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Inventory Software and Efficiency
Itís difficult enough for a company that has a warehouse management system in place, but has to upgrade and install new features to keep up with either a rapid industry growth rate or a simple increase in orders. Consider then, the almost insurmountable obstacles faced by a company that has managed to get by until recently with no automated warehouse management system at all. A company in that situation may be able to maintain the status quo, but growth opportunities are likely to be very limited. There isnít much doubt that an organization that wants or needs to grow will have to move into an electronic warehouse management system in order to handle the increased order volume. In some ways, starting from scratch is easier than replacing an outdated legacy system.

The difficulty comes when determining which warehouse management system to install and which features are most essential. One retail electronics company found that integrating a warehouse management system with its 22 existing carousels enabled simultaneous picking of multiple orders, with only one operator in charge of each three carousels. In addition, the company began using wireless handheld scanners for receiving, picking and putaway of its larger, floor stacked products. The solution not only enabled the company to accommodate substantially increased orders, but to reduce overtime costs by about $8,000 per month. As an added bonus, order fulfillment accuracy increased and turnaround times decreased. The companyís shipping costs decreased as a result of being able to combine orders that previously had to be separately shipped due to an inability to find and combine them. Customers were pleased because the company passed along the savings in shipping costs.

The results experienced by this particular electronics company are not necessarily unique. Indeed, a number of companies have reported experiencing similar results when paper-based processes were replaced with software applications. Replacing picking, packing and putaway procedures documented on paper with carousels, scanners and a WMS system, can create fairly dramatic savings in some cases.

Integrating the warehouse management system with the World Wide Web so that customers can order online further enhances the entire process. Data entry is eliminated and dealers are able to access their orders on the Internet and see where they are in the shipping process without having to place a phone call or just wait and see when an order shows up. In fact, with many systems, the customers receive advance shipping notices generated by the computer system, keeping them even more directly in the loop.

On a cautionary note, companies sometimes fail to plan for the sheer volume of data that is generated by software applications. The increase in electronic data must be anticipated and provided for; otherwise it can cause system slowdowns and network nightmares. However, if systems are upgraded in advance of a move from paper to electronics, problems with processing and storage of additional data need never occur.

The emphasis in todayís retail marketplace is definitively on getting products out faster and cheaper than competitors can. That requires both speed and accuracy in the warehouse with regard to all functions from putaway to picking and shipping. Working faster with more employees is simply not a satisfactory solution for most businesses. The alternative is working smarter with automated functions and less employees.
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