For e-commerce and omnichannel retailers, effective inventory management is essential to running successful distribution and fulfillment operations. Inventory inaccuracies can lead to issues that disrupt order fulfillment, impact customer service-level agreements, and ultimately erode profit margins.
Warehouse-management systems have become integral to offsetting common inventory pitfalls. In a typical distribution center, a WMS connects to a host system, such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) or order management (OMS), to initiate key fulfillment workflows, including:
When searching for a WMS, retailers often struggle to find one that aligns with their unique workflows, processes and business goals. They either over-invest in a package that includes capabilities they’ll never use, or develop a homegrown system that offers diminishing returns, consuming precious internal resources while quickly showing signs of obsolescence.
To compete in the e-commerce marketplace, retailers need the ability to respond to intensifying consumer demands while integrating new automation technologies. It’s a dynamic environment where priorities shift quickly, business requirements change and fulfillment processes evolve. Those seeking lasting success need a WMS with the flexibility to keep pace with ever-changing technologies, as well as integrate with other software systems in their warehouse.
Many companies have adopted WMS software that allows them to configure the tool in line with specific warehouse workflows, without over-investing in excess capabilities or incurring the cost of custom software coding.
Throughout the distribution and fulfillment industry, the practice of integrating WMS with a warehouse execution system (WES) is viewed as the most optimal method to fulfill orders. As important as a WMS is to establishing effective inventory-management processes, WES have become just as essential for meeting the escalating demands of e-commerce order fulfillment.
With a WMS in place, WES assumes responsibility for fulfillment execution by processing incoming orders and providing real-time resource allocation. A WES continuously evaluates DC demands and priorities, and makes decisions with the goal of fulfilling orders as efficiently as possible. It balances activities across work zones based on available labor, material handling equipment and automation systems, to avoid bottlenecks and maximize resource utilization.
Distribution and fulfillment operations that select separate vendors for their WMS and WES platforms often experience difficulties when connecting these key systems. Because the platforms aren’t designed to complement one another, operators often are unable to achieve an end-to-end view of their inventory and order-fulfillment activities. Multi-vendor software solutions can result in a variety of challenges, including:
In addition, the partial integration of separate systems can restrict their individual capabilities and limit their potential value. The lack of end-to-end visibility of both systems can impede early detection of issues or the ability to prevent disruptions. Separate sets of key performance indicators (KPIs) can make it difficult to gauge overall DC performance. Limited scalability and integration flexibility between systems can hamper an organization’s ability to adapt to business changes and introduce unexpected constraints.
Multi-vendor WMS and WES software integrations can also cause redundancies and an overlapping of features and functionalities. This often puts operations in the undesirable position of choosing which software will perform which task while adding unnecessary operational and IT complexities.
A single-software sign-on for both WMS and WES simplifies interactivity with the user interface and removes the need to switch between platforms. This significantly shortens the learning curve and training of new end users, while simplifying the introduction of new functionality.
By adopting a single-software platform for both WMS and WES capabilities, organizations can reduce their IT and operational support complexities significantly. Modular functionalities allow for the alignment of software capabilities with unique fulfillment requirements, while enhancing the coordination between systems.
Seamless WMS-WES integration allows organizations to gain a holistic view of their operations, from order receipt and release to picking, packing and shipping. With the abilities to track, trace and optimize product flow throughout the four walls of a DC, operators can significantly improve inventory and order accuracy, resulting in higher levels of productivity and customer service.
In addition, organizations can set, track and report on KPIs from a single software interface. This allows operations managers to view alerts on issues that impact performance, detect and prevent disruptions before they occur, and optimize workflows and fulfillment priorities in real time.
The path to e-commerce success is paved with flexible warehouse automation software strategy. WMS and WES allow operators to simplify their software infrastructure and achieve operational efficiencies. Seamless integration, combined with the modularity to address varying degrees of fulfillment complexity, can help organizations across a wide range of automation sophistication.
By minimizing the expense and complexity of supporting separate software systems, integrated platforms can help companies to improve operational efficiencies while allowing them the flexibility to adapt to ever-evolving business requirements.
Mario D’Cruz is senior director of strategic planning for Honeywell Intelligrated.
Timely, incisive articles delivered directly to your inbox.