Contributed by Eric Allais, CEO, PathGuide Technologies

If you’re thinking about switching to a new WMS, you’re probably more than a little intimidated. That’s normal—it’s a vital business decision, and you want to be sure you’re making the right one. Replacing your WMS might pay off in the long run if the new system offers enough improvements over the old one to make the implementation process worthwhile.

When contemplating a better WMS, the most important question is how your current WMS is holding back productivity. Matching requirements to functionality will help you identify the areas where you need to improve warehouse operations, making it easier to know what features to look for in a new system.

The following points will help you navigate the selection process.

Does your WMS integrate with your ERP system? This is the most obvious question. Many smaller WMS providers now support major ERP systems, so you’re no longer locked into the WMS provided by your ERP vendor.

How experienced is your implementation team? Switching to a new WMS may involve changing warehouse processes, retraining employees, and adapting to the new system, but a well-planned and executed implementation makes this much easier. Ask how much experience the vendor’s implementation team has and how their past implementations have gone. This will give you perspective to help make the WMS migration as minimally disruptive as possible.

Is your WMS customizable, and how easy is that process? This question is vital. Every company has its own unique business processes and the WMS will usually have to be tweaked to fit them. How responsive is the vendor? Make sure to take the cost of enhancements into account when calculating the overall price of the upgrade. If it’s difficult to modify the WMS, how will that affect your workflow? On the other side, an easily customizable WMS can improve your warehouse in ways you might not realize. As examples, we have customers that have created unique will-call systems or customized modules for managing cut items, such as wire.

What kind of support do you offer? Will I get a live person on the phone when I call? Can I call 24 hours a day? What’s the average response time? Problems will come up with any new system, so be sure you can solve yours quickly. Find out as many details as you can about the training process ahead of time, because this will let you know how easy (or difficult) you can expect it to be. Being able to talk to a local product expert any day of the week is much different than getting a phone number for a help-desk call center in a foreign country.

Can your WMS integrate with carousels, vertical lists, and/or conveyors? Many small and medium-sized distributors find that these material handling systems are good ways to expand their operations without adding more floor space. If you’re a growing company, looking for a WMS that integrates with these can make it easier to expand a few years down the line.

Can your WMS extend to provide small parcel carrier shipments, including less-than-truckload? With the rise of ecommerce, single-item shipping is only going to increase, so make sure your new WMS can handle it.

Does your WMS automate the handling of inbound dock scheduling? We’ve seen a trend in the WMS industry toward modules that let you schedule incoming freight. Some WMS vendors also offer transportation management systems. This could be a good way to make your unloading and shipping processes more efficient, particularly if your company isn’t big enough for a full Yard Management System.

Upgrading your WMS doesn’t need to be complicated, as long as you plan for it. Armed with answers to these questions, you’ll be well prepared to make the right decision to create significant opportunities for your company. Best of luck in your search!