40 WMS selection tips to help you find the perfect software

So...your company has decided it needs a new WMS. Perhaps you're a seasoned hand at software selection projects, and you're dreading the familiar process of sifting through endless RFP responses, vendor demos and stakeholder meetings. Or perhaps you're a first-timer, and all you can see for the next few months of your working life is a series of big, giant question marks.  

Use this WMS selection checklist to plan and manage your selection project

However many software selection projects you have survived, these WMS selection tips will help you navigate the minefield more efficiently. Submitted by industry experts, consultants and vendors, they include advice on:

 

Gathering WMS requirements

1. Understand your current software's limitations before searching for a new system

Before looking at supply chain or warehouse software, you should have a strong understanding of what you currently have. The truth is that the best order processing software on the market does not necessarily also make the best inventory management software. When shopping around, be sure to have your developer ask about APIs. This is how software "talks" to other software, and you can't afford a lapse in technological communication!

Augie Kennady, ShipMonk

 

2. Check whether any hardware needs updating

Selecting an SCM platform starts with an internal assessment of your current technology. Does any of your existing infrastructure or hardware need to be replaced or updated? What goals are you trying to achieve by implementing a new solution? After giving those questions some careful consideration, your search for a new platform is on.

Kevin Beasley, VAI

"When shopping around, be sure to have your developer ask about APIs. This is how software "talks" to other software, and you can't afford a lapse in technological communication!"

3. Identify your key supply chain and warehouse metrics

When you are selecting SCM and WMS ensure that the end goals of your business are identified and then measured by the system you choose. So often the best system for data entry is selected, which is admirable, but if you can't get data/performance measures out the other end you've spent a lot of money for a black box you'll struggle constantly to try and see the insides of. Be able to answer the question, "What 5 metrics will we run our supply chain or warehouse on?" with distinct items and plans to improve and sustain them over time.

Ted Clark, Adventag

 

4. If selecting cloud software, identify which type suits you best

If you are going to use the cloud, it is important to make sure that the public cloud has a simple cloud management interface. Private cloud service relies on public cloud facility. The interface needs to be easy and dependable. If you are a smaller company, web-based interface might be sufficient. For larger companies, using an API to automate your cloud interface will be a preferable option.

Ted Dobson, Avectous

 

5. Establish that potential cloud vendors have appropriate security protocols

If you’re considering moving off premise to the cloud, be sure to ask about the cloud recovery they have in place - you can never be too prepared for a cloud outage, and don’t forget about security! Security attacks are growing concern these days, make sure that any potential vendors are taking the necessary measures to protect you from potential cyber security hacks, it’s always better to be safe than sorry when you’re working with private or sensitive data.

Kevin Beasley, VAI

This WMS selection survival guide will help you through the requirements gathering stage of your project unscathed

 

6. Think about future warehouse requirements, as well as those you have at present

When looking to implement a WMS, a key aspect of determining your requirements is understanding the current processes that your WHs follow, what improvements you are expecting the WMS to add to those processes, and the future state of processes and functionality that you envision the WMS fulfilling. Think through your processes starting from a yard management/scheduling perspective through receiving, putaway, picking, and eventual pack and ship, as well as functions that tie into these processes, e.g. quality control.

Torey Guingrich, Source One Management Services, LLC

 

7. Supply chain vendors with international experience can be a huge asset

When setting requirements for a supply chain management vendor, be sure to ask about international experience across the board. Just because you’re not selling in China or Australia currently, doesn’t mean you won’t want to after a few years of success.

Nick Foy, ModusLink

 

8. Consider whether you'd prefer a niche or cross-industry solution

WMS software selection is not only a matter of brand or cost. When you select a WMS you have to ensure that it suits your operation's needs. While some WMS are designed for “self-operated warehouses” and give you a niche solution; others are more cross-industry and fit the multiple requirements that 3PL companies usually look for. So, the first issue to keep in mind when you are selecting a WMS is how “niche” versus “cross-industry” your operation is. Contemplating this is useful if you wish to get many functionalities related to your industry that usually are present only in “niche” solutions. The next thing to do is focus on scalability. Logistic operations usually start as something simple that eventually moves into a “big transactional" environment. The way the WMS follows your growth is a key issue in keeping your investment safe. We also suggest you explore the product roadmap. Supply Chain is always “moving” to new paradigms and you need a software that helps you to keep updated on them.

Carlos G. Rivero Bianchi, GlobalTech SCM Solutions

 

9. Look ahead to a mobile-first future

Like any other Industry, the SCM and WMS arenas are also moving towards a mobile-first approach. This helps you communicate latest updates concerning products and distribution responsibilities within a closed network. By having your entire team accessible through a mobile app, you can directly accelerate and streamline the different decision making activities. You can also streamline decision making involved at the order acquisition and product delivery process.

Jay Akrishnan, kapture

 

Setting your budget and calculating ROI

10. Find vendors that sell their product's ROI

Average business partners talk about rates and services while strategic business partners talk about ROI (return on investment) and growth. Listen and watch for materials that describe the ROI and growth they will generate for you.

Ian Aguilar, Shippabo

 

11. Don't just rely on ROI tool predictions - ask for proof!

As you start to pull together a list of potential solution providers, be sure they’re able to share success stories or case studies to back themselves up. A lot of companies offer ROI tool predictions, but those often outline 'best case' scenarios for ROI. So remember, customer testimonials are always the way to go. From there you can narrow down your selection by taking a closer look at their offerings.

Kevin Beasley, VAI

Use this WMS pricing guide to start calculating a budget for supply chain and warehouse software

 

12. Don’t agree to pay until the vendor has delivered something that works for your operation

This sounds obvious but lots of people fall into the trap of paying up front 90% of the project fee in the form of licences for the “off the shelf” system, with the promise that the remaining 10% will be paid when necessary customizations have been done. So, you are paying $100,000s (or more) for a system that does not work, hoping that the vendor will be able to customise it to fit what you need. Why not do it the other way round? Pay the vendor when they have delivered something that works for you. (This is coming from a software vendor by the way.)

Julian Stephens, MCJ2

 

13. Don't forget to budget for hidden WMS costs

When budgeting for your new WMS, be aware that installing and setting up your warehouse management system may come with costs that are not included in the licensing or subscription pricing your vendor provides. Similarly, user training, support packages and hardware costs can all bump up the overall price of a new system. Do your research and establish whether the price the vendor advertizes is the total cost of owning the system. 

"Average business partners talk about rates and services while strategic business partners talk about ROI (return on investment) and growth"

 

14. Understand the financial differences between cloud and on-premise installations

On-premise systems will have higher installation costs, but these vendors also are more likely to provide customization services as part of the installation package. Getting you up and running usually includes verification of databases, integration, and configuration. High-end SaaS systems will likely have setup and configuration costs as the practice is becoming more common in the industry. Customization and integration fees plus an initial setup will vary significantly based on your system and your integration partners

 

Creating and motivating your WMS selection team

15. Make sure all key stakeholders are represented on your WMS selection team

For your WMS replacement project to be a success, you'll need to gather input from all key stakeholders. At a basic level, these include your IT department and your warehouse staff, though depending on complexity of software and the nature of your operation, these could include supply chain workers, senior management, the manufacturing department and the sales team. Identify your stakeholders and make sure they have a voice on the selection team.

 

16. Pick a team leader who can build trust

The single most important task of the team leader is to rapidly build team trust. If team members trust each other, then the team will spend its intellectual energy challenging ideas and improving on teammates’ ideas. The second critical attribute for the team lead is that he or she has to have good business judgment and a realistic grasp of the solution space.

"The single most important task of the team leader is to rapidly build team trust. If team members trust each other, then the team will spend its intellectual energy challenging ideas and improving on teammates’ ideas"

 

17. Create a timeline so your team can measure their progress

Make certain that your WMS selection team is working to a timeline, and that everyone knows what the timeline is. It shouldn’t be an impossible deadline, but everyone should understand that decisions must be made in a certain timeframe and sequence. As those milestone decisions are made, everyone will feel incremental progress towards the goal.

 

18. Reward your employees for their hard work

Selecting new warehouse software is often a thankless task. A free lunch never goes awry when motivating your team members, though depending on the scale of the project you could also offer a cash bonus, a night out on the house or an extra day of PTO to reward them for their efforts. 

 

19. Communicate your WMS selection team's activities to the rest of the business

Shout about your team's achievements - use poster boards, internal email newsletters or your company's intranet to keep the wider company in the loop about all the hard work your team are doing. Public recognition is nice in itself - but it might also help someone get that promotion they've been going for. Motivated team member get the best results.

 

Shortlisting vendors and sending out RFPs

20. Create your WMS vendor shortlist with practical considerations in mind

There are quite a few large players in the market. When selecting vendors to include in the RFP process, a few areas to consider are your existing systems and infrastructure compatibility (e.g. does is make sense to deploy an SAP WMS if you utilize Oracle ERP?), integration requirements (e.g., what other systems need to input/output into the WMS), and the complexity of your current processes (e.g. what level of maturity are your current processes/warehouses and what class of solution best fits your complexity level?)

Torey Guingrich, Source One Management Services, LLC

 

21. Understand your current warehouse processes, and what type of software will facilitate them

Every company that needs a WMS will have unique and complex approaches to their internal processes. How products are identified, received, putaway, picked, packed, and shipped will be highly dependent on industry, customer profile, geography, etc. This is further complicated by the channels through which the company sells, whether products are controlled by date or regulatory agency (e.g., the FDA), and whether they sell B2B or B2C.

Ted Dobson, Avectous

Use this free online software comparison tool to start shortlisting warehouse tech vendors that meet your requirements

 

22. Cut through the sales talk with industry-specific conversation

It helps if the software partner has deep industry experience to what your business does. Not only will they be able to provide best practices to help your business, they will also save you money because they don’t have to learn how your business operates. Many software companies will say they understand your business, but it becomes pretty obvious once you start having conversations with them.

Peter Grube, Apprise

 

23. Look for vendors who futureproof their software

Find out if the software provider stays up on your specific industry changes and future tech needs. Find out what advances to the software they’ve made, and, what lies ahead for future releases. Keep in mind, the more relevant the answers are to your business, the better off you’ll be.

Peter Grube, Apprise

"Many software companies will say they understand your business, but it becomes pretty obvious once you start having conversations with them."

 

24. Ask for references from similar businesses to yours

Does the WMS vendor thoroughly know your business and industry? If your business operates within a particular niche, make sure the vendor has a successful track record with similar businesses. What about a money-back guarantee? A solid WMS vendor offering this type of peace of mind is worth looking into.

Eric Allais, PathGuide Technologies

 

25. Make your RFP as precise as possible

The entire SCM process is becoming increasingly technologically focused, which requires a certain amount of articulation. That said, you want to be on the lookout for companies that seem willing and able to work to help you understand precisely what they can do for you - and a well put together, detail-orientated RFP will help you do this. The right fit is the fit that can not only fulfill your needs, but help you identify how you can actually grow and improve.

Augie Kennady, Shipmonk

 

26. Include all key stakeholders' input on  your RFP document

 Ensure you have the right folks from a WH, SC, and IT perspective involved when developing your RFP materials. RFPs in this space can become quite arduous given the level of detail of functionality being evaluated. Ensure you have input in terms of what are must/nice/prefer to have functionality. Make sure you have IT input early to determine integration requirements, hardware requirements, and future support/configuration.

Torey Guingrich, Source One Management Services, LLC

 

27. Establish software capabilities pre-demo

Find out if the software being considered is able to handle all your needs before you demo. This is critical because the more 3rd party software “bolt-ons” you add, the more likely you’ll experience performance and upgrade issues in the future.

Peter Grube, Apprise

"RFPs in this space can become quite arduous given the level of detail of functionality being evaluated. Ensure you have input in terms of what are must/nice/prefer to have functionality"

 

28. Look for vendors whose culture matches your own

Read between the lines on vendor proposals. You and your business have a culture, and ideally your WMS provider should fit with that 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.

 

29. Use your distribution industry contacts to get the inside scoop on potential providers

You know people in similar businesses. Call them up - ask what WMS they use and how satisfied they are with it. What features do they wish it had? Have they gotten the support they expected? If they recently considered a change in systems, what other WMS did they consider and why were some eliminated?

 

30. Ask vendors for evidence of financial stability in your RFP

You want to go with a WMS provider that will be in business for the foreseeable future. Your RFP should therefore request financial statements, plans for continuity and how they see their business developing over the next few years. A high-octane startup with a disruptive product might sound like a tempting option, but be aware that these tend to be less stable than more establised providers. 

 

Reviewing customization and integration options

31. Look for vendors who will customize your WMS for you

Any decent WMS supplier will offer customized integrations. If the WMS you are considering doesn’t offer true customization of those integrations, beware. There is no WMS that integrates seamlessly with the other software that you use. If the WMS software supplier you are considering doesn’t offer sophisticated team members to develop custom integrations, run as quickly as possible! A WMS supplier that leaves you to develop your own integrations is doing you a great disservice. 

Ted Dobson, Avectous

 

32. ERP compatibility is essential

A business is no longer locked into the WMS provided by its ERP vendor, so make sure your WMS is completely compatible with the ERP, or you’ll run into unexpected trouble. It’s also a good idea to make sure the WMS is able to scale and adapt as the needs of your business change - or if you outgrow your ERP system altogether.

Eric Allais, PathGuide Technologies

"Make sure your WMS is completely compatible with the ERP, or you’ll run into unexpected trouble"

 

33. Integrated WMS modules and best-of-breed systems focus on different integrations

The integrations that ERP-integrated platforms and standalone WMS prioritize tend to be different. An ERP will look at other core functions of your business from payroll to purchase orders, giving a preference to the most vital functions specific to your company as a whole, whereas a standalone WMS developer will focus their integration on functions core to your warehouse. It might have options for parcel shipping or looking to consolidate your LTL loads and incorporate sophisticated picking rules.

 

34. Understand the difference between on-premise and SaaS approaches to customization

Both on-premise WMS and SaaS deployments support customization. The main difference is that SaaS companies tend to keep you on the same release as others, so if you need to customize beyond your given options that often means developing a program that can work with your WMS. On-premise WMS solutions usually are more flexible when it comes to supporting customization and working with other platforms. However, the customization may take longer because you’re working with specific systems and equipment on your location, so you may need to tailor it to address equipment or connection limitations.

 

The demo phase and making your final WMS selection decision 

35. Don't get too taken in by flashy presentations

This may sound obvious, but just because the system works for someone else, or the sales team has a pretty demo, it does not mean that the system will work for you. Supply chain management problems, particularly when optimization algorithms are involved, tend to become exponentially harder to solve as they get bigger. A system that can cope with 100 vehicles easily may fall over if faced with 200. Similarly, a few innocent-sounding unique features of your business may totally invalidate the solution – the 80-20 rule does not apply here!

Julian Stephens, MCJ2

 

36. During the demo, potential vendors should be talking about you

Avoid working with partners who provide only a system capabilities 'bells-and-whistles' style software demo. If they are talking about themselves, they are missing the point that the meeting is about you.

Ian Aguilar, Shippabo

Save hours of pre-demo vendor research using this completely up-to-date WMS vendor directory

 

37. Make the vendor operate the demo from the operational software on a physical computer

Don't let them use slides. Canned presentations give the vendor complete control of the presentation, and important features can be presented that are later explained as “conceptual” (a polite euphemism for “imaginary”). In a good demo, you can veer off in any direction, and the vendor can respond.

"This may sound obvious, but just because the system works for someone else, or the sales team has a pretty demo, it does not mean that the system will work for you"

 

38. Use scripts and example scenarios to make the vendor demonstrate features you want to see

Sending vendors you invite to demo a script to follow will ensure that all the features you want to see get ample coverage - though you should allow the vendor some space to show you what they consider their software's best features. You could be missing out otherwise! Similarly, asking presenters to run through a couple of 'example' scenarios on their software will give you a feel for the nuts and bolts of the system, and how easy it is to use on a day-to-day basis. 

 

39. Do not use a WMS demo to discuss product pricing

No vendor is going to get down to serious negotiation in front of a large group at a demo. You might get the right number of zeros in the prices, but that is about it.

 

40. Evaluate all WMS vendor demos uniformly

Give each employee present at the demos a scorecard. Rate how each vendor meets each of your key requirements from one to five, and include space for additional observations and comments. The one which scores the highest number of points overall can be judged to be the closest fit to your needs. 

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Kathryn Beeson

About the author…

Kathryn is the editor of explorewms.com. Whilst she spends a lot of her time coordinating and editing content from the Explore WMS writing team, she sometimes finds time to write articles herself. Outside of work she can usually be found running, bouldering or playing squash

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Kathryn Beeson

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