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Supply chains vary based on industry and warehouse size, requiring different warehouse management systems to boost productivity.

One of the obstacles that most supply chains deal with is inventory visibility as the products move through receiving, storage, and shipping processes. Warehouse management systems are used to bring more transparency to operations, reduce costs, and accurately report the state of inventoried goods.

These systems are software applications that help manage and control warehouse functions to improve visibility, reduce redundancy, and gather data to further improve operational productivity. The functions that are offered by a warehouse management system will differ based on the type that is purchased by the customer.

Every supply chain is different based on its operations, size, industry, and market segment. A heavy equipment manufacturing supply chain dealing with parts that will be sent out to construction sites will not be the same as an e-commerce fulfillment supply chain providing finished products directly to the public. Due to this factor, WMS vendors offer an array of warehouse management systems that align to the needs of their customers.

Let’s look at the different warehouse management systems available, how they work, and which companies may benefit from using specific applications.

Types of WMS

There are many warehouse management systems out there, and more are being created to enter this market. We will discuss these four types of applications available today: standalone, supply chain modules, integrated ERP systems, and cloud-based systems.

Standalone Systems

Standalone warehouse management systems are applications that are brought directly into the warehouse premises. They are installed into your network systems, and you will handle all the security measures and upgrades for the systems. This application provides the basic “one-size-fits-all” functions to allow multiple industries to deploy the software throughout operations.

The two basic features are inventory management and warehouse operations. You will have access to barcode scanning, picking, packing, cycle counting, expiration date tracking, receiving, slotting, put-away, and shipping tasks.

There are several advantages and disadvantages to standalone systems. Advantages are that they are a good starting point for new businesses that do not have a large budget to place toward software. The application can also be used by companies that are not directly involved in warehouse management but need a system to track goods and processes. It provides enough functions to handle the most basic tasks.

However, for more leverage with the logistical side of operations, standalone systems simply do not have the functions that other, more advanced WMSs can provide. There may also be issues when integrating the system with other software applications and performing customizations.

Supply Chain Modules

When talking about supply chain modules (SCM), you must consider that warehouse management systems are a subcategory of SCM. This system offers greater reach into overseeing inventory management and the supply chain by providing functions that can span to cover areas of your choosing.

Aside from covering the basic functions of materials sourcing and product cycling, SCMs also allow for vendor relationship management, risk assessment, and business process management.

A main advantage of an SCM over a standalone system is that it covers warehousing management and certain business management tasks. This software would be ideal for companies that have stable warehouse operations yet are looking for more functionality in their management applications to scout for deficiencies and help get rid of work redundancies.

The main disadvantage is that an SCM offers many of the same functions as other software systems that you may currently have in operations. In other words, it is possible to get modules that you already possess that will not be put to use. This issue can increase software application costs.

Integrated ERP Systems

Integrated Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems are enterprise-wide software applications designed to centralize functions throughout the entire company. ERP systems bring accounting, sales, warehousing, and supply chain tasks into a centralized network for greater real-time data visibility and communication to help streamline and automate tasks.

When an ERP system offers warehouse management features, it provides complete supply chain operation transparency. The application’s main functions include supply chain planning, human resources, marketing, sales, customer relationship management, and accounting.

ERP systems are known for “playing nice” with other systems. Companies that are looking to boost sales, automate more processes, reduce data entry errors, and make ROI improvements will typically switch to an ERP WMS system to integrate all their software applications into one combined system.

While the main advantage of an ERP system is that it offers enhanced levels of control over the entire enterprise, some ERP vendors may not offer WMS. If you want to use an ERP system, you will have to research the specific software features to ensure that warehouse management is included. In addition, ERP solutions are typically the highest priced solutions available, which might deter smaller companies with tight budgets.

Cloud-Based Systems 

Cloud-based warehouse management systems are software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications that are hosted by the vendor. Your company can access the application that is on a private or separate server over the web.

These systems are much like traditional standalone systems with additional SCM functions to allow for inventory management and warehouse operations management. What makes this system unique is that it allows for customization depending on what the software vendor provides. Also, all IT upgrades and data security features are controlled and managed entirely by the vendor. This setup can provide cost savings to the customer.

Cloud-based systems work well for companies that have multiple warehouse operations around the world, as it helps bring the many systems into a centralized system. It is also ideal for companies that are going through fluctuating growth, as these systems are highly adaptable.

However, keep in mind that because cloud-based WMSs are managed and hosted by the vendor, the types of features that are offered can change with the next upgrade. A feature that you may have used previously could be phased out later. In addition, you need to ensure the vendor you work with has developed high data security protocols and risk assessment to handle any attempted data breaches.

WSI Offers 3PL Warehouse Solutions

At WSI, real-time warehouse management systems are fully integrated into the operations so that we can provide enhanced 3PL services to companies of all sizes. By taking advantage of WMS benefits, we offer superior service when you need professional logistical work. Contact WSI today to learn more.

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