It is popular to write about next year trends at the end of current year in all kinds of subjects. Supply chain and logistics is no exception. I know I am a bit late we are already at the end of January, but really when did trends begin to take into account calendar years?
Warehouse logistics is a very interesting topic in focus right now, the reason is the rapid development of omni-channel and e-commerce. Many companies are currently going through the same phase, reduced profitability due to increased logistics costs when implementing omni-channel and e-commerce. For us who are passionate about logistics, it is super interesting with all the focus on the subject. The development has never been as fast as now and more companies are interested in investing in technology and knowledge.
Focus areas now and in the near future regarding warehouse logistics will be:
AI and machine learning in WMS.
Many established WMS vendors have started to use or is right now in development/experimental phase regarding machine learning in WMS. However, it differ what areas they apply it on in the system. Some vendors focus in order streaming capabilities and other focus in slotting for example. One thing is certain regardless of which focus areas the WMS suppliers currently have regarding the implementation of AI in WMS. They all agree that AI offer a vast potential to deliver additional value to their customers, and believe they are just beginning the journey. If you going to invest in WMS in the near future I recommend you to look, how the WMS suppliers you are interested in work with AI/machine learning. It is an expensive development for the WMS suppliers and I believe many of the smaller WMS suppliers will “disappear” in the near future. They have insufficient customer base and not enough capital to be able to follow the rapid technological development. As a customer it is important to take in consideration your company’s future needs and not be naive when you invest in this kind of complex software.
Automation and more advanced warehouse control systems (WCS)
With increasing logistic costs, more companies invest in warehouse automation. But when you work with online business-to-consumer e-commerce it is extremely important to be able to handle large peaks in order fulfillment and because of that warehouses is having higher demands for more sophisticated and agile WCS, also known as warehouse execution systems (WES). Both the automation manufacturers and the WMS suppliers have realized this and are developing and promoting their own systems. It is important to invest in a system that are easy to integrate and can utilize information from several systems to make the automation agile and responsive to peaks in order fulfillment. When investing in automation, it is important not to forget the holistic perspective in the warehouse. A competent WCS is critical if you want to avoid “monuments” as you say in lean language. The variable flow of today’s e-commerce industry are causing retailers and distribution operations to seek out more adaptable and scalable solutions
Digital control tower (DCT)
To decrease costs (not only in warehouse logistics) and in the same time have a high service rate it is extremely important to have a transparent supply chain with correct information from end to end. You need to work cross-functional, purchasing departments, suppliers, sales and marketing departments all of them need to be transparent and share information through the organization. It is impossible to do this in a manual way therefore some pioneering companies invest in digital control towers that collect, analyze and visualize important business critical information. This is complex solutions and I recommend you to read more about the subject in a great article at “Logistics Viewpoints” see link below. Not many companies have started to use this technology but I can ensure you we will see more of this. I am also sure we will see AI and machine learning integrated in DCT considering the huge amounts of data from different systems. In DCT it would be a great decision helper.
Knowledge and Competence
With a greater focus on warehouse logistics in a global perspective there is an increasing demand for competence in the subject. Companies is beginning to looking abroad to find this competence. Today’s logistic consultants need a broad competence. They need to be tech savvy and have competence about both automation, WCS/WES, WMS and TMS for example. It is a great bonus if you also have social skills and knowledge in change management in order to make great implementations with the warehouse staff on your side.