Warehouse management systems were first introduced in the 1990s, often as an add-on or customized extension to an Oracle, SAP, Infor or other best in breed ERP system. Today WMS is a mature software product category, so it’s no surprise that a large percentage of DCs are using WMS systems that are more than five years old.
Like other DC operators that rely on Oracle WMS and ERP systems, the operations team at Baptist Health South Florida was at a warehouse management crossroads. The inventory management provided by their PeopleSoft ERP was more than adequate, but they needed better tools to improve picking and other processes to increase warehouse efficiency, accuracy and customer service. Rather than purchasing a new warehouse management system, they opted to install work execution software to supplement their Oracle PeopleSoft system.
Baptist Health’s experience is part of a wider trend in the warehouse and distribution center space. Companies operating best-in-breed ERP or WMS systems – such as JD Edwards, PeopleSoft, NetSuite or other Oracle ERP or WMS systems – are looking for strategies to improve and optimize operations, without the expense of a full-blown WMS upgrade.
Every company operating a warehouse or distribution center today is challenged to fill orders more quickly, accurately, and efficiently. They are also dealing with more varied customer requirements. In response, companies are investing in a range of technology solutions, and many are rushing to replace older host, ERP or warehouse management systems. In a 2018 survey of DC executives, Peerless Research Group found that 78% of warehouses and DCs are using basic WMS systems (including in-house systems) or ERP WM modules.
Replacing outdated ERP or WMS technology makes sense, but age alone isn’t the most important factor when thinking about upgrading or installing a new WMS. The key issue for any company looking at WMS upgrade options is to define the capabilities you are lacking today, and then to determine the best way to fill those functional gaps.
Warehouse management functionality can be divided into three general categories: Inventory Control, Work Execution, and Reporting. Within each category, different systems offer different levels of capability. Many ERP systems provide basic inventory tracking capabilities, but they may not include detailed tracking to the bin level (what quantity of product is in each location – forward pick location versus overstock, etc.). Bin level tracking is common in most standalone WMS packages.
In addition, today it is common for DCs to purchase add-on systems to supplement the basic warehouse and inventory management capabilities of their current system. For example, many companies add standalone labor management systems outside of their ERP or WMS to get richer productivity tracking, workforce planning and labor standards tools. Other common solutions for supplementing core WMS functionality are transportation management and slotting software.
Along these same lines, more and more DCs are supplementing their WMS with external work execution systems. For automated execution, many DCs use a Warehouse Control System (WCS) to manage automation systems, and others are adding Work Execution or Warehouse Execution Systems to fully optimize, direct, and coordinate the movement of products by people and machines (including autonomous mobile robots, so called AMRs).
Now, let’s look at the situation at Baptist Health South Florida.
As noted above, the operations team at Baptist Health South Florida was happy with their PeopleSoft inventory management system, in part because it provided a single record of inventory across the DC and the organization’s hospital network. What they needed, however, was more advanced picking and work execution tools for the warehouse.
In Baptist’s case, Lucas Work Execution software supplements their ERP with more flexible, adaptable workflows, and richer reporting and analytics. In addition, the Lucas software had a far lower initial cost and faster implementation time, as well as a larger return on investment. Dale Adamson, AVP of Logistics and Distribution, summed it up best: “We got 70% of what we wanted in a new WMS, but at 1/8 of the cost.”
Beyond the cost considerations, the Lucas Work Execution solution includes work optimization tools and next generation mobile applications that are not available in a WMS. With the Lucas solution in place, Baptist Health doubled productivity in their main piece picking area, and increased productivity and accuracy across all areas of the DC.
Anyone considering a new WMS has scores of products to consider, but you might also want to consider work execution software as an alternative to a new WMS.
Work execution software eliminates the cost and risk of replacing your core systems, and it’s a solution that will prolong the life of your current Oracle ERP or WMS. More importantly, best-in-breed work execution software provides richer, more flexible execution capabilities than you can get in a new WMS. For many DCs it is the best way to get the new warehouse management capabilities they need.