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Consider these strategies for warehouse and labor management system integration

Beth Stackpole

Integration is one of the biggest hurdles in any labor management system (LMS) deployment. The challenge with LMS integration is not just

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to connect the application to other enterprise platforms, but to incorporate it seamlessly into the daily workflow of the warehouse.

Many experts and users recommend integrating an LMS with a warehouse management system (WMS). The traditional route is to implement a WMS to bring more efficiency to warehouse operations, then add an integrated LMS software component for additional productivity and cost benefits. Whether or not the integrated WMS/LMS solution comes from the same vendor depends on a number of factors, including whether a single vendor can deliver the optimal mix of features. Experts say it’s usually not worth yanking out a functional WMS just to have an integrated WMS/LMS from the same provider.

Besides WMS, LMS platforms can be synched up with other kinds of enterprise systems to deliver measurable gains. Integration with time and attendance systems, for example, can give manufacturers a truer picture of each employee’s workday, including factoring in the time spent in meetings or on breaks. Payroll systems are another common integration target, especially in companies that are trying to use the LMS to create a pay-for-performance culture. The labor standards tracked by the LMS provide a defensible standard for pay scales, giving workers a clear picture of how performance is measured and taking the guesswork out of paydays.

Given the importance of these three integration points and potential others, it’s critical that organizations take the time to scrutinize LMSes’ integration frameworks during product evaluation. Experts say to look for a platform that can be adapted to different systems to accommodate growth. Choosing LMS platforms that are Web-based can also help mitigate integration and deployment challenges because the architecture lets manufacturers roll out to facilities around the world while centrally managing the system. As a result, a Web-based architecture can be a critical factor in LMS maintenance and while helping to lower the total cost of ownership.

Though the specific integration points may vary, experts seem to agree that a standalone LMS isn’t likely to deliver the optimal productivity and cost-saving benefits. Just ask Randy Woody, an LMS deployment specialist and distribution center operations manager at Northern Tool & Equipment. Woody said having the core integration between the LMS and WMS is key to ensuring that the analytical data isn’t just static, but actionable. “It makes everything real time,” he said. “Within a few seconds, everything in the LMS is updated as soon as a picker completes a task that they’re working on. You can pull a lot off a host system, but having a real-time interface makes it helpful.”

The tight integration between the two platforms also allows Northern Tool & Equipment to evaluate the costs and benefits of changing its warehouse processes. “We have plans to introduce slotting, for example, to determine where to slot products and what products to place in gold zones,” Woody said. “With the integrated LMS/WMS, we can calculate those costs.”

The cultural side of warehouse labor management integration

Beyond technical integration are the obstacles to making the LMS an accepted part of daily warehouse and distribution center operations. At Northern Tool & Equipment, supervisors were initially required to tap the LMS and report back regularly to their managers. “That forced them to get more face time with the software and as they did, they got more comfortable with it,” Woody explained. “In a few weeks, that [mandate] was no longer needed -- they just needed a push to get over the hump.”

Getting workers on board with the LMS is another important step in making the software an integral part of the corporate culture. A sound communications plan can keep employees in the loop on the goals and benefits of the LMS -- both to them and the business -- and help them embrace the tool in their daily routine. Vendors and supply chain experts also suggest creating feedback mechanisms to give workers timely input on their strengths and weaknesses, but more importantly, how they can improve. The caveat is to create the feedback loop without bombarding workers and distracting them from their performance goals.

In the end, companies must integrate the LMS into their everyday business processes, but they must also make sure the system is predicated on best practices if they want to achieve optimal productivity. “If you’ve got inefficient practices for picking and then you use labor standards to do those inefficient processes more quickly, you’ve gained a lot less than if you have an LMS with best practices,” said Steve Banker, service director for supply chain management at ARC Advisory Group.


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