Is Waveless Execution the New Norm?

Today’s customer loves convenience and instant gratification. There may soon be a day in our lifetime, where giant floating airships get products in the hands of a customer using drones or other rapid shipment strategies. But until then, the best of supply chain minds will continue to innovate for efficiency within current limitations.

As eCommerce giants have made 2-day, same day or even 2-hour delivery time frames the new normal, traditional brick and mortar retailers are also investing in supply chain technology to offer similar service levels to procure and retain customer loyalty.

To support such service levels, Supply chain software solutions providers have realized the need to re-think their order fulfillment strategy. For the last 15 years traditional warehouse management systems tapped the market potential to prove the value of disciplined warehousing using a methodical batch process, commonly called a “wave process”, to fulfill orders and keep the warehouse associates engaged to a plan. Over the last few years, the expectations of the new age customers have caused a disruption to the traditional order fulfillment approach. With necessity comes invention and the race to capture this efficiency opportunity, commonly termed “waveless execution”, is real and imminent.

The batch processing model worked effectively for brick and mortar supply chain. The sales forecast established a planned need for different stores while accounting for safety stock levels. Robust store allocation and replenishment systems generated store orders on a planned frequency. The distribution center executed the established plan and the product got to the store and eventually to the customer. The warehouse management systems providers continued to offer features that created disciple and methodical execution.

As customer buying practices changed to buying online more than buying in a store, the warehouse management systems providers facilitated effective picking strategies to accommodate the need through effective product sortation in conjunction with unit sorters and other control systems to quickly sort and ship orders to the customer. The warehouse management system continued to create work in batches and passed along the information to control systems to be processed sequentially. This meant committing to a processing sequence with no flexibility for the customer orders that require a higher service level because they did not make it to the queue on time.

When a platinum medallion member is late and walks in while general boarding has started, does he/she get to bypass the line, or will the airline ask him/her to take a spot with Zone 5? While it’s a very loose analogy, that kind of flexibility at the right time within  the process is the new opportunity for waveless execution.

To keep up with changing times, warehouse management systems providers are investing in building this flexibility upfront with features to process orders based on service level requirements and priority and dictate these priorities to a traditional control system. On the other side, traditional control systems providers are building capability to take a batch, break up the work and manage the picking activity from there.

Will a WMS be limited to an inventory management system that creates the body of work and leave the efficiencies to a modern warehouse execution system or will a WMS offer compelling flexibility and continued discipline to dictate the need to a control system? Time will certainly tell.

The goals have been clearly laid out:

1) Offer flexibility and intelligent order release capability

2) Better utilization of DC resources (People, Conveyors, Chutes, Putwall)

3) Better service levels by eliminating 4-wall operational delays.

There is a compelling business case and a definite return on investment. In addition, it plays a part in the ability to hold onto loyal customers. Having had the pleasure of interacting with some of the best supply chain minds, I am certain one or more of their supply chain solutions powerhouses will solve the problem and do so well. In the meanwhile, I just hope the airships don’t become the new normal too soon. Although, I may not complain as a customer!

Contributor: Ram Gopalakrishan, CEO at Bricz

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