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There is a distinct difference between warehouse-management and warehouse-control systems, says Reader. WMS is primarily about planning and order management, ensuring that the job in question is completed, and that information is reported back to the company's enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. WCS, by contrast, is concerned about execution, covering tasks such as routing and device control in real time.
Whether such technology is suitable for the cloud is another matter. Reader acknowledges the attractiveness of a system can be hosted off site, eliminating the headache of local maintenance and installing regular updates. "Server farms can get quite a bit of computing power into the cloud," he said. When it comes to the cloud, the issue with warehousing software is reliability and rapid response. "At the WCS level, it's quite problematic," Reader notes, "if you're talking about high-speed mechanization, real-time control and response rates in milli- and microseconds."
Many WMS and WCS applications are tied to specific facilities. Their ability to exist efficiently in the cloud depends on a system's unique roles and responsibilities. A WMS must be able quickly to respond to inventory and order-management issues, including exceptions. Reader acknowledges "a general nervousness" among warehouse managers as to the ability of cloud-based technology to manage facilities on a consistent basis, especially where high-speed mechanization is involved. For a highly manual operation, on the other hand, "the cloud is perfectly acceptable."
Reader also wades into the endless debate on "enterprise" versus "best-of-breed" warehouse applications. He sees the possibility of WMS being absorbed by ERP systems, with many enterprise vendors already occupying that space. But the trend will likely cause WCS to extend its reach to include real-time inventory and order management. "It could be WMS that's actually out of business," he says.
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Keywords: supply chain, supply chain management, supply chain IT, inventory control, inventory management, WMS, WCS, warehouse management systems, warehouse control systems, logistics management
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