This continues a series of columns from practitioners I respect. The category "Real Deal" describes them well.
This time it is Thomas K. Ryan, a high impact manager and consultant in the fields of logistics, supply chain, and the solutions that fit those markets.
“Once upon a time, I was the first Gartner Group Research Director to dig into the Warehouse Management System (WMS) market place and vet the different vendors and articulate what this market was all about. I remember over the time that I was doing this for Gartner that there were a group of WMS vendors that tended to hover around the leadership square of the Magic Quadrant; once in a while they’d be in the square and the rest of the time they’d be on the edge. I used to call them the Gang of Nine. Besides them, there were upwards of 100 to 150 other WMS vendors or companies with WMS modules. Of course, all of them were on-premise providers. The challenge then was how productized and standard were their implementations vs. each was heavily customized from a solution framework/backbone.
Today things are similar, yet different too. The current push is SaaS based WMS vs. the on-premise model. In the past we had mainframe (or some other “big iron” like an AS400) vs. the client/server apps which was the “new” push. We still have heavily customized solutions, but not many. We still have ERP modules which may have more functions/features but lag behind the on-premise stand-alone solutions, just as they used to. There are probably 100 WMS vendors still around; some are new, some are just new names, and some have been absorbed by M&A activity. There are a few SaaS based WMS offerings around; some are from tier 1 on-premise vendors, some are new companies focused exclusively on SaaS, and others are marketing SaaS and delivering ASP (application service provider) hosted “in the cloud” solutions (see my article SaaS WMS Solutions – Modex 2012).
So in this situation today, you have to be focused on the fundamentals of vendor selection, just like the “old days”. You need to understand their vision for their product and its future evolution. SaaS WMS is new, not just a rehash of on-premise stuff. Is the company you are looking at serious about what it is doing as a SaaS based solution or is it just doing some marketing hype of its products to enter a new market segment on the cheap (see my article So What if my Vendor isn’t a True SaaS Provider? )?
You can’t ignore their technology and how they deliver their SaaS WMS solutions. Are they offering something that will really provide you and them the benefits that SaaS promises? Will they truly be able to grow the product without killing you with the updates as SaaS promises? Are they able to accommodate the bona fide reasons for having components on-premise, if those bona fide business needs match your requirements (see my article SaaS and WMS, is SaaS enough? )?
The technology drive brings forward key differences between SaaS WMS and the current crop of new on-premise WMS solutions vs. the older generation of on-premise WMS solutions. Specifically, there is a trend to a more configurable, application model based solution. This is virtually true of all the SaaS WMS and some of the new on-premise WMS solutions. What this brings us are tools that allow more business rule or work flow based modifications/customizations. These data driven changes and are easier to execute during the initial installation as well as add later as new functions become available or are required. High Jump software is leading the way in this respect with their App Station modules. These are modules that exist outside of the core WMS solution but can be added by download from the App Station and then simply configured. The core code is not altered. It is thus possible for FedEx or UPS shipping functionality to be available but only to those who need it. Most of the time, this kind of shipping function is implemented in the core code leading to a “code bloat” in the base solution.
Other new features driven by the technology platform are dash boards and graphical presentation of the key performance indicators (KPIs) for the warehouse. Again, this capability is most prevalent with the SaaS WMS but can also be seen with the newer on-premise solutions. Deposco, Snap Fulfill, High Software, and Smart Turn are all good examples.
Functionality is what meets your needs today. This is no different than how it has always been. Most SaaS based WMS solutions are new so expect functionality to be less than the tier 1 on-premise solutions. Thus, you really need to be sure that they have what you can use. Don’t just look for how your processes work today in their new solution, look for your real REQUIREMENTS and learn how you can use their functionality to meet those requirements.
The WMS software offered today vs. what was offered back at the dawn of today’s tier 1 on-premise vendors has its differences more in how they are delivered, versus what is delivered. The SaaS technology that underlies some of the new WMS offerings is the real change and that is not going to be attractive to everyone. What really hasn’t changed is software selection. The fundamentals remain. This is true for SaaS WMS as well as any other software solution. Be clear about what you need, what your requirements are. Do some thinking outside of your “how I do it today” box. Vet your options and choose the best fit for you based on vision, technology, function/feature, cost, and service and support.”
Tom can be reached at tomryan AT tkrconsulting DOT com