What are the features of a “modern” WMS?

A warehouse management system (WMS) is used to manage day-to-day operations in a logistics warehouse: from incoming goods, stock management, and goods moves, to order picking, product packing, and shipping. WMS systems have becoming increasingly sophisticated over the years, offering an expanded range of features to help logistics experts meet new challenges — ever shorter delivery lead times, more demanding consumers, omnichannel retail, warehouse automation, labor shortages, end-to-end visibility of supply-chain performance, and more. In this article, we look at the benefits and key features of a WMS — and of a “modern” system in particular.

What is warehouse management software and what gains does it offer?

A warehouse management system is designed to optimize every aspect of warehouse management, from incoming goods processes through to order shipment. When deployed in a logistics platform, a WMS can:

  • Boost productivity by streamlining incoming goods, storage, order picking, and shipping tasks.
  • Automate low-value-added tasks previously performed by operators and managers.
  • Maximize the use of storage space.
  • Give an overview of stock levels in real time in order to avoid both overstocking and stock shortages.
  • Reduce errors in terms of both storage locations and order picking.
  • Make order picking more efficient in order to meet ever-shorter delivery times and provide outstanding service quality.
  • Keep logistics costs under control: productivity gains, inventory and transport optimization, returns management, and more.
  • Provide real-time visibility of tasks performed, including the number of orders picked and shipped on time or late.
  • Optimize resources according to workload and provide the necessary agility to respond to workload peaks (sales, promotions, Black Friday deals, etc.).
  • Ensure legal compliance, especially in the food, pharmaceutical, and industrial sectors (expiration dates, traceability, hazardous products, etc.).

Read our article about the key features of a WMS

 

What is a warehouse management system (WMS)?

As the “conductor” of the warehouse, the WMS system needs to be able to adapt to ever-changing logistics needs and imperatives. For instance, it must be capable of supporting new logistics models, absorbing workload peaks, coping with new and rapidly introduced processes and business activities, coordinating mechanized and automated processes, sharing data in real time with other systems, planning resources, reallocating tasks in real time in order to meet delivery lead times, collaborating with the wider warehouse ecosystem, and more. 

The technological aspects of a “modern” WMS

Cloud-based WMS

Cloud-based warehouse management software has a number of advantages over on-premise applications:

  • It carries lower costs in terms of upfront investment and initial deployment.
  • The cloud-based infrastructure is more scalable and flexible, meaning organizations can quickly adapt their processing capacity as activity volumes change.
  • Updates are handled by the vendor and can be deployed continuously, ensuring that the latest upgrades are always available.
  • The vendor is responsible for the availability and ongoing maintenance of the application.
  • A cloud-based WMS system offers a higher degree of availability and resilience than on-premise solutions.

WMS, APIs, and web services: real-time data exchange (h3)

WMS software can only orchestrate the supply chain end to end if it’s capable of interfacing and exchanging data with other systems and/or machines in real time. A latest-generation warehouse management system uses APIs and web services to seamlessly integrate with newly adopted systems and applications.

AI, machine learning, and advanced algorithms

WMS software can only orchestrate the supply chain end to end if it’s capable of interfacing and exchanging data with other systems and/or machines in real time. A latest-generation warehouse management system uses APIs and web services to seamlessly integrate with newly adopted systems and applications.

The functional aspects of a latest-generation WMS

Real-time management and automation

Warehouse automation is gathering pace as a way to boost productivity, reduce order-picking errors, cut delivery lead times, maximize the use of storage space, overcome labor shortages, and more. These days, a warehouse management system needs to be capable of automating mechanized and automated systems in real time. That means it requires features (or a specific module) to support integration and two-way data exchange with other software, including the WCS and automated equipment management software (for conveyor systems, automated storage and retrieval systems, automated guided vehicles, stacker cranes, order-picking robots, etc.).

 

Labor management

In recent years, it has become increasingly complex to schedule tasks and pick batches in logistics warehouse, as well as to manage resources in a way that ensures that orders are shipped on time. A WMS system with resource management capabilities (or even a Labour Management System module) gives a real-time overview of productivity, allowing users to identify inefficiencies and adjust workload according to the urgency of orders arriving over the course of a day and resource usage rates (operators and mechanized systems). Moreover, labor management features make it easier to forecast workforce needs based on historical data, thereby helping to avoid situations where the warehouse is under- or overstaffed.

 

Support for waveless picking

Amid the rapid growth of e-commerce, warehouses are increasingly having to ship goods on the same day as the order arrives. With waveless picking, orders are processed as they come in. WMS software needs to support this order-picking method, which means being capable of recalculating the tasks assigned to machines and operators on the fly in order to meet agreed delivery lead times.

 

Returns management (reverse logistics)

Returns management processes need to be particularly efficient, especially in the e-commerce and retail sectors. A modern warehouse management system delivers productivity gains at every stage in the process: receiving and quickly identifying incoming products, inspecting the condition of returned items (new, damaged, reusable, needing repair, etc.), segmenting returns according to condition (restocking, repair, destruction, recycling, etc.), instantly updating stock levels, determining the correct location in the warehouse, and more.

 

Built-in transportation management features

Every organization is on the lookout for ways to cut transport costs and protect margins. A latest-generation WMS includes transportation management and carrier choice aid features, as well as helping companies:

  • Optimize load consolidation and tuck fill rates according to specific criteria (routes, and the weight and volume of goods).
  • Coordinate order-picking and shipping operations based on carrier arrival times.
  • Connect to transport management systems (TMS) and/or real-time delivery tracking applications in real time.

 

Advanced, customizable dashboards and KPIs

These days, advanced, customizable dashboards and key performance indicators (KPIs) should be a standard feature of any WMS system. This capability helps organizations boost performance and ensure orders are delivered on time, while supporting decision making. A modern warehouse management system needs to be able to provide KPIs that allow users to identify bottlenecks and picking delays and monitor operator and team productivity—all in real time.

 

Supply chain control tower: detailed overview of flows and operations

As omnichannel retail gains traction, organizations need to be able to integrate other systems with their WMS in order to manage logistics operations in real time and gain a big-picture overview of orders and stock across all logistics sites (central warehouses, overflow sites, stores, plants, etc.).

 

Collaborative supply chain

Last but not least, a modern WMS should support enhanced collaboration both upstream and downstream of the warehouse: from raw-material suppliers and manufacturers, through to distributors and end customers. A warehouse management system hosted in the cloud facilitates these kinds of collaborative relationships and makes it easier to share information in real time.

 

Our cloud-based Reflex WMS software is backed by more than 100,000 hours of R&D a year. We work hand in hand with our customers to improve and upgrade our WMS, ensuring that it keeps pace with the latest logistics challenges and market developments. Read our customer success stories.