How to use RFPs and demos to find your next WMS

You have moved from 13 million possible warehouse management systems to only a few.  Now is the time for serious conversations with those few.  Ask them now for a firm proposal.  Remind them of your requirements - both your ‘must-have’ and your ‘nice-to-have’ list.  Ask them to specifically reply to your request with how their WMS will meet your needs and how much you will need to spend.

Use your favorite RFP format - this likely isn’t the first time your company has bought software, so ask around for pointers. Alternatively, there are many good RFP templates available online. The key is to communicate your expectations clearly.   All of your requirements must be addressed in a vendor’s response (whether to confirm the presence or absence of the functionality), and the cost must be reasonable enough to provide a satisfactory ROI.

TCO considerations

Cost of ownership for any WMS goes well beyond the initial payment.  Each provider will have ongoing maintenance and support fees you should expect to pay over future periods.  Ask each WMS vendor for their estimate of implementation costs.  Will they give you a quick start guide and leave you alone?  Do they prefer to do all the work themselves and provide you with a turnkey, ready to use WMS?  How will they train your users?  Will this training be conducted at each of your warehouse locations or off-site? What hardware and network infrastructure improvements are needed to run the WMS?  Leave them room in your WMS RFP to add costs you haven’t considered yet; they have more experience than you in implementing WMS.  Give them a chance to show off that experience.

Try to ensure the WMS providers are going to be around for your future.  Your WMS RFP should request financial statements and their plans for continuity.  Ask for references and check on those references before making your choice.

“The WMS market evolves at a rapid pace, but 9/10 requirements are well-established features that are often ignored in favor of buzzwords and hype”

After a short time, you will have proposals based on your RFP document.  Match up the cost they provided against the gains you expect to achieve and rank the return on your investment.    You could find none are worth pursuing and maybe WMS isn’t on the cards for your company at this time.  Likely some are worth pursuing further.  

Read between the lines on vendor proposals.  You and your business have a culture and you want your WMS provider to fit with your culture.  If your people prefer to do as much as possible in-house and the provider seems to prefer being actively involved in every step of the process, there could be a mismatch.

The demo phase

Your short list is now even shorter.  Schedule demonstrations from the remaining contenders.  Be sure to remind them of your requirements.  Get their demo plan in advance and ensure enough time is devoted to demonstrating your requirements rather than focussing solely on their newest features. The WMS market evolves at a rapid pace, but 9/10 requirements are well-established features that are often ignored in favor of buzzwords and hype.

Contact the references they provided now.  Ask if they are using that WMS and how well it met their needs.  Ask if they wish they had done something different.  Ask if they had found some surprises after implementation whether good or bad.  This could also be a good time to ask if you can visit them and observe their use of the WMS.

The steps outlined in this article enable you to turn a lengthy vendor shortlist into one or two primary candidate systems chosen by objective processes.

Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg / CC BY

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Tom Miller

About the author…

Tom completed implementations of Epicor, SAP, QAD, and Micro MRP. He works as a logistics and supply chain manager and he always looks for processes to improve. He lives near San Francisco Bay in California and can be found on the water in his kayak or on the road riding his motorcycle.

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Tom Miller

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