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With greater than ever pressure on retailers to fill orders faster, the whole industry is looking for cost-effective ways to optimize the pack and ship process. At the same time, rising labor costs are forcing companies to look for new ways to gain more productivity from their warehouse management. Many are finding technology to be the fastest and most cost-effective way to improve productivity and fulfillment/delivery turnaround times.

While technologies such as automation, robotics, and artificial intelligence (AI) are adding to the efficiency of warehouses, there are still many areas that need improvement. The core technology for a lot of companies is the warehouse management system (WMS), which offers solutions to streamline the processes within the warehouse. A WMS can manage receiving, shipping, and inventory and also utilize data to help companies make more informed decisions.

But even with all the advantages that a WMS provides, not all companies have adopted this technology. Expect to see even greater adoption and usage of WMS platforms by warehouses in 2019, with further evolution in how the platform is being used.

Warehouse Management System Gets an Upgrade

While WMS has been around for a while, new software capabilities are on tap for 2019. New algorithms use machine learning so shippers can react to changing demand within the warehouse with less need for human intervention.

For example, according to Clint Reiser, research analyst at the ARC Advisory Group, the degree to which shippers are using intelligent batch picking is increasing. The use of wave-less fulfillment is especially prevalent in the ecommerce industry, with more companies using warehouse control systems (WCS) and automation to carry out these tasks. Reiser says, “These systems allow companies to interject rush orders in the midst of pushing out a wave,” citing High Jump, JDA, and Manhattan as WMS vendors that offer this capability.

The Last Mile Starts in the Warehouse

Companies that cannot handle complex routes and deliveries will not be able to service today’s market. This means that pick and pack in the warehouse needs to occur with greater speed and flexibility — and accuracy. And it is not just about getting the product to the customer. Returns have to be handled correctly too, such as with disposition on whether the purchased item can be resold. A WMS can track the status of a returned product for rework, quality control, repackaging, salvage, or waste.

The ecommerce model has changed the distribution dynamic, which has forced technology providers to add better inventory management systems. A WMS allows shippers to know exactly where items are, which is especially important when products are siloed across business groups (e.g., warehouse vs. in-store inventory).

Easy Integration and Implementation

More WMS suppliers are also realizing the need to build functionality that makes implementation faster and better. The growth in TMS (transportation management system) usage in recent years has largely been the result of that type of technology platform becoming easier to START using. When choosing a new WMS, interoperability with other company systems, like ERP, TMS, OMS, and shopping cart programs, is vital.

Retailers are fast learning that an efficient fulfillment and shipping process is “table stakes” for being competitive selling online. A WMS that gives a shipper the tools to efficiently run its current warehouse operations but also improve them as business needs change needs to be a priority for companies today.

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