Other Voices: Lessons from the NFL


October 23, 2012 - MMH Editorial

Editor’s Note: The following column by Chuck Fuerst, director of product strategy at HighJump Software, is part of Modern’s Other Voices column. The series, published on Wednesdays, features ideas, opinions and insights from end users, analysts, systems integraters and OEMs. Click on the link to learn about submitting a column for consideration.

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We pro football fans had a rough time this season watching the replacement refs miss calls, lose track of the ball and generally muddle their way through September. Thankfully, that mess is over and the professional refs are back to pick up the pieces and get the season running again. With the experts in charge, we can be confident that games will be called more accurately, and our trust in the NFL has been restored.

The debacle at the beginning of the season is a lot like what companies deal with when they try to get by with an obsolete warehouse management system (WMS). Implementing a patchwork of solutions may hold the system together and keep operations going, but it’s clumsy to work with, does not give you the visibility you need to accurately know what’s going on and cannot be a team player with the rest of your operations’ systems. In the end, this uncertainty starts to call to question your business’s reputation. Although the patchwork of solutions may appear to be cheaper, it will likely only cost your business more dollars in the long-run thanks to inefficient functionality upgrades that don’t address your specific industry needs, lost time spent on new coding and workflow interruptions, and your company’s good name.
 
Instead, consider scrapping your old system altogether and installing a flexible, adaptable WMS with the visibility, tracking and upgrade capabilities to grow with your business and inspire confidence in your customers. The right WMS should not simply maintain the status quo, but enhance your company and help meet business objectives. Here are the top four features that will get your company over the goal line:

Flexibility: It’s all about adaptability: Standard WMS functionality will cover about 80 percent of your operational needs, but the other 20 percent should be configured to fit your particular processes and seasonal fluctuations. Furthermore, make sure the WMS is a team player: It should be able to integrate with other systems to give you a clearer view of your operations, as well as allow you to work effortlessly with multiple parcel and LTL carriers or integrate an ERP system.

Visibility: Inflexible reporting systems are frustrating, leading to wasted time and resulting in poor decision-making. Look for a WMS with graphical dashboard technology to provide the most global and in-depth view of the warehouse. The WMS becomes a decision-making tool for maximizing efficiency when you can leverage real-time data and business rules to make better decisions about order fulfillment across all channels.

Traceability: Like the replacement refs trying to follow the ball, a company that doesn’t know where its materials and goods are on the supply chain is going to make the wrong calls and damage its reputation. Robust traceability/genealogy and recall management tools can automatically create a full genealogy of every product made, tying batch numbers, lot numbers, full attributes capabilities, and other data to the appropriate finished products, as well as back to the production order or demand signal. This ultimately leads to fewer defective products making it through the production process and a greater peace of mind that you are better equipped to weather a recall event.

Upgrades: The right WMS architecture should allow you to modify business processes in the software rapidly, without taxing the system. Supply chain “app stores” - similar to those on a smart phone - are now available through a few select warehouse management software vendors and are one of the most innovative tools in the industry. An app store allows you to browse and quickly add functionality to a WMS on your own time and as you need it, without custom coding or disturbing workflows.

Replacing your old WMS with a new one may be as daunting as a coach screaming in your face about a botched call, but the increased efficiency and data sharing across the network will more than pay for itself in terms of dollars and time. At the end of the day, a new WMS will help your operations run more productively, help you make better calls, and inspire greater confidence from your customers.

 



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About the Author

Bob Trebilcock, executive editor, has covered materials handling, technology and supply chain topics for Modern Materials Handling since 1984. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Trebilcock lives in Keene, NH. Contact Bob Trebilcock.

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