This chapter discusses the latest software in warehousing – from the systems that automate your facility to tools for improving communication with your team.
Software is at the core of any modern, high-performing warehouse. Before even setting up your facility, you’ll want to consider how software plays a role in operations, equipment choice, layout, and more.
Picking the right software comes down to understanding the specific needs of your business and how the digital world (software and data) will interact with the physical world (warehouse, inventory, and team).
While many teams still rely on email, spreadsheets, and even pen & paper to run their facilities, the world is rapidly moving in the opposite direction. According to Statista, 57% of supply chain professionals are already using cloud computing & storage, 45% are using inventory and network optimization tools, and nearly all the rest plan to implement these systems in the next 5 years.
The biggest challenge stopping teams from adopting new software isn’t typically related to the software itself, but rather the change it imposes on a team and it’s familiar processes. If a team has “always done it a certain way,” you’ll need to consider the extent to which new software will integrate with or disrupt existing workflows.
In the world of software, they call this overcoming “schlep blindness” – an unconscious bias we all have toward ignoring solutions to our most painful and tedious tasks.
The modern stack for operating warehouses is made up of three key components:
Each component manages an increasingly macro aspect of your business with data flowing from the WCS, into the WMS, and then finally into the ERP. Together, they help you control and improve every aspect of your business.
What is a WCS?
A Warehouse Controls System (WCS) is the software responsible for operating and directing the movement of automated material handling equipment in your warehouse. It’s used to operate equipment like storage & retrieval systems, conveyors, carousels, sorters, and more. These systems come with varying levels of automation – some of which can even determine the most efficient routing of products automatically.
When should I invest in a WCS?
You’ll want to invest in a WCS when you decide to purchase automated material handling equipment. It’s a requirement to operate many of these systems.
What does a WCS replace?
In conjunction with automated material handling equipment, a WCS replaces the need for people to manually move products in your warehouse.
What are the benefits of implementing a WCS?
A WCS optimizes inventory storage in conjunction with your automated material handling equipment and minimizes the need for your team to physically move product.
What are some examples of WCS to explore?
What is a WMS?
A warehouse management system (WMS) is the software responsible for managing the flow of inventory through your facility. It will help you track the flow of products from receipt to putaway, monitor stock levels at every point, and manage shipping.
Side note: if you’re operating multiple warehouses, you’ll want to look into an inventory management system (IMS) as well (see “Inventory Management System” below).
When should I invest in a WMS?
You’ll want to invest in a WMS once manual inventory counts become a bottleneck in your operation. It’s important to have already clearly defined the needs of your business and planned the design of your warehouse’s layout.
What does a WMS replace?
A WMS replaces the need for manual hand counts and tracking inventory through spreadsheets (or even pen & paper).
What are the benefits of implementing a WMS?
A WMS provides a close to real-time pulse of your inventory levels, flow of goods (shipping & receiving), picking & packing, and more. This ultimately leads to an increase in efficiency and reduction in potential errors associated with tracking inventory manually.
What are some examples of WMS to explore?
What is an ERP?
Enterprise resource planning (ERP) software aggregates data across your operations, often sold in “modules” of features relating to specific business functions, such as performance evaluation or payroll. It helps you manage everything from your inventory to sales and marketing. It enables you to create comprehensive reports on the health of your entire business. Typically it’s implemented at a corporate level with warehouse systems being a critical integration.
When should I invest in an ERP?
In the warehousing setting, implementing an ERP helps ensure that data from your warehouse is being shared with corporate teams in real-time to ensure accurate forecasting, planning, and more.
What does an ERP replace?
An ERP replaces the countless spreadsheets and emails that all have to be managed and exchanged manually. In a fast-paced environment, it can become nearly impossible to keep these records up-to-date, putting teams at risk of making decisions based on inaccurate information.
What are the benefits of implementing an ERP?
A ERP unifies all of your organization’s data – enabling you to operate more efficiently across multiple locations, ensure compliance and security, onboard and manage employees more effectively, serve your customers better, and much more.
What are some examples of an ERP to explore?
Beyond the core software required to run your operation, there are a few other tools you may want to consider.
What is a CAD?
Computer-aided design (CAD) software will help you create 3D models and simulate the flow of people, product, and equipment through your warehouse before investing in infrastructure. We recommend reading our chapter on design before using any of these tools.
When should I invest in a CAD?
You’ll want to invest in CAD software when designing or modifying the layout of your facility.
What does a CAD replace?
CAD replaces designing warehouse layouts by hand with pen & paper and, with some specific CAD solutions, even replaces running simulations of product and people physically.
What are the benefits of implementing CAD?
CAD software will let you test multiple designs quickly and even simulate the flow of products, people, and equipment through your space without any investment beyond the software itself.
What are some examples of CAD to explore?
What is a IMS?
If you’re running multiple warehouses at once, then you’ll typically need an Inventory Management System (IMS). While a WMS is typically used to track data within a specific warehouse, an IMS pulls in data from multiple warehouse management systems to create a global view of how much product you have on hand, which location it’s being stored, and how it’s flowing through your operation.
When should I invest in a IMS?
You’ll want to invest in an IMS when you have multiple warehouses to manage.
What does a IMS replace?
An IMS replaces homebrew solutions and spreadsheets used to create a unified view of inventory across multiple warehouse management systems.
What are the benefits of implementing an IMS?
An IMS creates a unified view of inventory across all your warehouses – helping you better forecast, plan, and more.
What are some examples of IMS to explore?
What is a TMS?
A transportation management system (TMS) aggregates shipping quotes, tracks shipments, and manages payment settlement.
When should I invest in a TMS?
When getting shipping quotes becomes too time consuming or you’re overspending, but don’t have time to get quotes one-by-one.
What does a TMS replace?
A TMS replaces massive BCC emails to transportation providers and spreadsheets used to manage all of their quotes.
What are the benefits of implementing a TMS?
A TMS provides you with near real-time quotes for transportation, saving you time getting quotes and managing your transportation vendors. It also provides you with a near real-time status and location of your shipments in one place.
What are some examples of TMS to explore?
The software you choose comes down to the specific needs of your organization. Hopefully, this chapter serves as a good starting point for better understanding the operating systems running today’s modern warehouses, when to invest in them, their benefits, and the systems they replace. We’ve provided you with a list of tools to explore, but recommend digging deeper into solutions based on your specific criteria.