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Warehouse Management Trends – 10 Questions with Tryon Solutions

Originally published on February 12, 2024 by Baris Duransel, Updated on February 12, 2024

Are traditional WMS systems able to meet the changing demands of today’s high-volume DTC fulfillment?

Downing: While traditional WMS systems are designed to manage and optimize warehouse operations, the specific requirements of direct-to-consumer fulfillment have evolved with the rise of ecommerce.  Some challenges include: order volume and complexity, order fulfillment speed, real-time visibility, integration to ecommerce platforms and mobile and multi-channel capabilities.  One size no longer fits all when it comes to warehouse management systems.

To address these challenges, your team  should not simply glance at the Gartner WMS  magic quadrant and blindly adopt the most popular option.  Instead they must seriously consider the warehouse management needs specific to their operation.  A traditional WMS might be the right option, but are your needs focused more on storage or high-volume fulfillment serving a B2B or B2C model?  If the answer to both questions is the latter, then your team would be wise to look at Fulfillment Management Solutions (FMS) which are generally better in terms of both integration support and order fulfillment speed.  Whether WMS or Fulfillment Solution, all systems have their strengths and weaknesses and so you must do your homework to ensure they align with the requirements of your warehouse.

How will fulfillment management systems change the WMS landscape in 2024?

Downing: The rise of more adaptable, scalable, integration compatible Fulfillment Solutions will force the big-brand enterprise WMS to be less monolithic.  They provide a much-needed option for warehouses and distribution centers that are more budget restrained, require more flexibility, and have complex and /or demanding order fulfillment requirements.

How do you see AI impacting warehouse management systems in 2024? In terms of efficiency and cost-savings, what warehouse processes will benefit the most from AI?

Downing: Work queue optimization, including order picking and path routing, is ripe for minimizing worker movements and maximizing efficiency via AI.  Until robots do everything, there is a need for advising warehouse personnel which products to pick and the best route to use for their overall picking assignments.  This obviously helps seasoned workers, but the benefits are immeasurable for new employees.

I’ve heard that predicting demand is an art and science, but I believe it’s really more of the latter and so AI can be a huge help here.  AI can take into account many more variables (seasonality analytics, historic sales spikes, etc…) while calculating with better precision than a human being, and in-turn help find a realistic amount of safety stock and ultimately reduce the much-dreaded dead stock along with the related wasted logistics.

Related Content: 9 Ways AI Streamlines High-Volume Fulfillment

Given the speed of ecommerce, why is time-to-value so significant for today’s fulfillment operations? 

Downing: Ability to rapidly deploy and scale are key to the success.  Companies are no longer providing B2C shipping to regions of the country, but are more micro-focused (i.e. by state or city), to deliver quickly to customers.

Your competitors are finding ways via hard and soft technology to deliver faster and leave your operation in a dusty cloud of techno-staleness.  You must combat this by keeping an ear to the ground on what solutions can help your warehouse or distribution center, and remain agile and open. 

We’ve seen existing and potential WMS customers balking at lengthy implementation times and high-maintenance customizations.  We’ve also worked with clients who implemented robotics and other automation that drastically sped up operations, and this of course helps with retaining customers that want to receive their products faster for shipping to an end consumer that has been spoiled by the modern era of blazingly fast deliveries.  Trends like this show an eagerness for quicker time-to-value throughout the supply chain.

Headless architecture has become a priority for many due to its flexibility and scalability. How will it enhance warehouse management systems in 2024?

Downing: One of the biggest advantages is that it allows for easier connectivity between systems via APIs, and with the rise of so much varied warehouse automation this is critical for supply chain execution systems.  The rise of systems being built on headless architecture should also enable customers to receive  product updates faster.

Why is having an intuitive UI significant for aiding day-to-day fulfillment operations?  What impact does having a good UI have on labor optimization? 

Downing: A WMS UI should be specific to the role of the user and enable them to do their job efficiently.  Minimizing using mouse or inputting characters on a keyboard, and maximizing scanning barcodes and inputting numbers quickly is important to labor optimization.

Our industry, which  already heavily relies on seasonal labor, is currently experiencing widespread  labor shortages.  This means fulfillment solutions MUST be both streamlined and easy-to-use in order for newly onboarded warehouse personnel to get up to speed as quickly as possible.  Logiwa’s UI/UX designers certainly took this advice into account when designing the clean and intuitive interfaces in Logiwa IO.

Why is the industry moving away from pre-established integrations towards open-ended integration technology? 

Downing: Existing and pre-established integrations allow for rapid deployment and less integration effort.  Real-time APIs are great, but it’s nice if most of the work is already done and you just turn it on and tweak it.  This is the entire reason we supported BY Robotics Hub – rapid deployment to new robotics solutions as business needs evolve.  Open API interfaces are a modern real-time alternative to socket connections and pushing files, but generally the same level of effort is required to start from scratch integrating with them.

If a vendor is rolling out an API change, they announce it to the development community and the vendors who integrate to it adapt their code before the old interface is deprecated.  If you’re writing your own interfaces, then the customer is responsible for monitoring these updates and finding someone to help them after the implementation is over.  Let the software vendor do it if they will provide it “out of the box” with their solution.

What are the primary ways WMS technology will improve labor planning and workforce efficiency in 2024? 

Downing: We’ve seen the impressive evolution of labor management systems and augmented reality picking and they will continue to improve, but I believe the next big step for warehouse labor is IoT enabled wearables.  Bluetooth badges (for example) can help optimize labor planning by providing intel on all movement and tasks being performed in real-time, and this data can be analyzed by warehouse managers to identify bottlenecks, streamline processes, and improve productivity.  Taking another step forward, hopefully soon, AI can track patterns and trends from this data to help with employee management, scheduling, and even advising where to incorporate cobots for further optimization.

Get the guide:

How can organizations prepare and adapt to emerging technologies to stay ahead in the competitive ecommerce landscape of 2024?

Downing

  • Stay on top of upcoming tech by keeping in close touch with peers in your professional network that work at similar operations, attending large trade shows, and reading trusted industry newsletters and blogs
  • When needed, work with seasoned operational and technology professionals that can help you future-proof your processes and solutions sets
  • Avoid any supply chain execution solutions that are not built on modern technology platforms and/or won’t scale well with your operation’s growth
  • When evaluating a new solution, consider the ability to integrate with your existing and future solutions
  • Collaborate and share insights with your technology and industry partners/peers
  • Try to be proactive, and understand the direction of your business and customer expectations.
  • Identify technophobes or change-a-phobes (if any) among your management team and rally support from key, respected members of your team to help change their attitude

What warehouse challenges do you see being overcome in 2024? What are the new challenges going to be?

 Downing: In our omnichannel “gotta have it yesterday” world consumers seem to expect purchases to arrive quicker every year, and I think they will continue to push the industry for faster returns and even faster deliveries.  Nothing happens in a vacuum in the supply chain.  Eager consumers will force every waypoint along the way until Irving receives his World’s Hottest Hot Sauce to optimize, and then fickle consumers will do the same thing for the returns process like when Irving realizes it’s not actually the World’s hottest sauce and sends it back. 

This is the biggest overall challenge that forces warehouse and distribution centers to move at breakneck speeds in recent years.  It results in many offshoot challenges including things like selecting the right automation (the debate whether to automate is over), properly integrating that potentially complex automation, figuring out what to do with all the data being pumped out from the new systems, and perhaps most importantly, choosing the right WMS or fulfillment solution.  We all-too-frequently have conversations with companies that implemented a WMS that is missing too many features, has dated user interfaces, is not automation friendly, doesn’t help them adhere to complex or intricate customer compliance requirements, and/or basically isn’t up to the task of scaling with growth. 

The best advice I can give is to exhaustively research and choose wisely when selecting a supply chain execution system, and this especially applies to core systems that are the “heart” of a warehouse like WMS and Fulfillment Solutions.  Your team should compile a list of business requirements and research solutions that fits your specific needs and size/scale while taking into account future growth.  There are many aspects to investigate, but at the top of the list is what challenges do you expect now and what is coming down the road.  You must also ensure compatibility with current and future systems and hardware.  Be sure to research clearly demonstrated ROI against operations similar to yours. 

The last piece of advice is to partner with a company that can help you with this future growth.  It’s one thing to get systems and processes in place, but they should also be able to question, understand and prepare you for future growth or change.   Having them in your back pocket will speed up time to value, allow your team to focus on core business, and drive a better overall customer experience.

About Adam Downing: 

With 17 years of experience in warehouse management systems, Adam Downing co-founded Tryon Solutions in 2009 to address the increasing need for tailored and client-focused supply chain technical consulting services.  Surrounded by a fantastic team, he has led it into becoming a global leader in implementing supply chain execution systems.

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