We know that many of you have questions about WMS and are considering whether to start using one. Rikard Jonsson, Specialist Sales at Unifaun, guides you through some interesting aspects to consider before you think about making a choice.
What is a WMS?
A Warehouse Management System (WMS) is an IT-based system for inventory control and the movement of goods in held in stock. Very briefly, it involves increasing the visibility and strengthening the efficiency of everything that takes place in a warehouse.
Companies needing a warehouse operation first need to decide whether to manage the warehouse as their own operation, or to outsource it to an external service provider. The type of external service providers who manage warehouse stocks are often called 3PL or 4PL. Read our guide on 3-4PL here. If the warehouse stocks are held in-house, a small warehouse operation can often be managed as additional modules in the business system used. But if the operation grows, it becomes natural to look at a dedicated WMS.
Driving forces to invest in a WMS
The driving forces for companies to invest in a WMS are often visibility and efficiency. It is a question of meeting the demands of increasingly discerning customers and ensuring that the right items are picked and handled in the most efficient way possible. There are many warehouses where staff still walk around with lists printed from the ERP system. As the business grows, this approach becomes both complex and inefficient. A smoothly functioning WMS should have the capacity to provide both an overview and uniformity. If the warehouse staff get the right support from the system for each task, the work becomes more fun, the staff more satisfied, and thereby retained for longer at the company.
However, a company’s WMS does not live in isolation. Instead, the system should be integrated with the business system (ERP) or the web shop. The system should also be integrated with the Delivery Management system in order to ensure as much automation as possible of the entire flow.
What should you consider when choosing a WMS?
As always, when choosing a system important to your business, you should carry out a fundamental analysis of your requirements, and which systems are available on the market to best meet these requirements At Unifaun, we recommend our Partners in WMS Ongoing-warehouse or Apport Systems. Both have well-proven integrations with Unifaun, which makes it easy to continue to use Unifaun’s system, or to start using either of them.
Below you can read about the 3 most important tips to consider before choosing a system.
Is the system delivered as software as a service, or as an installed system?
Some systems available on the market are so-called SaaS services (web-based), while others are installed locally. The choice of installation type is often linked to the way you work in the rest of your business. For Unifaun, the choice between the two variants is simple. You should use a web-based system. Here we are speaking on our own behalf because we have always been a web-based service. Some people claim that a locally installed system is more secure, but at Unifaun we maintain that it’s been a long time since that was true. Among other things, you get so many other benefits with a web-based system. For example, the system can be updated continuously without the need for manual updates, and it will also be easier to have real-time communication with other systems.
In addition, a web-based system allows you to log in to the system at any time, provided you have Internet access, in order to access all the relevant information about your goods.
How easy is it to integrate the system with other systems, are there Plug & Play connections?
As mentioned before, a WMS is not a system in isolation. It needs to talk with your other systems in order for you to maximise efficiency and eliminate manual work. In short, it is a question of automating what can be automated. Moreover, automation reduces the risk of human error, while shortening lead times.
The most common target integration systems are order processing systems. These are normally handled in the ERP system, but they can also be handled directly in the web shop platform. Integration is necessary in order to facilitate the input into the WMS of what to pick and pack. The integration with the order processing system needs to be supplemented by the integration with a Delivery Management system, such as Unifaun’s. This will create the conditions to avoid the need to manually input all of the orders for the carrier, and instead automate the process of producing the correct transport documents and ordering the transport from the carrier.
If the WMS you are considering includes ready-made Plug & Play connections compatible with your existing systems, this is a great advantage as you will not then need to handle an integration project. Take the opportunity to check references about the supplier from existing customers who use the integration in order ensure that it is proven and solves the flow you want to achieve.
The lack of ready-made Plug & Play connections need not be a deal-breaker, although you should be aware that it will mean added time/costs to the project for it to be operational. If you still choose this option, it is important to examine the system’s technical interface, the so-called API. Check that the API is open and well documented. If it meets your requirements, it means that anyone with system knowledge will be able to integrate the systems both quickly and relatively easily.
How quickly and easily is it to set up an efficient handling of your products?
Even if you believe that your activities and flows are unique, there will certainly be other companies with similar activities. If the WMS you are considering is built to standards and includes a varied range of flows of goods pre-packaged from the start, you will probably save time. Starting out from standard sets and then making marginal adjustments for your particular flow requirements is often a much faster and less costly process than starting out from a blank piece of paper and designing a flow.
Take the opportunity to ask the supplier about the companies it has as existing customers, with similar flows to your own. Make sure that the majority of your flow is covered by standard components in the WMS. Remember that everything standard is more cost-effective, at least in the short term.
We hope this guide will give you a first insight into what to think about when it’s time to consider investing in a WMS. You are warmly welcome to contact us at Unifaun to discuss WMS or anything else related to processing deliveries. Please read more about WMS at our partners:
RIKARD JONSSON, SPECIALIST SALES AT UNIFAUN