Is Warehouse Management Software Obsolete?
Swisslog’s new SynQ software is more than what you think of when you hear “WMS.” It’s an integrated intralogistics software platform that offers opportunities to gain insights and better manage the operation in ways typical WMS systems cannot. By combining warehouse management capabilities with the real-time execution of a warehouse control system, and adding in the intelligence gained from the data, you have a system that can revolutionize your operations.
In February of this year, we introduced a significant update to our warehouse management and execution software, called SynQ, which is short for Synchronized Intelligence Quotient. We were excited about the various capabilities SynQ delivers to our customers, including an automation-centric design, a full suite of business intelligence tools, and a modular architecture that allows users to deploy the exact capabilities they need without limiting future flexibility.
But we weren’t sure exactly how to describe it in a way that would be familiar to warehouse operators but still capture the full capabilities of the platform. It is warehouse management software for sure, but calling it a “WMS” just didn’t seem sufficient considering the current perceptions of what a WMS is.
Did we need to invent a new “category” of software to describe SynQ?
Software-based warehouse management systems first began to appear in the 1980s to minimize the use of paper records in warehouses. Early WMS vendors promised increased efficiency and productivity and largely delivered on that promise. It didn’t take long before a centralized WMS was a standard feature of a modern warehouse. Like smartphones, it’s hard to remember how we got along without them.
They’ve evolved significantly since those early days, adding new capabilities and integrating with business management systems. But warehouse operations have evolved even faster, particularly in the area of automation. Complementary software systems, such as WCS and dedicated automation control systems, were required to extend the capabilities of the WMS.
This has left us with the current situation where WMS systems operate as the middle layer of a software stack, feeding data to ERP systems above them and warehouse control systems below them.
It was a natural evolution that has allowed today’s warehouses to continue to advance efficiency and productivity—those original promises of the earliest WMS vendors—but at some cost. The rapid adoption of automation in recent years has forced operations to support multiple software platforms and limited their ability to collect and use data. The lack of useful data makes it difficult to respond efficiently to fluctuations in demand that are common today.
Instead of thinking about warehouse management from the top down, we engineered SynQ from the bottom up, integrating all of the functionality required to support people, processes and systems in an automated warehouse in a single, modular platform. In the process, we shattered the traditional hierarchical software stack with a traditional WMS at the center.
It’s basically how you would design a WMS today if you were starting from scratch. You wouldn’t have separate software for execution and automation control. Operators don’t want siloed visibility or data. They want the ability to manage people, products and processes seamlessly at every stage of their operations, from receiving to storage to picking to fulfillment. A platform that integrates all these insights is what is required.
Equally important, SynQ recognizes the value of data in today’s warehouse. It includes a suite of business intelligence tools and services to help you transform big data into smart data. With SynQ, you can do everything from visualize operations virtually to evaluate performance and maintenance requirement in real-time to consolidate alerts and alarms across all of your systems, all of which allows you to maximize uptime and respond fluidly to changes in demand.
So, SynQ is more than what you think of when you hear “WMS.” It’s an integrated intralogistics software platform that offers opportunities to gain insights and better manage the operation in ways typical WMS systems cannot. By combining warehouse management capabilities with the real-time execution of a warehouse control system, and adding in the intelligence gained from the data, you have a system that can revolutionize your operations.
Yet, ultimately, we opted against trying to create a new category for SynQ—you have enough acronyms floating around in your head already. You don’t need another one.
And, the more we thought about it, the more we realized the problem isn’t with the term WMS; it’s with the limitations we now associate with the term.
WMS isn’t obsolete, but our current definition of it is. Instead of creating a new category of warehouse management software, it’s time to redefine our expectations of what a WMS is and how it integrates with people, processes and equipment in the warehouse.
To learn more about SynQ and its innovative approach to automated warehouse management visit swisslog.com/SynQ.
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Michael Howes is Vice President, Software and Controls, of Swisslog WDS Americas and leads the Software and Controls Hub in Newport News, VA. Previously Howes was Vice President, Software and Controls, of FORTE, which Swisslog acquired in 2015. He brings 25 years of software development and management experience in the financial services, transportation and logistics industries to Swisslog.