One of the common misconceptions about using voice-directed warehouse applications is that you should upgrade your WMS before installing the new solution. The reality is quite different. In fact, if you are using a legacy WMS package or home-grown system, you might want to think of work execution solution as a first step in preparing for your WMS changeover. This turns the conventional logic on its head, so let me explain with a real-life example.

Eby-Brown is the third largest convenience store distributor in the US with seven regional DCs. Eby-Brown rolled out the Lucas work execution solution three years ago and then replaced its legacy, mainframe-based inventory system with SAP WM. The main business drivers for installing Lucas at Eby-Brown were the same as for almost every other distributor: improve picking accuracy and productivity. Eby-Brown achieved bigger gains than they had expected: 33-40 percent productivity gains across several different picking styles, in addition to a greater than 50 percent reduction in errors.

Over and above those direct operational benefits, the Lucas system includes a suite of management tools, the Engage Management Dashboard, that helped managers plan and manage work in process, view and react to exceptions in real time, and measure and manage individual productivity – things that were difficult, time-consuming or outright impossible with their legacy system. Engage filled important gaps in legacy system functionality, giving managers better insight and control of their operations.

It’s difficult to quantify the value of these management tools in the same way that you can translate productivity gains and picking accuracy into quantifiable labor cost savings. Nevertheless, it’s important to recognize the value of these tools when creating a business case for voice.

Eby-Brown realized another significant advantage by adding mobile voice-directed applications to their legacy system. With the Lucas solution in place, the transition to the new WMS was a non-issue for pickers. They continued to work with the Lucas applications as they had with the legacy WMS, with no new training. As Chris Timmons put it, the transition to a new back-end system was “invisible” to workers on the warehouse floor. Had they followed the “conventional” WMS-first approach, they would have had to train employees twice – once to work with RF and SAP, and a second time with Lucas.

Don’t get me wrong: There are plenty of good reasons to invest in an up-to-date WMS. But there’s no need to do that before considering mobile work execution solutions. As this example illustrates, the mobile solution can actually serve as a bridge to a new WMS. Although Eby-Brown was dealing with a custom, home-grown system, the lesson is the same whether you have a custom-built system or a legacy WMS package.

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