Complex Made Simple

Warehouse management

There is a reason why most of the growth in the warehouse management system market will happen outside North America.

The Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region faces the usual pressures to reduce costs and be competitive but also its own challenges.

Warehouse management used to be simple. The biggest problems used to be dirty barcodes or simple space management. This was before the internet made the supply chain and every aspect of it a source of potential savings and competitive advantage. Technology has changed the role of the warehouse to a dynamic one where complex logistics move at a much quicker pace and with little room for error. EMEA also has a myriad of languages, currencies, customs requirements and security checks that need to be accounted for.

Consider a company like Clinical Trial Services (CTS), which packages and distributes medical trial packs to hospitals in 30 countries on behalf of its drug company clients, and records the progress of the trials. The trials are often global in their reach and can involve as many as 30,000 patients at up to 600 sites. CTS project managers use Oracle Warehouse Management System to track every single medical pack from the time the materials arrive at its warehouse to its delivery at the site where it will be administered. Ensuring that the correct pack is distributed to the exact person it is meant for anywhere on the planet is a logistical challenge with no margin for error.

Making this kind of transformation is not necessarily easy though. Warehouse managers need to consider warehouse systems on several levels.

Satisfy requirements without customization

Warehouses are all different. Customers all want it their way. Satisfying made-to-order requirements is increasingly popular and using several warehouse management systems requires expensive and difficult to maintain customizations. This is especially difficult when it has to be done at the software code level. Directors should seek products that can support dynamic user defined configurations with great variation and sophistication in key warehouse processes such as picking & put away logic, task assignment, label printing and cost account assignment — without the need to modify any code.

Automate warehouse operations

Inventory and logistics management often constitutes the largest cost component for a business. The challenge is to control these costs while simultaneously increasing service. Managers should look at software that contains the advanced functionality like RF/Barcode support, directed picking & put away, license plating (LPN’s), to deliver both savings and service.

These may sound like small features but they can increase efficiency and reduce errors, as well as reduce training and management costs through the use of automated task management. Directed picking and put away can improve inventory and space utilization while cross docking support can increase inventory velocity.

Unify warehouse data with other supply chain applications

The Achilles heel of traditional warehouse management systems is how they integrate with the other supply chain applications. This affects both data and functionality. The problem can be eliminated by using the same data across all applications. This sounds obvious but most companies have multiple databases in multiple areas all with inconsistent data. In fact, many software vendors have not even addressed this properly because they don’t have simple built-in architectures that would make integration cost-free.

Oracle, for example has been working on this problem for some time now. The Oracle Warehouse Management (Oracle WMS) is one example of a system that integrated simply into other applications.

Other simplification to consider would be eliminating all latency, reconciliation and system interface issues, all of which are major headaches to the people on the ground. Receiving, picking, returns and shipping can also be simplified by using common processes across all supply chain systems.

Support Cost-Effective Global Deployment

Today’s environment requires operation across the full supply chain despite location. Unfortunately many warehouse management products must be deployed as point solutions to service a single warehouse, with functionality and support targeted at a specific market and geographies. This inevitably leads to information fragmentation, increased hardware costs, and support challenges. Companies should beware of fragmented systems and look at those that have been designed from the outset to satisfy both the functional and operational requirements for cost-effective global deployment. It is possible to have a global system that adjusts for specific markets.

Companies can achieve massive reductions in operational cost by deploying and managing the application in a single global instance. They can also reduce hardware and middleware costs by using built-in, device independent support. Finally, companies in EMEA obviously need to support multi-lingual, multi-currency, multi-organization and local functionality capabilities.

The Bottom-Line

The one thing that is certain in the current environment is that operational costs are going to be scrutinised. The warehouse level is one where technological improvements can deliver quick return on investment (ROI) and bottom-line savings. In cases like CTS and many others; however, savings is less important than flawless delivery. Consolidating data and using newer warehouse management tools can greatly decrease the risk of human error and automate processes on a global scale making the warehouse an obvious point of competitive advantage as well.