Here’s a tip – if you want to have a telephone conversation with a struggling warehouse manager, never call them first thing or last thing in the day. Why? Well, in the morning they’ll be busy looking at the number of people who turned up for work versus the number of orders they have to get out that day – in other words, planning. In the afternoon, they will be dealing with the reality of making the deadline, taking into account whatever has happened during the day.
The Army (who know a fair bit about logistics) believe in planning, but they also have a famous saying: “No plan ever survives contact with the enemy.”
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There is a parallel in warehouse management, but in this case the ‘enemy’ is just an inevitable real-world event that comes along and compromises your neatly planned day. Some events are easy to spot, like that pallet of spilt stock lying in the middle of aisle three, which someone is going to have to clean up. Other events, like a last-minute influx of orders just before the cut off time, aren’t so obvious until the picks start hitting the floor and the replen’s start stacking up.
If your best picker goes home ill during such an influx, the problem can snowball before you have spotted it. Getting things back in shape can be challenging – and it might be entirely too late.
Warehouse management software can help
Increasingly, warehouse management software (WMS) users who also use radio frequency (RF) terminals are implementing operational dashboards. These crunch all the real-time data from the mobile warehouse terminals into KPIs which can then be used to monitor how things are going. We refer to this as ‘automated situational awareness’.
The system keeps a constant eye on all the key measures of work done, versus work remaining, versus the throughput of your resource. The main thing here is that these activities are automated and unprompted by you or anyone else. You can rely on the WMS operational dashboard to inform you when any operations look like they are straying onto the wrong side of the line.
Alternatively, if all is fine, then the system keeps quiet and lets you get on with your day. Unlike reporting, you don’t have to keep asking the system what is going on. You can rely on it to tell you - and crucially, it will only tell you what you need to know, when you need to know it.
The next step in warehouse management
A really good warehouse management system goes even further, alerting you to potential problems before things reach the point of no return. This allows you to drill down using the operational dashboard, discover the cause of the problem, and make an informed decision on what corrective action to take. By monitoring KPIs for all key operations across the warehouse, systems can send out real-time alerts and allow users to act in time.