James Wilmer, Business Development Manager – Reflex, at Logistex, highlights the main points to consider when choosing a WMS provider.
1: Long term planning.
A WMS is a long-term commitment; as operationally it will fit you and ideally you should fit it, make sure that from the outset you consider your long-term plan. If you are turning over less than a £million and only picking 100 orders per day then you can get away with something pretty basic. If however that is your position but you expect/hope to grow to £10 million and pick 1000 orders per day then your needs for a WMS should reflect that figure.
In simple terms if your future may benefit from automation then it’s probably best to buy a WMS capable of simply linking to that (the best option for this would be a WMS that has an inbuilt WCS which can control and take information from automated components like auto-picking and conveyors). As your daily picks grow the complexity of space and pick routes will grow and some of the lower end systems will not be capable of this.
Always plan for your vision of the future in the WMS you choose.
2: Cost to benefit.
Make sure you understand the real cost to benefit of a system. Ask your chosen WMS providers to illustrate real suggested gains from the system – both current and in your predicted future. All figures you receive from them should be honest and give you insight which will help immensely in your selection.
3: What pedigree does the WMS provider have?
As there are so many WMS providers out there now it’s clear that not all are fit for purpose (I have seen and been told examples of amazing looking systems that have never been implemented in real life before being presented. This used to be called vapourware, however people still do it).
Make sure you get a list of some real businesses that use the WMS and where possible visit at least one of them, although I would suggest a couple. While doing the reference visits make sure you ask the site what they honestly think of the system, including the users. Try not to let the WMS provider direct your questions or the answers, look for an honest answer and integrity.
Case studies are good but remember the business will only ever provide a case study of their successes. Read the news and doing searches to find out as much as you can.
Always do your research.
4: Platform and how does this fit with your IT strategy?
There are advocates of both cloud based or sited WMS systems.
Advocates of sited will tell you cloud based is only as good as your connectivity and that if your external pipe goes down you will be left without operational usage. They will also point to security and the ability for VPN access which will allow users from anywhere to use without having to be hosted externally. You can manage it internally with your own staff and policies.
Advocates of cloud based will tell you it’s cheaper as the storage space can be shared reducing costs, available more easily when out of the office, as well as leaving the responsibility to load patches etc. to someone external to the organisation. They will also point to the speeds available as standard for internet connectivity in many parts of the UK Now.
Both versions are perfectly plausible and I would personally consider your strategy and which would suit you better. I would look at providers from both sides of this if you are unsure and ask for their honest conversation on what the benefits might be for you.
5: What can you afford?
Some providers will have different versions of the software that you can turn on functionality or bespoke elements easily as you grow. This allows the start-up cost to be lower but as soon as you start to have higher needs means it becomes a more expensive system. Ask about upgrade costs, bespoke elements that you may need in the future upfront so you understand the true/ full potential costs. I come across many businesses that buy a very cheap system yet as their needs have slightly changed the system has become the most expensive on the market.
Cheap systems are cheap for a reason. Expensive systems should only be expensive if you are getting value for money. Ask for a full breakdown of why the cost is what it is; for example if you pay £5k for a system and implementation and they say it’s going to take them 100 days to configure implement, train and have go live support then that would mean they are costing their staff at £50 per day and making zero money on the software or anything else, they won’t be in business long. If you pay £100k for a system and they say it’s 200 days it’s much more likely I would believe that or that the company is being honest. Costs will vary whoever you go with depending on your needs but look in to the detail and the man days/ effort they are putting in to it to see if what you are getting is value for money.
If you can only afford a fixed budget be honest with providers from the outset, however make sure you have looked at budget/ reality/ benefit before this stage.
Sometimes if you have no money or a very small amount it would be worth doing a full business/ case review before investigating WMS any further with any provider.
6: Your current systems and interfacing.
It’s very rare that you won’t run multiple other systems throughout your business; for example ERP, Traffic Management, IM, MIS, simple finance, spreadsheets, basic databases, links to shippers etc. They will all manage their part, however some may benefit from linking to the WMS (usually your order system/ finance)
7: What support costs, infrastructure, training and implementation are the WMS provider offering?
Do you own the system after buying it or will it be software as a service? This is your decision and every business has different drivers that you will need to consider carefully. With SAAS you spread the cost over the full life of the product, with up front you will own the software so will only pay ongoing support costs (usually you have the choice on this but is recommended).
Training is key to getting it right. You wouldn’t expect somebody to drive a forklift without the right training, the WMS you go for is the same. Make sure your provider isn’t suggesting only online training or something that you are not happy with. All training should be full and fairly costed.
8: New technologies.
Most systems will work with voice picking, RFI tech etc. However not every business would need or benefit from that technology. Ask the question of your provider if there is potential if you move/ use that technology to integrate now or in the future.