In almost any warehouse you enter today, you will see people scanning boxes and looking at a small screen to tell them what to do with that box. You will see boxes on conveyors being shuttled from one area to another, passing through scanners and then being diverted to some far corner of a warehouse for another person to scan it and perform another set of tasks.
This is the standard warehouse, and it has been for more than a decade now. Most people I interact with that are not in the supply chain industry look with awe at videos and pictures of the automation inside distribution centers I visit. Even as someone who only saw the tail-end of the non-automated warehouse era, today’s facilities are still quite remarkable.
So, why are so many retailers failing to meet their online and in-person demand, especially with all this incredible technology at their disposal?
The Supply Chain Technology Era
Over the past few decades, investments in supply chain technology have sky rocketed, as the race to keep up with customer demands began. When Amazon introduced 2-day shipping for its prime products in 2005, retailers were put behind the 8-ball to catch up and offer similar service levels to their consumers.
The majority of the first round of investments in supply chain technology came in the form of Warehouse Management Systems. Companies began reluctantly dropping their decades’ old excel spreadsheets for databases and modern technologies, developed to manage and allocate inventory in a more sophisticated and robust manner. However, the technology brought with it a rapid pace of change. According to this PEW Research Center article, a nearly 360% increase in online-shopping was seen among adults from 2000 to 2016. This drastic transformation left, almost every retailer scrambling to catch up.
Quickly after the WMS adoption, other technologies and methodologies became prevalent in the supply chain industry. Wave-based operations moved to wave-less approaches, balanced throughput became more sustainable than large-batch “push” methodologies, and sophisticated material handling automation flooded the market.
Where We Are Today
The era of having a warehouse’s inventory, orders, and labor managed by a singular WMS is quickly coming to an end. While the inventory is accurately tracked by these tenured systems, companies are turning toward execution specialists to augment and optimize their operations.
Queue the rise of the WES – Warehouse Execution System. These technologies focus on the real-time prioritization and optimal execution of orders that meet definable criteria for being important to your business. They integrate seamlessly with WMSs to direct your workforce, control your automated systems, and provide streamlined, flexible execution processes in today’s omni-channel world.
A WES may Fulfill your Supply Chain Needs
- Do you prefer to ship same-day, no matter the shipping method chosen by your customer?
- Do you need to continually evaluate and re-prioritize your operations to meet a variety of customer preferences?
- Would you prefer to process retail and customer orders through the same inventory, but want to give eCommerce customers the preferential treatment?
- Does your business swell and shrink rapidly with seasonal demand, requiring flexible change to operational approaches?
- Are you managing the workload of large, high-capacity material handling equipment, such as an Automated Storage and Retrieval System or Unit and Case Sorters?
These needs and more are exactly what WESs strive to achieve, and it can dramatically improve your throughput while meeting and exceeding your customer expectations.
The Path of Execution Systems
According to this Supply Chain Quarterly article, most mature supply chains that are collaborating to deliver better customer-defined value are allocating 34% of their supply chain IT budget to growing their business in areas such as customer retention and quality of service.
While some companies have decided to build these systems in-house, the marketplace for Warehouse Execution Systems is quickly permeating with sophisticated algorithmic software built to be as close to plug-and-play as possible. The cost is relatively low compared to most WMSs, and they typically have a shorter implementation cycle.
Currently, the path to having a WES is filled with options; however, much like WMS just a decade ago, the questions around having an execution system are moving from an “if” to a “when”.
Layering a WES on your existing WMS may net the same result as implementing the latest and greatest WMS on the market. In fact, it could be much more cost effective to have a WES while also minimizing disruption to the rest of your organization.
Wondering If a WES Is the Right Move for You?
Our team at Bricz has the depth and breadth of knowledge to help you understand your options. We have experience selecting, developing, implementing, and optimizing Warehouse Execution Systems for a wide variety of industries and with several marketplace providers. Reach out to us and set up a free supply chain analysis for your organization to find out if you could benefit from an investment in your technologies.
Contributor: Jonathan Brashears, Supply Chain Leader at Bricz