Warehousing operations and IT professionals need to respond positively to the significant changes and challenges that will be influencing the industry over the next five years – or face disaster.
At its most basic, warehousing is a simple concept. It’s about storing materials or goods and filling orders from one end of the supply chain to the other. But in the real world of today, tomorrow and especially five years from now, growing complexity means warehousing is evolving to become anything but simple. Today’s warehousing professionals are feeling significant pressures from multiple internal and external sources.
The global recession affected the industry in many ways. In an effort to free up capital, there were major cuts in held inventory, adding capacity was deprioritised and expansion of existing or construction of new warehouses and distribution centres was scaled back or halted altogether. Now, as the economy has begun to grow, warehouse operations are growing again. But as they grow, they are also being transformed by a number of issues that go well beyond simple increases in volume and throughput.
New warehousing realities
Today’s warehouse professionals face a series of significant changes in the ways warehouses, distribution centres and the entire supply chain operate. More facilities and larger spaces demand high-speed mobile communications virtually everywhere on or off the floor. A virtual acrossthe- board customer demand for personalisation is driving an increase in the number of SKUs, leading to increased inventory visibility, accuracy and efficiency needs. New regulations call for more accurate product tracking and tracing. Fuel cost volatility impacts logistics and much more. The growth of omnichannel transactions creates the need for increased inventory control, flexibility and faster, more accurate fulfillment. All these factors contribute to the need to convert warehouses and distribution centres into assets for competitive differentiation.
Top alignment opportunities
Today, the reality in many, if not most, warehouse operations is the existence of separate islands of information. The vision for the future is the linkage, integration and consolidation of the Warehouse Management System (WMS) with Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), the Yard Management System (YMS) and Transportation Management System (TMS). These linkages help remove inefficient information silos, promoting collaboration and increasing the recognition that changes in one process can and will affect others downstream and upstream. For example, changes in packing and staging can affect load plans, trailer drops, route selection, rates and more. Anticipation of – and response to – these effects is crucial to not only improve warehouse efficiency and productivity, but also to create a more synchronised and agile supply chain.
Ensuring IT and Operations alignment
However, before a company can start planning for the future, the organisation must first identify its current status, honestly answering the question, “where are we now?” Then management must clarify its vision of where the company wants to be in two, three, four and five years, and make the critical decisions of where to invest, and what types of investments should be considered.
To maximise warehouse and DC productivity, operations and IT leaders must be on the same page in terms of technology systems and business processes. Although partial alignment usually exists between IT and operations today, in many instances there is still a basic technology divide. It starts with differences in overall assessment of current capabilities and risk perspectives for the future. Survey results demonstrate that today IT often perceives higher levels of WMS integration with other systems than does operations; in addition, IT projects higher incremental integration rates by 2018 than their operations counterparts. Today’s IT departments also tend to be more aggressive in setting new standards and deploying new tools to reduce technical risk – and to be more accepting of business risk – than operations, which is usually more risk-averse and focused on running the day-to-day operations of the warehouse with minimal technical disruption. Bringing the two departments together to share a common vision is one of the most crucial goals moving ahead in the next five years.
An evolution from cost centre to growth area
What steps should an organisation be considering in response to the major changes that will impact warehousing operations today and in the next five years? The time to start is now, and the best way to begin is by carefully analysing the issues and evaluating the steps to be taken to help warehouses increase productivity while decreasing costs.
As customer satisfaction and supply chain efficiency become more important drivers of warehousing operations, the industry is re-examining its perceptions of the business. Fewer organisations continue to view warehouses and DCs simply as commoditised links between endpoints of the supply chain. Senior business executives across all market segments can no longer afford to simplistically look at warehouses as necessary evils that are fundamentally cost centres.
Increasingly, industry professionals are viewing warehouses and distribution facilities as historically underleveraged centres that can drive competitive differentiation and, by doing so, increase profitable growth. This reshaped vision of warehouse operations as a fundamental driver of top-line and bottomline business value, points the way to achieving the ultimate objective of flawless fulfillment.
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