouse executives typically want to ensure they have as much flexibility, functionality and expertise as possible and as such seek a WMS that will meet these requirements regardless of the technical landscape.

      Once you are able to clearly articulate your WMS provider selection strategy around the two core fundamental strategy decisions, you will be able to start narrowing your list of potential providers. 

      What are the core considerations when integrating a WMS to an ERP?

      Almost every WMS implementation will require integration to one or many existing host systems. The most common integrations are to ERP, TMS and/ or Order Management systems. When implementing a WMS from an ERP vendor, there is typically an integration effort as most ERP WMS modules have either been purchased and integrated over time and as such are interfaced to the core ERP rather than being part of the standard package.

      There are two broad definitions of integration to consider:

      • Interface – there is a point to point transfer of data between one or more systems – this is the most common.
      • Integration – several modules of a solution are already connected or built on the same platform and share data and updates between those modules based on specific actions and reactions.

      What type of integration will you need for your WMS?

      The most common forms of integration to a WMS are:

      Point to Point

      There is direct integration for the required files from one system to another, typically ERP to WMS.

      Via Middleware

      Middleware is typically used in companies that have several business systems that need to share data to communicate and function effectively. The core function of Middleware is to act as “glue” between all of these systems and ensure that interface messages are sent and received, and where required, formatted and enriched to ensure that the sending and receiving systems can operate at their optimal.

      Shared components

      Some solutions that have WMS modules will be built as a single application that you can license various modules and then “turn them on”. In these scenarios, data is typically shared between the modules and the integration effort is minimal if not required at all.

      When integrating an ERP or other solution to a WMS, the most important consideration is the role that each solution will play within the business. Once this is defined and agreed, the actual technical integration is a minor task. The below diagram provides a generic overview of the most common typical WMS and ERP integration touch points and the core roles and responsibilities of a WMS and ERP.

      ERP or a warehouse management system

      To RFP or Not?

      The request for proposal process (RFP) has been in place for many years as the standard method that most companies use when choosing a WMS provider. In our guide to a successful WMS RFP, we outline the core steps that should be considered as part of the process. However, before you embark on a RFP there are certain considerations and benefits that should be taken into account as the process is typically cumbersome, time consuming, divisive and in many cases there are trends where vendors are refusing to participate in RFPs.

      Reference Checking

      Once you have reached a shortlist of two to three potential providers, one of the most important processes in the selection journey is the reference visit as this will give you the opportunity to meet your potential peers and understand their views on dealing with the specific WMS and implementation provider.

      There are plenty of software reference visit checklists such as this one to help you ensure you cover off the core governance questions, but perhaps the most important aspects of the reference visits are the learnings that existing customers will share. These will typically include:

      • An overview of their operation.
      • Core business drivers that have led to them choosing certain configurations over others.
      • Why they have chosen specific material handling equipment and how well it works for them.
      • External factors that make their operation a success, such as other suppliers and providers.
      • The ongoing relationship and partnership that is in place with their WMS provider. You are the R&D of these types of firms.

      Support

      Once you have gone live with a WMS, the support you receive from your WMS provider is critical to your ongoing success. Support is typically delivered in the following forms:

      Technical Support

      Depending on your operational requirements, this can be extensive as 24-7-365 support and should be available based on a priority basis ranging from immediate support when you have critical issue that stops operations to basic “how do I” questions. One of the great things about technical support is that it can be offered remotely as it usually requires that a support consultant can access your WMS to diagnose and rectify any issues.

      Configuration Support

      Dependent on the internal skill set and desire of a company, they may choose to insource all configuration activities or work with their WMS provider to develop a blend of insourced and outsourced configuration activities. At a minimum, every company should be able to manage the basics of WMS configuration such as user set up, roles, responsibilities and location or zone management, but when it comes to more complex business process rule changes, it may be advisable to work with your WMS provider to ensure they are optimal.

      Business Process Improvement Support

      As your business becomes familiar with a WMS and its ability to improve operational efficiency, there should be requirements to leverage more of the features and functions to continue to improve efficiency. This is where a provider with deep domain and product experience and a deep understanding of your business and its requirements will be a key differentiator to your success.

      Why Partner with Supply Chain Junction and Manhattan Associates

      Supply Chain Junction is a GeoPartner – what does that mean?

      A Manhattan Associates GeoPartner is an extension of Manhattan itself and, by achieving this partnership, Supply Chain Junction is accredited to sell, implement and support Manhattan’s industry leading solutions.

      Local presence and support backed by global support

      With offices in Dubai and Cape Town and a team of professionals based in those offices, Supply Chain Junction is able to offer our and Manhattan’s customers the highest level of support in the regions we represent, in local currency and at local rates whilst being right on our customer’s door steps when they need us.

      Manhattan Industry Accolades

      GartnerWMS Magic Quadrant Leader 2009 till today
      ForresterForrester Wave Leader 2018 - Omni Channel Order Management leader
      ARC AdvisoryWMS market share leader 2009 till today

      Customer Community

      Locally – interact and exchange ideas, challenges and solutions with our customers in the Middle East and Southern Africa.
      Globally – with more than 1200 customers across the world, our WMS community is the largest in the industry.
      Local conferences – region specific customer events to ensure we connect and engage our customer community annually.
      Global Conferences – Manhattan’s Momentum event’s annual gathering of the Manhattan community
      Product councils – did you know that roughly 30% of all R&D annual budget is allocated to customers to improve our product set?

      Innovation 

      Leading R&D Investment – Since 2007 Manhattan has invested over US $461 million.

      Core Investment and Innovation Themes

      - Get warehouse managers on the floor interacting with employees.
      - Track and manage warehouse labour.
      - Harness the power of selling against available inventory.
      - Save the sale by bringing eCommerce into the store.
      - Engage customers in the store with personalised shopping and virtual showrooms.
      - Deliver training materials and floor sets in real-time.

 

CONTACT SUPPLY CHAIN JUNCTION

Interested in finding out more about a warehouse management system? One of our warehouse management experts will help you achieve your business goals.

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