9 Qualities To Look For in a Warehouse Management System


Not all warehouse management solutions are created equal, the right WMS saves you time and money and ultimately increases your customers’ satisfaction. By Pathguide Technologies May 21, 2013 supplychain247.com

The key to choosing the right WMS in maximizing customer service and satisfaction.

A good WMS will provide a spike in customer service, leading to greater customer satisfaction and increased profitability. Not having a good WMS means constant struggles to keep a stable customer base.

So, what should you look for in a good warehouse management system? Here are 9 qualities that a good WMS should have.

1) Maximum Functionality
Obviously, the first thing you need to learn about a WMS solution is what it can do for you.

When analyzing a WMS solution, ask yourself, “Will this WMS streamline our business processes?” For instance, if your company has a hard time measuring employees’ productivity, a good WMS solution will help. A WMS should be able to track what tasks an employee has performed (and where they were performed), giving you direct visibility your workforce’s efficiency.

There are dozens of other ways in which a WMS can help you do more with fewer resources (you can read about those advanced WMS features here). The takeaway from this particular point is that a good WMS maximizes the things it can do for you while minimizing the work on your end.

In short, does the WMS solution do more with less? If so, it might be a good candidate.

2) Ease of Use
If a WMS is easy to use, it will reduce the amount of time you spend on employee training – for ALL employees, from pickers to senior management. A well-designed WMS lets users spend less time setting up and monitoring daily operations, so they are able to quickly adapt to new requirements.

New employees can also be up and running in a matter of hours, instead of weeks. Most importantly, clear navigation ensures that all employees will be able to leverage the WMS functionality to the fullest.

When choosing a WMS, look for easy to follow menus and help screens that can improve usability. For example, make sure the WMS allows for simplified data entry and creation of template reports and charts. Similarly, a dashboard view (which automatically updates in real-time) provides users with a single location to access all of their most critical data.

To sum up, does your potential WMS appear easy to use?

3) Complete Transaction Management
A good WMS will let you manage everything from door to door – from receiving to manifesting. 

You want a WMS that gives you detailed information for everything – products, employees, and transactions – every step of the way.

At a minimum, the following are some of the steps that should be tracked:

  • Receiving
  • Putting away received goods
  • Order picking
  • Shipping
  • Cycle counting (inventory audits)
  • Any item movement

When you can track everything that is going on in your warehouse (from people to movement to products), you can do specialized analysis that will help you hire smarter and stock products more efficiently.

So, when looking at a WMS solution, ask yourself “Does this WMS track and help me manage all of my resources?”

4) Flexibility
A WMS solution needs to be able to scale with a company’s growth and adapt to meet future requirements. Otherwise, it’s not a long-term WMS solution.

To look at whether or not a solution is scalable, first find out if a WMS works with the majority of ERPs. Why look at other ERPs? Because you might change ERP systems when your company gets bigger – it’s crucial to know that your WMS will be able to work with other ERPs. Another consideration is if the WMS is built around an open architecture. If it is, your WMS is more likely to work with future applications and operating systems (rather than locking you into in a particular platform).

Another flexible quality would include hardware. A WMS should be compatible with other versions of:

  • RF scanners/terminals
  • fork truck-mounted RF terminals
  • label printers
  • scales

Finally, how flexible is your potential WMS when it comes to different business types and sizes? A good WMS should have demonstrable success with wholesale and industrial distributors of all sizes.

If your business is successful, it will grow and continue to grow. Your investments, including a WMS, should be able to grow with your business. That’s why flexibility in a WMS is important – so check to see if a potential WMS works with many ERPs, hardware brands and types, and business models and sizes.

5) Useful, Easy-to-read Metrics
Data is important, but so is data presentation. It’s one thing to have metrics that help you track performance of your warehouse operations; it’s quite another to be able to understand the data.

A good WMS should allow you to easily create reports and charts that let you see how your warehouse is running. For example, a good WMS might track employee and warehouse performance in real-time across organizational groups, allowing management to compare performance of employee sets (morning pickers, evening pickers, receiving, etc.) and operational organizations (east division, west division, etc.). You want to invest in a WMS that measures the performance of individual employees against standards that include both speed and accuracy.

So, when looking at a WMS solution, ask yourself, “Does this WMS give me warehouse metrics that I can use and understand? Can I set new business goals based on these metrics?”

6) Seamless ERP Integration
Your WMS has to work in tandem with your ERP to keep a business running. That’s why it’s so important that you choose a WMS that works with major ERP systems – seamlessly.

The WMS that you invest in must be fully compatible with your current ERP system. When choosing a WMS, ask if it’s compatible with Activant, Infor, JD Edwards, MS Dynamics or Oracle’s business solutions. In addition, a WMS vendor should be skilled at developing additional ERP integrations.

7) Proven Track Record
To find out how well a WMS works, you want to get information from the people who actuall use it. Ask for a list of customer references. When talking to these customers, focus on how well the system performs. Did it meet all expectations? What kind of customer support is available, and how would the user rate the support they receive? How was the follow up?

Make sure to actually go out and visit multiple customer sites. See how the system performs in a given setting (of course recognizing that one company’s needs may not exactly be those of another). If possible, make these visits without any salespeople present to ensure one is getting the full story.

8) Value for ROI
Price is only one small part of total cost of ownership. Functionality, flexibility, integration, scalability, ease of use, customer support and more all come into play. When choosing a WMS, you obviously need to weigh these factors. Remember that lower upfront cost may seem appealing, but may ultimately cost you more in the long run if the WMS solution (or vendor) is unable to meet your needs as your business continues to grow and develop.

In fact, a poorly chosen WMS can end up costing you more than it saves as you attempt to fix problems with costly integration or customization work to fit requirements. That’s why it’s crucial to look at the overall value of a WMS solution – does the slightly more expensive WMS do more of what you need, now? It might cost you less over the lifetime of the product, even if the initial price tag is more than an off-the-shelf solution that appears frugal.

9) Commitment to Warehousing and Logistics
A final indicator can be found in the vendor’s overall focus (or lack thereof) on warehousing and logistics. In many cases, WMS solutions are available from companies that offer business solution tools spanning many industries and requirements. This may enable those vendors to diversify their offerings, but it also restricts their day-to-day insight into the very specific, niche field of warehouse management.

One concrete way to gauge this commitment is to track how frequently, consistently, and extensively a vendor is upgrading its WMS. Are they proactive in soliciting customer feedback? Are they acting to quickly take advantage of market changes? Are they providing upgrades and updates free of charge?

A good WMS should be just as adept at doing core things like receiving and order picking as handling comprehensive solutions (like manifesting, paperless picking across multiple zones, truck route/stop management or exotic lot number control).

The right WMS saves you time and money and ultimately increases your customers’ satisfaction. On the other hand, the wrong WMS can actually damage your customer service and reputation while dragging down productivity – as it drives up costs.

The difference between purchasing the right WMS and the wrong WMS is simply a matter of knowing which questions to ask.