This article originally appeared in the May/June issue of PARCEL.

The subject of warehouse management systems (WMS) is something that should be evaluated by every DC operations team, every year. The IT team should be involved, but more importantly, it’s the operations team that uses the tool and determines the gains from a new system or upgrade. IT should be the services group that supports the task, but all too often, the IT department is the group that determines when to upgrade the existing system or when to look at a new one. Speak up, operations team! You need a voice in this decision because an antiquated system causes rework, costly errors, and your business will find it hard to keep up with today’s competition without throwing people at the task, which becomes very expensive. Not to mention, throwing people at the task in today’s environment is harder. Trained workers that can assist in the immediate emergency of getting orders out the door are harder to find, which brings on many headaches and non-performance.

Modern technology and new apps can streamline the process of implementing much-needed functionality. If your current system is inflexible and the support is lousy, don’t even think about upgrading the current system. If the support is bad now, it is likely that the support will be bad later, no matter what the salesperson promises. Plus, if you are going from an old platform to a new Java or more current platform, it’s not an upgrade — it’s a new install, so you might as well investigate the new tools and systems that are available.

Below are some tips by functional area that justify looking at a new system.

1. If you have an older system that has a problem with handling volume of data or you are experiencing a need to reboot frequently, you have an issue. Immediately start investigating or, more importantly, budgeting for a new system.

2. The system or process you are currently using will not accept new hardware interfaces easily, causing the new hardware to malfunction and not operate efficiently.

3. The receiving process will not accept ASNs or purchase order receiving; therefore, you must create a receipt. This process creates at least 30% and up to 60% additional work.

4. The system will not allow you to store and pick from multiple locations. This creates inflexibility and increases walk times and touch times. Today’s WMS systems should have ultimate flexibility so that your operation can do multiple types of picking, especially if you have gone to multi-channel operations as many companies have in order to compete with e-commerce.

5. Putaway of product after received is not directed, thereby allowing the receiver to put it in whatever spot possible. Most companies that have this restraint have created rules to avoid havoc. Rules are always helpful and are usually followed when you have tenured employees, but new people tend to look for ways to avoid the rules.

6. You are not verifying replenishment, which means that when your pickers go to a location to pick, they could be picking the wrong product.

7. Order picking is limited. Today’s distribution centers need a variety of pick methods to maximize productivity. Batch picking for e-commerce orders is often the most productive. Therefore, if your system limits you in the picking area, it is costing the company money and, more likely, affecting customer service.

8. The best way to improve your operations is to have accountability of task in every area so an error can be attributed to a certain person, therefore correcting the mistake. Also, accountability helps ensure that the workers are indeed working. Without accountability, it is too easy for them to hide or to escape work and run through the day like a snail. Older systems have very little accountability, whereas newer systems have productivity tracking, reports, and graphs as part of the standard product.

9. If you are finding that you have more than one percent errors at the verification station, you are doing a lot of rework and creating a new position (called a runner) in the warehouse. A runner is someone that fixes mistakes. They run to get the right product when the wrong one was picked, or they return the wrong items picked to location. It’s time to evaluate a new system if this area of your warehouse has an extreme amount of people.

10. If you are shipping parcels, it is imperative that you have a good shipping system. Some older ones cannot accept ancillary letters (such as O’Donnell, for example) or dashes. Many older systems require a reboot when an error is found, delaying your packing stations and parcels to be shipped.

Technology is the key in winning the distribution process in today’s supply chain world. If your technology is not an enabler but a frustration, it’s time to look for a better tool. Technology in the WMS world has come a long way. There are good systems that don’t require a tremendous amount of cash outlay. Do your due diligence and select the system with the right fit for your company.