Warehouse Technology Implementations – The critical link between conceptual and realized productivity. Who’s doing your heavy lifting?

Time and again I write about the business value of warehouse technologies – WMS, warehouse automation, and robotics. I also discuss business processes that these technologies support. However, I believe that my writings have failed to highlight the importance of the implementation and integration processes and the value delivered by the teams that see these projects through. Furthermore, I believe the underappreciation for these processes and capabilities may extend to others besides me. The phrases such as “out of the box” and “plug and play” software conjure up the image of almost instantaneous transition between concept and usage. But we know that is not the reality on the ground. Thankfully, modern technology advancements have extended configuration options and simplified implementation workflows. But WMS implementations are still complex projects that require intimate knowledge of warehouse business processes and the underlying technologies.

Bridging the Gap Between Concept and Productivity

Warehouse operators typically embark on a change management journey prior to the involvement of a technology implementation partner. For comprehensive changes, such as the implementation of a new WMS at a complex facility, a company must determine its priorities and favored processes through proper planning and communications with internal stakeholders. Subsequently, this process should be extended to inform the implementation team. Despite differences in underlying methodologies, successful deployments tend to combine the discipline of thorough planning with the flexibility to accept contingencies that will increase project value and customer satisfaction. “A large portion of the implementation should be dedicated to assuring overall value is realized through a combination of creating both a sustainable and supportable solution, while also meeting business requirements,” according to Jeremy Hudson, Director, Client Services, at Open Sky Group. With over 90 WMS, labor management system, or TMS go-lives in the last 24 months, Open Sky Group has the required knowledge and experience to balance current requirements with the flexibility to meet changing needs as they occur.

Experience provides the knowledge and perspective that makes a good implementation partner. According to Ron Lazo, Vice President, Professional Services Organization at Manhattan Associates, “A structured implementation process harmonizes project execution with the intended business outcomes to drive greater time-to-value.” This statement furthers the concept of experience providing the acumen to balance what may sometimes be competing objectives. Aside from internal competing priorities, there can also be a tendency to want everything without the consideration for time and cost impacts.

An experienced implementation team will be able to align business objectives with the capabilities of the software or automation. Jerry Hudson of Open Sky Group finds it imperative to focus on weighing operational conformity to the base product versus the impact of solution modifications to meet “current state” processes. He believes customers can inform their decisions by asking themselves “Is it worth making a modification which could be expensive and cause challenges down the road, or is it better to change your process to meet the software without a modification?

Thinking Broad and Deep

There are a couple common threads that I noticed when reviewing insights from experienced consultants. One is that they know the important considerations and when to prioritize the various options. Second is that they take a broad and deep perspective on the value the technology provides to their customers. The solution should be implemented for current requirements, and amenable to future needs. Time-to-value, total cost of ownership, and system sustainability are all central considerations. As is a holistic view of how the given technology fits into the broader operational and technology landscape. Ron Lazo of Manhattan Associates provided specific examples of how Manhattan’s orchestrated implementation efforts across warehousing and transportation operations align activities, providing benefits such as enhanced inbound shipment visibility, smarter appointment management, automated workflows, and efficient labor management.  John Santagate, VP of Robotics at Körber Supply Chain Software summed up the value that experienced implementation teams bring to the table, “It is easy to overlook the end-to-end impact of a new technology deployment in the warehouse. Leveraging the WMS implementation and integration team can help provide a more holistic view. These teams have deep knowledge of the operation and technology landscape and are able to identify process, workflow, and technology improvements that will drive value.

Finally, a number of professional service executives stated a point that could be overlooked. Namely, end-users at the client company must adopt the solution, use it properly as planned, and execute on change management initiatives to extract the expected value from the new technology. Justin Ritter, VP of Operations at Lucas Systems stated that customer training is a keystone of a successful implementation project. “You can’t skip user training and support during go-live. Otherwise, you risk the implemenation of software that isn’t properly utilized and therefore doesn’t deliver the expected results.

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