Upgrading to a modern warehouse management system

Technology doesn’t advance at a steady, synchronized rate. Sometimes revolutionary breakthroughs like the iPhone can render previous generations of technology obsolete in an instant. In other cases, innovation evolves slowly, creating a patchwork of devices and software that comingles for years.

In a warehouse that uses manual, paper-based systems to track delivery truck loading and unloading, transitioning to computer and cloud-based systems turns everything into a chaotic mountain of data. Thankfully, there are ways to stay organized and integrate a network of systems operating on different platforms.

Countless variables go into processing baked goods, and as more bakeries move toward frozen products, many factors must be considered when upgrading a warehouse management system (W.M.S.). Having a multi-platform system developed with modern tools for easy remote access can enhance the user experience and reduce complexities, noted Mark Maraj, vice-president, sales and marketing, MiT Systems.

There are apps, operating systems and websites for just about any function within the supply chain eco-system, and integration remains the key. To make it flourish, however, integration needs to be embraced by bakers looking to increase the efficiency of their warehouse, said Eric VandenBerg, director of customers solutions and product management, Harvest Food Solutions.

“Having a seamless solution that brings together several seemingly separate systems should be one of the baker’s highest priorities,” Mr. VandenBerg said.

Mr. VandenBerg added that the fix to any problem should also be easily scalable. Bakers are exposed to not only company growth but also seasonal ebbs and flows.

“A baker’s solution should be flexible with their operation, giving the peace of mind that you have room to grow without having to go through the pains of application patching or looking for a new system,” he said.

When integrating a complicated warehouse network, bakers care most about security, implementation costs, time, resources and hardware. Robert White, president and director of development, Focus Works, advised bakers to develop an estimated budget, then pay for the in-depth systems analysis to uncover the unseen issues of implementation and integration.

“From there they can make decisions as to where and what to implement first, what resources they may require internally and externally, and how to forecast their budget,” Mr. White said.

While each bakery may have its own unique data configuration from various platforms, everything should be integrated into one database. The result can affect the bottom line and every level of management and even increase available floorspace.

Bringing it all together

The warehouse is a complicated department where pieces are always moving. Managers need to monitor goods as they go in and out in real time. The business’ bottom line can be directly affected by any inaccuracies. However, oftentimes warehouse employees might be operating multiple hardware devices, even different software or operating systems, and that can delay critical updates.

To integrate a W.M.S., businesses should evaluate their current software technology, Mr. Maraj said.

“Bakers should not only consider the functionality, cost and ease of use but also look for a system that can easily interface into existing software platforms,” he advised.

Having seamless access to company information across all departments in real time facilitates better decision making for ordering and scheduling, said Mr. Maraj. Automating the warehouse helps bakers overcome traditional challenges such as inaccurate inventory counts and higher labor costs due to redundant processes.

Legacy systems may have limitations, and they can cause problems down the road when integrating new changes. However, if a system uses modern development tools and databases that provide true cross-platform access, many future headaches can be avoided.

Employee engagement and feedback is also critical to the success of any warehouse system. Computer proficiency level, title and experience can all influence how a system is accepted and implemented. Mr. Maraj said MiT Sytems’ W.M.S. eases worries about dated technology and software adaptability to changing business.

“The software is intuitive and easy to use regardless of whether you are a millennial or a novice user of technology,” he said.

MiT mobile warehouse solutions run on multiple operating systems including Android, iOS and Windows, ranging from a rugged handheld to a consumer-based cell phone, or even a tablet. This flexibility allows warehouse managers to select the device that fits not only the task at hand but also their price range.

Bakery warehouses operate with devices that come in many shapes and sizes and may include attachments for Apple or Android phones. Harvest Food Solutions’ goal is to ensure that its systems are optimized and personalized for any device.

“Our HarvestERP solution provides augmented user interfaces from small devices to desktops,” Mr. VandenBerg said. “Additionally, we know that customized on-screen personas are critical for ensuring work is efficient and safe. You don’t want a warehouse employee looking at a screen designed for an accountant.”

Full integration can extend routine implementation of a W.M.S. Bakers need to consider wired and wireless networks in warehouses as well as P.L.C.-based and mobile devices on the plant floor. In the office, desktop personal computers may be connected to a server or a virtual cloud server. Either way, they must communicate with mobile applications such as delivery and route systems or web-based order entry systems. Being aware of all these factors is critical.

“Without performing a comprehensive systems analysis, the integration and data exchange will fall short, and the company will wind up with budgetary surprise or have a fragmented data system,” Mr. White said.

To streamline this analysis, Focus Works provides experts in wireless and wired networks, servers, PC and mobile devices, multiple PC language programming, P.L.C. and processor programming, enterprise resource planning, accounting systems expertise, and bakery process and equipment knowledge.

Mr. White said a symbiotic data exchange across all systems helps avoid manually importing and exporting files between them. Consider the systems in each of these departments: warehouse, production planning, shipping and purchasing. For the total operation to work efficiently, these separate functions need to communicate data in real time. To perform efficient production scheduling from sales or work orders, companies need instantaneous data on raw materials inventory and placed-purchase orders along with work-in-progress and on-hand finished goods inventory.

Tools for the tasks

The cloud has transformed the way companies manage warehouse operations. Mr. White said one of its biggest advantages involves the possibility to use W.M.S. with a mobile device remotely. Additional benefits also include less dependency on IT personnel to service W.M.S. systems versus housing it on a corporate server.

The cloud’s impact on system availability, user access, resource management and scalability is hard to deny. MiT’s M cloud system was designed using the latest development tools, modern database and partners with industry-leading hosting companies to provide 24/7 on-demand resources. With the M cloud-based system, a test environment can be set up for bakeries to conduct testing and training with their data.

“This gives bakers the ability to make the transition to production more seamless and cost-effective,” Mr. Maraj said.

Moving a W.M.S. to the cloud makes some bakers nervous. Is their data protected? How frequently is their data backed up? Is there redundancy? The cloud provides several options to satisfy these questions based on individual needs, Mr. Maraj said.

Secure database management and file structure is vital in any system and can be a key differentiator in a W.M.S. solution. Having the option to use open-source databases that offer better performance, improved management tools and lower cost options has proven to be valuable.

“M offers various tools to efficiently import and map data to the respective fields which provides enhanced performance while accessing data across various levels,” Mr. Maraj said.

Solutions tailored to a specific bakery and its warehouse can improve efficiency and organization. Once the system incorporates personnel needs and integrates platforms and software, a warehouse can reach its full potential.

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