Four WMS implementation case studies you can learn from

Supply chain professionals and vendors love to talk about projects where everything goes right or where problems were easy to overcome. We’re a little less bullish on projects that start off bumpy and quickly careen into disaster.

The unwelcome news is that there are plenty of horror stories to look at for WMS implementations. The good news is that there are plenty of lessons to learn and things to avoid. Here are four of the biggest from the past few decades that give a broad range of instruction for your implementation team.

Finish Line struggles to cross

When Finish Line implemented a new WMS, technological gaps and glitches caused a loss expected to be $30 million and a closure of up to 150 stores through 2020. The new warehouse and order management system was hit with multiple errors from processing and filling online orders to delivering goods to stores.

Finish Line turned things around by spending a little more on third-party services and enhancing its technical infrastructure to get back on track and, so far, it seems to be doing well. The company focused on boosting its ability to process orders, which it said was the biggest causes of significant losses in Q3 2016.

How can you avoid this?

Forecasting, demanding planning, and testing systems under loads that mimic your real-world needs are extremely important. When you’re choosing a WMS vendor, verify that it can handle your orders. Before final implementation, test it to make sure it can handle above your normal order volume. For added measure, implement initially during your slowest season just to mitigate the size of losses that could possibly occur.

Beaver Street highlights need for the right consultants and configuration

Beaver Street Fisheries grew too large to continue using a pen-and-paper WMS, so it selected the JDA RedPrairie WMS. Initial installation went well, though the company opted for a standard install without modifications.

Guide: five steps to WMS implementation success

That’s a smart move when making such a large shift. So, one problem you can avoid is trying to customize right off the bat when you’re making a fundamental shift — points to Beaver Street.

The problem came with hiring outside help to put together the customizations they eventually needed. Their first consultants talked a good game, but after several months couldn’t deliver capabilities around forecasting, shortages, and order management. It was a waste of time and money because the work never bore useful fruit.

How can you avoid this?

Thankfully, those problems have since been rectified. Accelogix was able to come in and provide a hand, starting by flying an expert down to Beaver Street’s location and working on WMS integration and customization.

The chief difference was the choice in a third-party partner who had a proven track record of managing a WMS implementation and a history of providing quality support. You can avoid the issue by doing due diligence on all your WMS partners.

adidas’ 90s “meltdown” still relevant today

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Dust off those WMS history books and jump back to 1993 when shoe giant adidas tried to implement a new WMS, with a go-live that went so wrong it piled another WMS right on top of the first.

The issues with adidas is that the company forced its software vendor, Integrated Software Logistics Engineering, to move its applications to a new operating system. The mandate played a significant role in the vendor closing its business before the work could be completed.

A second WMS was then brought on board and implemented without ripping out the first, leading to serious issues around automation and logic work, which continued to push the project past deadlines and cost estimates.

At the end of the day, no system worked well enough to support orders — it was able to push out about 20% of the $50 million in orders it had according to a January 1996 estimate. It experienced major losses and hits to its market with a system that years to fix.

How can you avoid this?

Know what your vendors can do and can’t. Only ask them to do what they can. If you have major demands that they aren’t ready for — like running their entire WMS on a different operating system for the first time — look for a partner who is better suited to your existing infrastructure.

Don’t force it. And, if you ever have a WMS implementation go wrong, fully remove that system before you try to install another.

Too many to handle: 50% of supply chain systems miss ROI goals

There’s a 2015 study from DC Velocity that I always come back to when thinking about implementation because it showed that only 48% of supply chain software implementations had realized the return on investment they expected — 18% did not reach ROI goals and a full 34% couldn’t tell if they had or not.

It’s important to keep this in mind — and, by the way, 57% of these respondents used warehouse management applications — because achieving ROI always impacts future spending and investment. If your WMS implementation today doesn’t provide a return or you’ve framed ROI in a way that isn’t easy to calculate, you risk losing executive buy-in for future updates and improvements your business may need.

How can you avoid this?

Never stop reading. Look at whitepapers and explanation from vendors, read the blogs posts from companies that implement WMS themselves, and go to independent third parties who write summaries and recaps of what’s going right or wrong.

The more you know, the better and more realistic expectations you can set. Your ROI targets should align with implementation goals, and there’s plenty of help on the web to uncover which metrics are valuable and which aren’t.

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Geoff Whiting

About the author…

Geoff is an experienced journalist, writer, and business development consultant with a focus on enterprise technology, e-commerce, and supply chain development. Outside of the office he can be found toying with the latest in IoT, searching for classic radio broadcast recordings, and playing the perpetual tourist in his home of Washington D.C.

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Geoff Whiting