How to select a warehouse management system

Have an open mind.  Consider a range of options when looking for a warehouse management system.  Just because SaaS systems are less expensive does not mean that this is always the best solution for every business.  Consider off-brand alternatives.  Not every enterprise needs a Tier 1 solution with name brand recognition.  There are state-of-the-art software solutions from companies who invest more in their software than in costly advertising to promote their brand.

Get buy in from both the users and the decision makers.   Make a list of features, functionality and factors to consider and rate each according to its level of importance for ongoing use, return on investment, etc.   Ask each department for help in compiling and rating items on the list.  Keep in mind that what is important to one department may not be as critical to another.  Decide on a target timeline and budget and stick to it as much as possible.

Determine the projects team and team leader.  As this is something used by multiple departments, operations, finance, customer service, etc., it would be ideal to have one representative from each to advise the team leader on issues involving each particular department.

Specify business requirements.  Here is where having an advisory team can really come in handy.  It is critical to know what is needed in terms of features and functionality and why it is needed.  Consider technical requirements, limitations of current resources and the physical limitations of each warehouse.  Write down each business process, determine its importance then rank it on a scale from 1 to 5, with 5 as business critical-a true “must have”.    Make sure your team considers ease of use and technical requirements as well as operational needs.

Determine your timeline and budget.  Is this a seasonal operation or a business with a seasonal component?  Take this into consideration when determining your timeline for implementation.  Consider budgeting for a project in phases over time rather than budgeting to add all the features and modules needed during the initial implementation.

Find the software.  For this step, one can conduct online research, reach out to industry associations for referrals, talk to resellers or hire a consultant.  Evaluating software can be a confusing process.  When it comes to warehouse management system (WMS) software, many systems have similar features.  Remember that is not what the system does that is always most important but rather how the system does it.  While it may be tempting to evaluate many systems, it is best to find the vendors then narrow down your list based upon your requirements.  Viewing software demonstrations from every vendor can become extremely confusing.  Try to keep the number of vendor software demonstrations down to five or less.

Consult with vendors.  Schedule an initial discovery call so that both your team leader and the vendor representative can discuss your company’s needs and see if this software is a good “fit”.  If it is, proceed to an online or on site demonstration.

Participate in real time software demonstrations.  Make sure that key members of your advisory team are included in the software demonstrations and will be able to ask questions.  Always make sure that your team views warehouse management software demonstrations in real time, never just a slide presentation that shows screenshots and system information.  It is critical for your team to see how easily the system moves from feature to feature, provides information and conducts everyday business processes.  If a software vendor will not show you a real time demonstration, move on.  Make sure that one or more of your advisory team takes notes then compare impressions right after each demo while the information is still easy to recall.

Ask for a scripted demo.  Many software vendors tell you they will provide scripted demos but are not actually capable of handling scenarios “on the fly”.  Software users find scripted demos extremely useful when evaluating warehouse management systems.  By using data from your company and scenarios that your team faces every day, you should be able to see how each warehouse management system acts in real time, just the way it would for your company.  It’s the perfect test.  Your team may need more than one scripted demo and should tell the software vendor to expect this as part of your evaluation process.

Host at least one on site visit per software vendor.  If a software vendor is not willing to travel to your location to visit, you may want to cross that company off your list.  Plan the visit to show the vendor your pain points, typical operational processes and whatever challenges your company needs help to resolve.  Ask for a logistics expert, one skilled, educated and experienced in supply chain logistics as well as in technological solutions.

Ask for customer references.  Your advisory team leader should request to speak to two or three current software customers, those with similar operations, working in the same industries, etc.  Make sure that your advisory team compiles a list of questions to ask each reference beforehand.  Contact each reference immediately after receiving permission to do so and schedule an appointment for the reference check.  Remember that these are companies that have businesses to run.  Taking time away from their operations is not their obligation.  Before asking to visit customers, consider how your company would respond in the same position.  Many companies are not willing to interrupt their workday to host potential customer visits, especially for potential competitors.  Usually phone reference checks are sufficient.

Evaluate the proposal.  Often proposals can be complicated.  Do not be afraid to suggest a meeting to go through the proposal on a line by line basis so that your team leader has a thorough understanding of each charge.

Consider the long term needs of your company when evaluating software support, maintenance and upgrades.  Does the vendor provide free upgrades or charge thousands of dollars?  How often are upgrades available?

Evaluate the entire package.  Using the feature rating system, evaluate each software vendor according to project needs, budget and timeline.  Consider long term cost including upgrades, support and maintenance.  Does the vendor also provide additional services and act as a full turnkey solution or will your team need to coordinate multiple vendors?  Coordinating multiple vendors takes time, knowledge and skill.  If your company needs to purchase hardware, survey and configure RF access points, etc. in addition to implementing software, it may be advisable to seek a “one stop” solution so that all the required elements are configured and guaranteed to work together.  This will eliminate frustration and save your business time and labor.

Negotiate in good faith.  If necessary, negotiating with the software vendor on price and features can reach a positive conclusion for both sides and lead to a successful project.  Keep in mind the old adage “you get what you pay for”.  Insisting on the lowest possible price may force the vendor to reduce service or limit hourly services, not necessarily the results your business needs for a successful project implementation.