Buying a warehouse management system is a huge decision for businesses. The long expected life span and the high cost of switching to a new WMS require that you make the right decision the first time. Choosing the wrong WMS can be catastrophic to a supply chain business.

As business and technology has progressed, so has the process of buying a warehouse management system. In the past, senior management had to go out and find a WMS with core functionality that closely matched their operations. Sometimes this meant finding specific functions that one vendor did better than another. Sometimes this meant finding a WMS vendor that had similar clients in your industry. That process no longer exists.

Nearly all warehouse management systems share the same core functions. What has changed is the technological architecture of these warehouse management systems.

In plain English, every WMS can do pretty much the same thing, but the platform used to design and structure the system will play a huge role in its effectiveness for your company.

In Gartner’s 2013 report, 10 Technology Best Practices When Evaluating Warehouse Management Systems, the technology research giant stresses that technical architecture should be one of the most important, if not the single greatest factor in selecting the best warehouse management system. There are four key factors for why the underlying technology of a WMS is so important to its effectiveness:

  1. Cost- as we mentioned above, the costs involved in switching from one WMS to another can be quite high.
     
  2. Customization- a system that requires a high level of customization to its platform to make it work for your business will also require higher costs to maintain and longer wait times for upgrades.
     
  3. Adaptation- a modern WMS will be able to more easily adapt to the ever-changing world than a system built long ago.
     
  4. Sophistication- a modern WMS will be able to more efficiently keep up with the demands of modern supply chain management than one designed on technology from 20 years ago.

When buying a new WMS, follow these guidelines to ensure that your WMS will contribute to making your business more effective and efficient:

  • The platform the WMS is built on will be able to last for a long time
     
  • There is minimal customization required to the core platform of the WMS, but if customization is required, the WMS has the tools already in place to make them
     
  • The platform of the WMS will be able to easily adapt to changes in industry standards
     
  • The WMS is easy-to-use and has great support

If the WMS you are considering for your business can’t keep up with those guidelines, it’s in your best interest to look elsewhere.

Overseeing the supply chain is a continual process of making sure your business operates in a more cost-effective, efficient and profitable manner. Doing this requires technology that can talk, interact, and easily share data with your other systems. As Gartner stresses, organizations looking to purchase the best warehouse management system should embrace the principles of SOA. The report goes on:
 

"While service-oriented architecture (SOA) continues to be a compelling topic for IT organizations considering application replacement and modernization, most WMS vendors haven't rewritten their applications to be SOA-compliant. Instead, they've wrapped their APIs in SOA-style technologies for syntactic compliance to meet demand. Although this approach will reduce some integration costs, it won't deliver the capabilities required for increased agility."


To put that excerpt into plain English, most WMS vendors are using a piece of gum to patch a hole in a dam. Pretty soon, that gum (the tiny, cosmetic changes they’re making to their WMS) won’t be enough anymore.

Embracing SOA simply means that your organization is future-proofing your warehouse management system. While core functionality may be the same across all WMS platforms, the technical architecture of Warehouse Managements Systems is not equal. A modern WMS must integrate with in-house and external systems without the need for extensive custom coding. This requires your WMS to have the most advanced technological architecture available today: utilizing the cloud.

Due to the costly and timely process of rewriting 20+ years of custom code, many vendors have not begun the process of transitioning to a web-platform. Other vendors have developed solutions that are client-server based but only appear to launch web platforms. To remain agile and allow your organizations to adapt to changes as they occur, you need to buy into the most advanced technological architecture available for your WMS.

While you certainly cannot foresee the challenges your business will face during the next ten years, you can ensure that your WMS is able to dynamically change along with your company. When purchasing or upgrading, select a WMS vendor that has already made the investment in differentiating its technology. You will then have the business and applications agility necessary to better control and improve your supply chain operations.