In-person shopping restrictions because of the global 2020 COVID-19 lockdowns have led worldwide e-commerce sales, already steadily climbing for years, to skyrocket.
More consumers now see online shopping as their primary purchasing point—Forbes reports that global e-commerce sales totals are expected to top US$ 6.3 trillion in 2023 alone. Increasingly, companies are looking to permanently adopt new fulfilment models, such as direct ship, as well as store and curbside pickup. New inventory management strategies are needed in these changing times.
As a result, the need to integrate automation and warehouse management systems (WMS) has become more crucial than ever. Organisations necessarily have to adopt best practices for a seamless integration. A detailed automation strategy that’s supported and scaled by a WMS is key to driving operational success.
Ensuring best practices for WMS integration to automation systems
1. Possess a strong knowledge of WMS functionality requirements
This is critical for organizations that serve a wide variety of customers. Each customer and product SKU will have different requirements, systems, workflows, and associated costs. You will be better positioned if you can see the bigger picture clearly. This is how:
- Review each of your unique supply-chain execution processes in detail.
- Identify areas for improvement and innovation.
- Determine system requirements to accomplish this.
- Never forget that vaguely transmitted requirements is the #1 reason implementations fail.
2. Maintain a clear vision of your organisation’s automation strategy
Many companies have not developed, documented, or communicated their automation strategy to the people who are charged with implementing it. Since certain automated systems require a longer runway and tighter integration, accomplish this by doing the following:
- Strategically align operating resources with your workforce to make it easier to execute the processes and activities that will keep your company competitive.
- Use clearly explained performance metrics to motivate your workforce to work more productively to achieve a mutually desired result.
According to a recent report, the warehouse automation market is expected to hit over US$ 41 billion by 2027 as more companies look to enhance their fulfilment operations.1
3. Conduct secondary market research to ensure your WMS partner possesses a tier-1 or a complete WMS-capabilities ecosystem
Warehouse management systems and automation have matured over the years and are increasingly being delivered as a set of industry-specific tools and capabilities. While providers with years of experience in certain industries have a foot in the front door, there are ways to fast-track your own entry into the room.
- Invest time in the review of this technology’s functionality.
- Understand the underlying platform technology.
- Plot future roadmaps.
- Tap industry experience offered by WMS providers to understand how you can create a base for your own competitive advantage.
The more comprehensive the footprint the solution provider has, the better their technology will likely fit your requirements and ensure continuous “up-to-date” functionality.
4. Identify key personnel from the WMS provider, internal stakeholders, and automation vendors to complete the implementation process
This is not a part-time assignment. Subject-matter experts, process owners, management, operators, and other participants can be hired on a part-time basis, as required by project managers. The project itself, along with documentation and communication with the steering committee throughout the implementation process, is a necessarily robust full-time assignment.
5. Map post-implementation findings to identify necessary adjustments
Building off previously mentioned guidance, it’s also important to match the functionality that is available in the market to your specific processes (to quickly identify any gaps in functionality). This also helps ascertain and quantify how the new technology has improved your operations. When you define standard functionality, identify gaps that are critical and unique to your processes, and establish where automation has the greatest fit. This way, you will be able to adjust and scale your strategy in other executional areas.
Moving best practices forward
Make no mistake: the continued interest in and growth opportunities for automation (and material-handling equipment) will continue to accelerate as new fulfilment requirements, safety measures, cost management, and profitability strategies are implemented into warehousing facilities.
As McKinsey and Co states in a recent article, ‘It is estimated that by 2030, most operations could be automated as AI takes over the more simple and repetitive tasks that humans previously performed’. If this trajectory remains accurate, more organisations will tailor their operations to remain competitive and innovative. Companies laying the foundation for their own increased use of automation need a trusted technology partner to deliver full-system functionality and streamlined implementation with third-party applications.