Unlike recording artist J. Frank Wilson singing the Last Kiss, I do think some warehouse professionals are singing that tune over inventory. While inventory is still a frequent problem with many, it would appear with the focus on Omni-channel it is going to become an even bigger problem. My projection is the company that can source, procure and balance demand and supply will end up a winner in this future decade of same-day delivery. When many are still working on their inventory accuracy numbers within the four walls of the warehouse, others are forming an umbrella of technology over their entire supply chain to give them a competitive edge.

If your warehouse management system is archaic or obsolete and doesn’t give you the flexibility or advantage of integrating to other systems controlling inventory, it may be time to look for something that will give you that advantage. The good news is: warehouse management and distributive order management software has matured. It’s getting easier to use and easier to implement. Recently, at a supply chain conference at Bryant University, an online jewelry retailer was telling their story; going live with an WMS in the cloud in less than a week and shipping orders with the system in three days! At the recent PARCEL Forum, a practitioner said to me, “I just need a piece of software to sit on top of all the other systems that has a holistic look at inventory and its whereabouts.” Taking that concept a little bit further, if that software could be intelligent and source for the customer their items on some set of rules like: closest facility, closest facility with complete order, closest facilities that will accommodate fewer separate packages in shipping, etc. Or if the software could talk directly to the website, when the customer orders it could confirm exactly where the product is and when it would be delivered with configured shipping cost. It’s that sort of software that will separate the little guys from the big boys in the future of ecommerce.

Inventory cost is in the top three operational costs within the supply chain, usually following labor cost as a rule of thumb. The focus has always been on inventory to some extent but with the growth of ecommerce and the emergence of new buyer demands, it has become the focus. When your inventory levels are off or actual inventory doesn’t match the “book” inventory, customers are disappointed. A disappointed customer may never come back to your website or, worse, with the open conversation networks available he or she may tell the world how bad you are at customer service. 

In the past, many only had to worry about the distribution centers and that will seem somewhat rudimentary with the convergence of in store shipments and pick up in store deliveries. It’s hard to imagine some retailers being able to handle shipping from store when they can’t even get product from the stock room to the store shelf to sell. Synchronized inventory across all your supply chain is harder to achieve than it sounds because many times there are disparate systems running certain aspects of the network. Can it be done? Absolutely! Is it easy? No

Prior to the boom of on line commerce in recent years, some companies had the vision and were already implementing systems that would give a holistic view of all inventories. Back in the late 90s, Amazon was already building a distributive order management system that would make intelligent decisions. Today that system has become even more robust as evidence of Amazon’s ability to execute.

Where do you start in evaluating the strength and abilities of your software? It may make sense to start with the most costly pain point and then work your way through every functional area in every facility. Make a list of all problems, opportunities and talk with your current software provider to see if they have developed any functionality to alleviate or to correct the items on your list. If your current software provider is coming up short or has decided not to support your current version of software, this is a red flag and puts your supply chain at risk. Technology is the driver to success and profitability in today’s economy. It is a tool to assist in making your supply chain more efficient and more accurate. If you don’t have the right tools now is the time to evaluate your alternatives. If your current software provider is okay but they don’t offer Distributive Order Management then look for bolt on systems that will provide you the functionality to achieve Omni Channel distribution.