A guide to warehouse management systems technology
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The two longtime leaders in warehouse management system (WMS) software -- Manhattan Associates and RedPrairie -- continue their dominance, according to the latest Gartner Magic Quadrant ratings of WMS vendors and products. But SAP and Oracle are coming on strong, and everyone is scrambling to address cloud computing as SaaS WMS proves to be a serious option.
The Stamford, Conn.-based research company ranks vendors in four categories -- “leaders,” “visionaries,” “challengers” and “niche players” -- based on criteria that include their “completeness of vision” and how well they execute on that vision. The last WMS Magic Quadrant came out a year and a half ago, according to C. Dwight Klappich, the Gartner research vice president who wrote both reports.
Manhattan Associates and RedPrairie continued to outpace all rivals by wide margins as the sole occupants of the leaders quadrant, which Gartner reserves for companies that excel in both major criteria. “I often refer to them as the BMW and Mercedes of WMS,” Klappich said.”SAP and Oracle are playing catch-up with them, but they have credible WMS that will meet the needs of most people. They’re not as broad.”
Choosing the best WMS vendors
In the report, Klappich lauded Oracle Warehouse Management for its close integration with Oracle E-Business Suite, which facilitates convergence of supply chain execution processes from other applications. Other strengths included the Oracle platform’s mobile device support, use of business intelligence and ability to handle complex warehouses. This was Oracle Warehouse Management’s first year in the challengers quadrant, alongside several down-market offerings from Manhattan Associates and RedPrairie.
SAP, one of the visionaries, received similar kudos for its main platform, SCM Extended Warehouse Management (EWM), which has “strong integration” with SAP Business Suite, Klappich wrote. He added that the software can also communicate directly with warehouse machinery through SAP’s material-handling software.
“The two vendors I think moved in the most positive direction are SAP and Oracle,” Klappich said. “Both of them moved up this year in ability to execute. RedPrairie and Manhattan ought to be looking at SAP and Oracle and not just each other.”
Klappich said this year’s Magic Quadrant was unusual in that a large number of companies lost ground in their ranking for completeness of vision. He said that’s partly because Gartner changed its criteria to give more weight to innovation. SAP and Oracle were among those receiving a slight demotion. “They are not the innovators of a concept,” Klappich said. “Typically they do things five years after RedPrairie and Manhattan.”
In the report, Klappich wrote that Manhattan Associates has three separate offerings targeting IBM-centric, small and medium-sized Windows-based environments and more sophisticated warehouses. The latter product, Warehouse Management for Open Systems (WMOS), the company flagship, has “industry-leading depth and breadth of both core and extended WMS capabilities.” The company continues to innovate with new features such as distributed order management and returns management, he wrote.
RedPrairie Warehouse Management is in the leaders quadrant -- though outpaced somewhat by WMOS -- because of an "intriguing," end-to-end supply chain strategy that reaches to the retail level, as well as strong related applications such as labor management systems, according to the report.
WMS applications more model-driven, flexible
Klappich said two broad technology trends are sweeping the WMS industry.
First, the software is becoming more model-driven and inherently adaptable, allowing users to reprogram it by manipulating workflow diagrams or writing simple scripts instead of changing the underlying code. For example, Oracle Warehouse Management has a “visual workflow. It looks like a [Microsoft] Visio diagram,” Klappich said.
“Warehouse management systems have historically been very customized,” he said. “Support and upgrades become increasingly difficult.” Now companies with complex distribution requirements can use the newfound flexibility to be more agile and responsive to changes in customer demand. It’s the main motivation Gartner clients identify for wanting to upgrade their WMSes, which can be four or five releases old.
“There’s likely a scripting language where if people want to write their own picking rule, they go in and write it and it doesn’t affect the core code,” Klappich said. More applications also have PL/SQL programming and service-oriented architecture (SOA) for added flexibility, he said.
In the report, Klappich cited SAP SCM EWM for the SOA design and model-driven architecture it shares with several of SAP’s applications. RedPrairie Warehouse Management, in contrast, is component-based but not an SOA stack or a model-driven application. Manhattan Associates, he wrote, is the only vendor with a common technical platform for all of its supply chain management applications, which makes integration across the applications seamless and approaches Gartner's vision of model-driven, “zero-modification” implementations in complex warehouses.
Meanwhile, like most software categories, WMS is being transformed by cloud computing. Five vendors new to the Magic Quadrant -- Deposco, eBizNET Solutions, LogFire, @logistics Reply, and Snapfulfil -- debuted as either niche players or visionaries largely because of their SaaS, or Software as a Service, offerings, according to Klappich. “They’re proving that SaaS in WMS is more than viable,” he said. “It is becoming almost preferred in some cases.”
SaaS WMS is also moving beyond what Gartner calls level 1 warehouse functions -- simple bin-storage systems for receiving goods and putting them away on the same shelf -- to level 3 and sometimes level 4. Level 2 WMS does more to direct warehouse tasks, such as telling workers where to put away goods, while at level 3, the location capabilities get more sophisticated. Level 4 extends WMS to closely related functions, such as labor management and yard management.
“I think we’ve proven now that [SaaS WMS] does work, and so for a lot of organizations, it’s going to be a preference,” Klappich said. “It’s forcing other vendors to develop strategies to deal with that.” Manhattan Associates, RedPrairie, HighJump Software and Softeon (the latter two deemed visionaries) are all developing cloud computing strategies, he said.
Three companies were dropped from the list -- Aldata, CDC Software and IBM’s Sterling Software division -- mostly because their products didn’t meet Gartner’s criteria for sales or customer growth or are no longer being sold. Also removed were Infor’s WM2000 and SAP’s ERP Warehouse Management (WM) because they were not the companies’ “go-forward” WMS platforms, Klappich wrote in the report.
The five newcomers had company as niche players or visionaries from Accellos, Consafe Logistics, Generix Group, Infor (with its Infor 10 SCE) and Tecsys.