60 seconds with Ian Hobkirk, Commonwealth Supply Chain Advisors

Modern spends 60 seconds talking to Ian Hobkirk at Commonwealth Supply Chain Advisors about warehouse management systems today.

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Ian Hobkirk, Commonwealth Supply Chain Advisors
Title: Managing director
Location: Boston, Mass.
Experience: 19 years in supply chain, including consulting and systems integration. Hobkirk is a former analyst with The Aberdeen Group.
Primary Focus: Distribution center design, network optimization, WMS selection and implementation.

Modern: What is driving end-users to upgrade their warehouse management systems (WMS) systems today?
Hobkirk: There are really two different markets. Big, established companies that already have a WMS are modernizing their systems. Then you have up-and-coming companies that don’t have anything beyond an inventory management system. There are different drivers in each of those markets.

Modern: Can you give some examples?
Hobkirk: For the established companies, one big driver is that SAP and Oracle have come out with significantly enhanced WMS offerings. Those releases have coincided with a generation of CIOs that have already been through system replacements and are less willing to look at best-of-breed systems. The pendulum has always swung between IT and operations, and now it’s swinging toward IT. I still wouldn’t put enterprise resource planning (ERP) WMS on par with best-of-breed for complex distribution environments, but there is a lot of functionality there that didn’t exist a few years ago.

Modern: What role is e-commerce playing in WMS upgrades?
Hobkirk: It’s playing a significant role. Retailers are upgrading their materials handling systems. They need to do more complex things like cartonization, wave picking and cluster picking because their labor costs to do piece picking are out of control. They need more accurate systems. Maybe they want to manage more than one forward pick location for the same SKU. There are also factors outside of e-commerce that are causing companies to upgrade their WMS systems. One of those is the need for task interleaving and true “task-driven warehousing.” They’re discovering that a lot of legacy systems just can’t handle those processes. It’s not in their DNA.

Modern: How about the up-and-coming companies that don’t really have a WMS?
Hobkirk: For them, it’s harder than ever to select a WMS. You’ve had a lot of atrophy in the industry. Five or six years ago, you had a few large players, but you also had half a dozen or so mid-tier companies with large user bases. The large players are still there, but a number of the solid mid-tier companies have been acquired or are less visible. On one hand, the mid-tier WMS players have really improved their features and functionality, but there are also more vendors that are less well-known. It’s just harder for a user to figure out who they should talk to.

About the Author

Bob Trebilcock
Bob Trebilcock, editorial director, has covered materials handling, technology, logistics and supply chain topics for nearly 30 years. In addition to Supply Chain Management Review, he is also Executive Editor of Modern Materials Handling. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Trebilcock lives in Keene, NH. He can be reached at 603-357-0484.

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