WMS as Change Agent (Pages 24-25)

Advice from true warehouse experts

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24 MM&D | November/December 2016 By Eric Allais Eric Allais, president and CEO of Washington- based PathGuide Technologies, Inc, has over 30 years of experience in product management, sector analysis and marketing in the automated data collection industry, including warehouse management practices in wholesale distribution. H ow is your warehouse or distribution centre perceived within your organization? Is it seen as a costly overhead, a drag on the P&L statement, a necessary evil? There are many parts of a distribution operation that do not make an obvious revenue contribution. Let's put this into the correct perspective. There's certainly an investment in employees to ensure that a warehouse runs efficiently. And of course, there are physical space challenges that come with a grow- ing, changing business. Introducing a suitable Warehouse Management System (WMS) can help drive the productivity of a given warehouse and provide managers with much- needed visibility about what's happening in their operation. With the right leadership, warehouse throughput (eg lines shipped per person) can greatly increase, leading to improved profitability. As in most things today, technology is driving a great deal of change. Choosing and deploying the right technology in the right places can contribute just as much to the success of a company as recruit- ing the right people. With warehouse operations, there is enormous pressure to improve productivity and meet or exceed customer expectations. Investment in IT solutions is also trending upward. So how can a WMS help? Implementing a WMS most often results in streamlining processes, finding efficiencies and sharply reducing shipping errors. Most distributors are seeing new opportunities thanks to e-commerce, but it goes beyond just finding new ways to sell. The ability to tightly man- age inventory needs to start well before the product hits the receiving dock and must continue until the customer gets their order. 1 Receiving, storage and inventory management. One of the key features of any effective WMS is its ability to track and manage resources within the warehouse. If you've ever done a manual cycle count using pen, paper and clipboards, then you'll appreciate what a time-consuming, disruptive and non-value-add task it is. Having to shut a facility for a cycle count seems ludicrous, but it is still a fact of life for many ware- houses. The lingering problem with manual cycle counts is that the numbers aren't always reliable, leading to potentially inflated values, possible write-downs or the accumulation of unnecessary stock. Today there is a growing awareness that a WMS can actually help warehouse employees cycle count more efficiently and systematically. It is possible to 'interleave' cycle counts by combining them with other day-to-day activities in the warehouse, such as slotting or picking. An employee may simply be prompted by a handheld terminal to confirm the number of items in a certain bin, which then allows the WMS to validate or update its figures for that SKU. To give you an example, one of our newer clients, PaulB Wholesale, uses a cycle-count module for inven- tory control. At last count their warehouse had an inventory error rate of just 0.06 percent in 2016, an almost tenfold improvement since implementing the module. Speaking of slotting and picking, these processes are becoming more automated and flexible. And that's an important consideration, because up to 70 percent of a warehouse's operating costs are spent on order pick- ing and replenishment tasks alone, according to a recent Zebra Technologies white paper. Ensuring that employees have the right tools for the job goes a long way to making teams faster and better suited to the needs of that specific warehouse environ- ment and its inventory. Helping employees work as change agent WMS How software can transform the warehouse from cost centre to profit centre

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