It’s time to get smart: embracing the connected warehouse

For every warehouse operator, the goal for the future should not only be maximising efficiency, but also optimising real-time data intelligence, explains NetSuite’s Sid Geddam.

A warehouse is more than just a warehouse. It’s a place where all business processes take place under one roof.

Accolade wines wants to leverage its supply chain excellence to be the supplier of choice for supermarkets
Boxes, forklifts and staff aren’t the only things that move through a warehouse.

Boxes, forklifts and staff aren’t the only things that move through a warehouse – data flows across a range of business processes, from receipt of goods to storage and tracking, picking and packing.

In order for a warehouse to function to the best of its ability, it’s vital that this data is utilised correctly, as it has a huge impact on performance of the entire supply chain.

Outdated or unreliable data can result in inefficient warehouse operations, leading to delays; errors; needless costs; supplier and customer dissatisfaction and, ultimately, lost revenue.

The warehouse needs to be ‘smart’ and connected in order to perform at its best, and the key to achieving this is correct management and use of real-time data.

Businesses now have a huge opportunity to optimise warehouse performance with real-time data that flows through a centralised warehouse management system (WMS) to synchronise all processes.

When all information is centralised and can be monitored correctly, the data can be used as the basis for informed decision-making and planning, eliminating waste and streamlining operations – becoming a truly ‘smart’, connected warehouse.

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So what are the key benefits to smartening up your warehouse operations?

Making connections

A warehouse cannot exist in isolation – it requires established, real-time data-driven relationships with the organisation’s entire supply chain ERP and CRM systems, plus data from partners or resellers.

The flow of information from external partner systems is a key tactic to enable a smarter-working warehouse.

By linking up warehouse operations to CRM, for example, companies can equip sales and service personnel with real-time information on orders and inventory to grow the business.

Integration between a warehouse and ERP, additionally, supports more accurate planning and forecasting with insights into stock levels, inventory turns and carrying costs that impact the bottom line.

This data management system provides a warehouse with a complete overview of its own business processes and all external operations, giving full visibility across the supply chain and enabling staff to use valuable insights taken from that data.

This transparency allows staff to identify gaps and areas for cost-efficient improvement, alongside increasing the supply network’s resilience.

Reacting to change

A key objective for many is to future-proof warehouse operations as the pace of business change continues to accelerate.

Companies are looking for agility to not only react swiftly to change, but to drive change by taking advantage of disruptive technologies for greater efficiency, partner collaboration and competitive advantage.

Supply Chain Cloud
Agile, cloud-based WMS solutions offer adaptability and scalability.

Agile, cloud-based WMS solutions enable this adaptability and scalability without the high cost, inflexibility and delay of outdated, on-premise legacy systems.

As a business grows and expands, one thing that cannot be predicted is how customers, partners and industry as a whole may change over time. It may be a gradual change or a wave of disruptive start-ups with fresh business models enter the market.

Today’s warehouses are changing already, as new technologies appear with the promise of maximising efficiency across the whole enterprise.

A cloud-based suite of solutions is highly adaptable to change, being both easily customisable and scalable, dependent upon business environment.

Getting hands-on with emerging tech

A ‘smart’ warehouse is linked to a business’s internal ERP and CRM systems, in addition to supply chain partner applications. Increasingly, the warehouse can also integrate with devices via the Internet of Things (IoT).

From two-way radios to smartphones, laptops to landlines, tablets to rugged handhelds no one is beyond reach in today's smart factory - image courtesy of DFC.
Increasingly, the warehouse can also integrate with devices via the Internet of Things (IoT).

As such, it is perfectly placed to bring in emerging technologies to take efficiency to a whole new level. The rise in automation, from smart forklifts and robots, to voice picking, and wearable devices for staff, can make a warehouse’s operations much more efficient.

If a warehouse has realised unified business processes thanks to a consistent real-time data flow from its WMS, it’s primed to bring in these technologies, which, in addition to optimising efficiency, can capture, analyse and act on even more real-time data.

It’s not just about new technologies. It’s about realising that in today’s customer-centric world, a business’s operations can no longer be invisible to its consumers and frequently, companies will have to meet a rising customer expectation for transparency.

It’s not uncommon for an entire product lifecycle to be tracked, in order to meet regulatory requirements and meet the demands of increasingly particular consumers. Many consumers, for example, now factor in how ‘green’ a company’s entire manufacturing and supply chain operations are, when making a product purchase decision.

An effective WMS allows for transparency to meet this demand.

Get smart – it’s the future

the connected environment has also made the manufacturing and automation industries more susceptible to network attacks than ever before
Building a ‘smart’ connected warehouse is a milestone in maximising warehouse efficiency.

Building a ‘smart’ connected warehouse is a milestone in maximising warehouse efficiency, as well as positioning a company to decisively navigate constant changes.

However, for every warehouse operator, the end goal should not just be about maximising efficiency. Optimising real-time data intelligence should be the key focus.

By gaining full visibility into all information flowing in and out of a warehouse, staff are equipped with reliable, real-time data to use in a variety of ways, ultimately improving operations.

Real-time data access through an effective WMS provides an insight into why and how to customise existing business processes, while simultaneously forming a trusted basis for guiding decision making and future planning.