Warehouse management software, also known as warehouse management systems (WMS), represents one of today’s broader categories of enterprise software. There are specialized tools available such as inventory management, supply chain management and transportation management that tackle unique distribution niches. However, thanks to the broad capabilities of warehouse management system functional requirements and features, many companies adopt them to cover all their bases with one platform.
One way to think about a warehouse management software is that it provides a type of overarching “facility, packages and people” approach to warehouse operations. These software platforms manage several steps of the supply chain management process, including everything from delivery shipping to employee scheduling. They also integrate various types of analytics and business intelligence. This valuable data can be used to help company leaders fine-tune or revamp their warehouse operations processes (or even their entire supply chain). Data visibility is key to achieving a fully optimized warehousing operation, make sure these tools are part of your warehouse management system requirements.
Features and Requirements of Warehouse Management Software
Some warehouse management software solutions look a lot like inventory management platforms, but most are oriented more towards the physical and logistical aspects of warehouse management. When considering a WMS, make sure to keep the unique warehouse management system functional requirements of your business in mind and that the features you need are included. Keeping WMS functionality checklist on-hand when selecting a solution can also help keep must-have features from being forgotten. Here are some of the key WMS features and functionalities in warehouse management systems:
Inbound and Outbound Operations
There are specific warehouse management features included within WMS platforms that are made to handle the very first step of the warehousing process: working with vehicles bringing in physical products and materials. Manifest tools for trucks help input data into the inventory system and prepare the warehouse for incoming goods. Then barcode scanning, radio frequency ID tagging and other physical processing help organize items for storage. Some warehouse management systems can label and identify each item as they arrive and get organization off on the right foot.
Other types of machine-related functionality handle the movement of items through a product’s complete life cycle, from receiving to shipping. Pallet estimate features help with loading and unloading pallets, while pack and ship features help get warehouse materials and products out the door. Other features of warehouse management systems may manage processes like kitting and cycle counting, cross-docking, or other processes involving the handling of resources. Keep an eye out for some of these key features when selecting a platform:
- Inbound Operations / Receiving
- Putaway Management
- Advanced Shipping Notifications
- Shipping Scheduling
- Picking and Packing
- Value-Added Services
- Product Lifecycle Management
Order and Fulfillment Management
Optimizing the order and fulfillment process is among key warehouse management system features. By controlling the flow of a product through your warehouse, a WMS can enhance order management. Re-order features give users the ability to automatically order parts or products that routinely need re-supply. Some warehouse management platforms provide access to carrier networks that can speed up shipping practices. Not only that but as automation integration continues to rise in popularity, warehouse managers can do away with time-intensive manual input tasks.
Speaking of automation, incorporating robotics, AI and machine learning into warehouse management systems can drastically increase efficiency and speed. Picking robots can find and transport materials without the need for employees to run back and forth from products to shipping areas. There are even conveyor systems that can transport products as they are required across the warehouse directly to shipping without any human interaction at all.
For warehouses handling specialized types of products and materials, warehouse management solutions often include specific inventory management tools such as perishable goods tracking and FIFO/LIFO protocols. These protocols, properly backed up by digital planning tools, keep product delivery fresher and decreases waste, thereby increasing profits. Look for some of these key features when selecting a warehouse management system:
- Automation and Artificial Intelligence
- Compliance and Regulation Management
- Carrier Networking
- Order Management
- Automatic Re-Ordering
- Inventory Management Tools
Tracking and Analysis
Many of the best warehouse management solutions come with features that allow companies to aggregate business intelligence from warehouse operations. Real-time tracking is a major asset to companies, particularly when it comes to maintaining inventory. This enables you to view your inventory levels in real-time, so you’re always aware of when you’re low on certain items or if you have more in stock than necessary.
Other tools may filter data for KPI analysis, which can highlight areas that could use improvement. Workflow management tools identify what’s going on within a warehouse and where attention is needed. Collecting high-quality data helps decision-makers figure out whether to make changes in key business processes while also helping them prepare for the future.
In addition, many of the premier warehouse management software vendors offer multi-location tracking to easily work with multiple warehouses. Language and tax features help support international operations and move some relevant warehouse data toward proper accounting uses. Support for various currencies is also very important for businesses that operate on a global scale. Keep an eye out for these helpful features:
- KPI Management
- Business Intelligence Integrations
- Workflow Management
- Multi-Currency Support
- Real-Time Tracking
- Multi-Language Support
- Tax Integrations
Backups and Integration
Most warehouse management software also provides disaster backup, which is an important part of a warehouse management system. Another key feature of WMS solutions is full integration with other types of enterprise software. It’s important for these types of standalone services to tie into a greater enterprise resource planning (ERP) architecture. Many of the best vendors offer this type of integration, and may also offer integration with accounting programs such as QuickBooks, customer relationship management platforms like Salesforce, and other applications.
It is also important to talk about the rising popularity of cloud-based WMS. Many businesses are adopting cloud-based platforms due to the numerous advantages they provide. The cloud can safely backup and store vital operational documents that cannot be affected by outages or system errors. On-premise systems require large updates that can bring the entire system down while they are implemented, but this is not the case with cloud-based alternatives. Instead, updates are automatically implemented in real time without downtime.
For smaller businesses, the cloud provides a lower cost of entry, as many of these systems are subscription-based and do not require a large upfront payment. These accessible costs give smaller operations a fighting chance against larger competitors that can afford comprehensive warehousing solutions.
Third-Party Logistics Support
As warehousing operations grow and expand to multiple locations, many bring in third-party logistics (3PL) providers to help keep things running. In a nutshell, 3PL providers help businesses by taking over daily operational tasks at one or more warehousing locations. As these providers are seeing more and more use, 3PL providers are taking it upon themselves to create warehouse management systems that contain all the tools they need to succeed.
Third-party logistics features, like truck loading trackers and transport analytics tools, bring more transparency to the movement of products and materials. Choosing a system that compliments the workload of a 3PL provider can increase efficiency throughout a complex warehouse operation, even if it spans multiple locations or countries.
Labor Management Features
Apart from the many unique features that identify and monitor physical materials and packages, other warehouse management software features include labor management tools. Proper labor management can keep employees on task and discover processes that needly waste valuable resources. Employees can clock in and out with easy to use QR codes or pins that keep a record of when they clock in and out of work. These features also give employees a way to track hours, look at paid time off and how much overtime they have accumulated.
Workforce planning software has come a long way in just a few years. Vendors today can integrate sophisticated labor management modules into some of the best warehouse management software that companies use as part of their enterprise automation solutions. Labor management tools can identify staff and maintain staff schedules, while also matching individual staff members to tasks. The labor side of the equation is critically important in making sure that activities actually happen as they were planned. Labor is, obviously, critical to a functioning warehouse. Make sure some of these features are present in any warehouse management system you choose:
- Employee Timestamps
- Hours Tracking
- GPS Enabled Tracking
- Employee Performance Management
- Labor KPI Management
- Labor Forecasting
- Schedule Optimization
Dashboards and Communication
Another major feature of warehouse management software relates to interface design. Some of the best companies are able to advertise their products as intuitive and user-friendly. This decreases the learning curve for implementation and makes a given WMS solution much more valuable to a company. A user-friendly interface with intuitive controls decreases training costs and makes a WMS software much easier to adopt, which is a big plus for customers.
Communication is key to any business looking to succeed. Some warehouse management system features include chat functions, which allow users to get in touch with other team members in real-time. Quick communication makes for an agile workplace. If a manager has to leave their office and track down a single employee to suggest a task switch, they are already wasting valuable time.
In addition, support for these types of vendor products is key. Support features include specific offers of on-site or telephone support during a given time frame, as well as direct response support capability. Buyers should look carefully at the support clauses in vendors’ service level agreements (SLAs) to make sure that they are on solid ground in case of an emergency.
All of the above features and functionality make warehouse management software extremely valuable to companies that need to maintain their warehouse operations. Look for these important features when choosing a vendor:
- Email Support
- Phone Support
- Ticket Submission
- Training Programs
- Live Chat Support
Warehouse Operations Management Best Practices
With a whole host of warehouse management tasks to keep track of, it can be easy to lose your way. So let’s go over some best practices to help ease the load. Even if you already have a running warehouse system, see if you can implement a few of these. The savings in time, work, and money are well worth it.
Organize, Organize, Organize
An unorganized warehouse costs your company extra time and money when picking and shipping orders. Do you have a strategy for where goods are placed? Are multiple SKUs separated or in bins with one another? Another thing you can do to improve organization is to look at a floor plan of the warehouse and draw out the common paths that workers take when loading, picking, or packing. Do they end up retracing their steps a lot? Are commonly picked items nearby, or do they have to walk the length of the warehouse? If you can eliminate some of that extra time finding items, that alone will improve your warehouse’s efficiency.
Avoid Manual Data Entry
Are you still writing SKUs on a notepad or entering them manually into a computer? These older methods are prone to human error and even loss of the physical document. The potential to mistype and the time taken to write or type each number by hand adds up to a lot of extra overhead. There are some key features of a warehouse system that remove the need for manual entry. Many products have barcodes or SKUs that can be picked up by a scanner. Scanning a barcode and having it automatically entered into the system is a lot more reliable than doing it by hand, and it will get products off the dock and into your system quicker.
This goes for accounting tasks as well. Manually entering numerical data and doing calculations by hand is a recipe for disaster and a very frustrated accounting team.
Safety is of the utmost importance to anyone in warehouse operations management. Why? Aside from the obvious impact an injured employee faces, an accident on the job site can drastically harm an operation’s bottom line and affect your workplace’s reputation. A safe warehouse is an efficient warehouse, so make sure you are following these guidelines laid out by Camcode, a leading barcode provider:
- Ensure all aisles are clear and spills are cleaned up immediately
- Use safety equipment at all times (eye protection, hard hats)
- Ensure emergency exits and sprinklers are not blocked
- Provide appropriate ladders and train employees on which ladders are best for what job
- Have an emergency response plan in place
- Post safety expectations in highly visible locations
Employee training goes hand in hand with workplace safety. If your employees aren’t trained and up to date on warehouse procedures, then injuries are more likely to occur. To mitigate this risk, ensure only trained employees operate machinery like forklifts or cranes. It’s also important for employees to renew any necessary credentials in a timely manner.
Use the Right Software
At the end of the day, your team is only as good as its software. Make sure you do the proper research and take time to evaluate vendors and your own WMS requirements before implementing a warehouse operations management solution. Finding the best-fit software for your business can turn headaches into an efficient and optimized warehouse.
Consider a few of these questions when beginning your search for the perfect warehouse management system:
- How big is your operation?
- How much room is in the budget for a new system?
- Does your business prefer a cloud-based or on-premise solution?
- What are your must-have features?
- Is there time to train employees to use a new platform?
Take a look at our comparison report where our research team has laid out the top competitors available on the market.
Warehouse management system features are a one-stop-shop containing everything a warehousing operation needs to succeed. Take your time when looking for that perfect solution as one size definitely does not fit all and keep your unique WMS system requirements in mind.
What are some key functional requirements and features of a warehouse management system that you can’t live without? Let us know with a comment!