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Select the best WMS software for different business scenarios

Selecting the best WMS software for the right warehouse scenario is a matter of knowing what WMS vendors offer in terms of scalability, deployment and integration.

Warehouse management systems differ in many aspects. While all have the same goal of optimizing warehouse operations, businesses can deploy WMS software in the cloud or on premises. Some WMS vendors offer stand-alone products, solely concentrating on the warehouse operations functions, as opposed to a lighter-weight, WMS module within an ERP or supply chain software suite.

Different WMS software products integrate with other IT systems in varying degrees, too. There is an array of WMSes that manage single warehouses, and a number of systems that can handle a highly complex network of globally distributed warehouses. With all these variables, what seems like an easy decision to select the best WMS software for a business becomes a rabbit hole of options.

Once a business has determined its requirements, knows the issues it needs its WMS software to address, and how it wants the WMS to fit its plans for the future, it's ready to evaluate the available systems. Here are looks at the top WMS vendors to help determine the best WMS software for common warehouse scenarios.

1. Finding a stand-alone WMS for a single warehouse operation

There are several stand-alone WMS software offerings for smaller, direct-sales companies that operate their own central warehouses, or for companies that want to start with a single warehouse system but are looking at the possibility of expanding into a multiple warehouse and distribution environment.

These options can begin with a single warehouse and easily scale out into support of additional warehouse and distribution facilities as needed. These systems provide excellent coverage of core warehouse operations and they come with best practices for functions such as goods receipt, identification and putaway, inventory management, complete track and trace of goods, kitting, serial number tracking, and support for value-added services such as the preparation of products for shipping in special configurations. They also support outbound shipment planning, automated goods replenishment, sorting, picking, packing and shipment execution. Additionally, these systems integrate with mobile technology commonly used in the warehouse, such as radio frequency readers, smartphones, handheld devices and headsets. While not as tightly integrated as an ERP system, stand-alone WMS software offerings have basic data transfer mechanisms such as file uploads and data exchanges with other systems.

The best WMS software for any business is one that is easy to implement and easy for users and IT to use.

Whether it's a stand-alone WMS or a full-fledged ERP or supply chain suite with a WMS module, organizations still have the choice, in most cases, to install the WMS system in-house or run it in the cloud as either a private cloud, public cloud infrastructure as a service (IaaS) or software as a service (SaaS) deployment. For sites wishing to economize their initial WMS investment with a stand-alone system, a cloud-based system is the best WMS software to choose because of the lower, more manageable costs and the lack of expensive on-premises hardware and software.

Snapfulfil by Synergy Logistics is software that delivers a comprehensive warehouse management system that is hosted in the cloud in a SaaS environment. Companies have access to both the warehouse operations best practices support and technical support from the vendor.

HighJump is another stand-alone WMS software product that is offered as SaaS with full support and vendor expertise in both technical IT and warehouse operations and best practices. HighJump Software Inc. owns and runs its own data center. Many other WMS vendors use third-party data centers to run their software. The advantage with data centers from HighJump and other third-party, on-premises WMS vendors is that if a company ever encounters a problem with how the system is running, the vendor resolves the issue, not the business.

Finally, there is an option for companies that prefer to run their own WMS in-house because of connectivity, security or compliance issues. Click Reply offers a turnkey, in-house system on the Microsoft .NET platform that organizations can deploy in the physical warehouse or in their own data center.

2. Finding a top WMS for multiple highly complex warehouse operations

A majority of companies that operate multiple highly complex warehouses and distribution centers in many geographies already have supply chain and/or full-blown ERP systems that integrate most functional areas of the company, including the warehouse. Yet, with the growth of machine automaton and material control systems, the internet of things, and the complexity in warehouse operations required to meet the varying needs of e-commerce and other omnichannel applications, some companies are opting instead for specialty software. This breed of WMS software specializes in the warehouse and adjacent operations that can be configured to handle complex warehouse integration with warehouse machine automation and material control systems.

In these environments, LogFire is an excellent fit. Logfire Inc.'s cloud-based offering is only deployed as SaaS, providing a full-featured warehouse system coupled with full technical support and warehouse best practices expertise. This is likely one reason why Oracle recently acquired LogFire, recognizing its ability to handle the most complex warehouse deployments.

3. Finding a suite-based WMS for a single warehouse operation

Sometimes, integrating WMS software with a business' IT operations results in the business having to develop custom code on its own. Companies that operate a single warehouse want a comprehensive warehouse system and the ability to tightly integrate this system with other corporate ERP or supply chain systems -- without the need to custom code interfaces. In these cases, companies might be willing to sacrifice some of the leading-edge functionality that a more stand-alone WMS might offer for a higher level of integration with other enterprise systems that a stand-alone doesn't necessarily provide.

For these companies, the best WMS software will enable a company to start small with a single warehouse and scale out to support multiple warehouses later, if and when it is warranted. This approach enables the WMS to grow with the company and the company to pay for only what it needs.

Suite-based WMS software that comes with tight integration with ERP or the supply chain includes SCALE, TECSYS and NetSuite. It is also easy to begin with these offerings by implementing the WMS in a single warehouse. There is a caveat, however: To obtain the tight integration, an organization would also have to use the rest of the vendor's software suite. Manhattan Associates' SCALE, the TECSYS WMS and the NetSuite WMS are all WMS modules that are best run within the broader supply chain system that each of these vendors offers.

4. Finding a suite-based WMS for a complex warehouse operation

Companies operating multiple warehouse and distribution instances in many locations and with a need to support omnichannel and other complex warehouse fulfillment models require a full-featured WMS with integration into ERP and supply chain software. The WMS should also have the ability to integrate with an assortment of machine automation and material control systems, and the ability to work with the many different mobile and handheld devices that are used in the warehouse.

Operationally, WMS software of this nature must capably handle end-to-end warehouse operations with the ability to branch into adjoining operations and workflows such as yard management and inbound and outbound logistics so that managers both inside and outside of the warehouse have full visibility into the items that they handle.

Several suite-based WMS systems can handle these levels of complexity, and they come in both cloud and on-premises forms.

For companies looking strictly for an on-premises WMS that they can control and that integrates well with ERP and the supply chain systems, SAP Extended Warehouse Management is a good choice, especially if they are already running SAP software. This system covers every facet of warehouse operations and comes with a broad range of support, training and consulting options, no matter where in the world the warehouses and data centers are located. Companies get the advantage of running the WMS in-house, which gives them maximum control over the system and can be particularly advantageous for businesses with internal staff that have the skills to run the system.

JDA Software Inc. and Infor also offer on-premises versions of their WMS software, which is tightly integrated with other modules of their respective ERP and supply chain software suites. Both of these vendors additionally offer cloud-based implementations of their WMSes that can range from private cloud to public cloud, with IaaS or full SaaS support.

Making the decision

Choosing the best WMS software to fit certain warehouse/distribution needs, and also the skills of the IT staff and the requirements of the IT systems, involves careful consideration of many different business and technology factors. WMS vendors understand this, which is why there is such a broad assortment of systems from which to choose.

In the course of making a decision, it is also important to think about the cost of implementation and the ongoing expense, and how much (if any) code will need to be to custom-developed for the WMS to work properly. The best WMS software for any business is one that is easy to implement and easy for users and IT to use. The WMS should be able to integrate with other business systems already running or that will be running. Most importantly, the WMS a business chooses must be able to grow with the company.

Next Steps

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This was last published in November 2016

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