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    Warehouse Wizardry

    Increased sophistication and efficiency are answering new supply chain challenges.

    By Bob Ingram
    HighJump Software features upgrades that the customer can perform.

    Retail food marketing is changing at a pace that demands warehouse management systems include adaptable technology that can evolve along with retailers? businesses.

    ?Customer demand for omni-channel options has been one of the most significant trends we?ve seen,? affirms Chuck Fuerst, director of product strategy at HighJump Software, in Minneapolis. ?Now customers want to order merchandise however they want, whenever they want, and have it delivered wherever they want.?

    Grocers are currently trying to balance the growth in e-commerce with traditional store shopping, and adaptability tools can transform the supply chain into a competitive advantage by replacing the traditional one-size-fits-all approach with a tailored one, according to Fuerst.

    ?HighJump Software has an extremely flexible and adaptable WMS [warehouse management system] that includes rapid upgrades that the customer can perform,? he notes. ?Some have been completed in less than a day. This helps customers stay current on the latest technology and industry features. HighJump also offers quick and easy incorporation of change orders: New technology is easily leveraged without business disruption, avoiding the obsolescence that occurs with many traditional systems.?

    Fuerst says that HighJump?s in-store fulfillment capabilities also address the shift to an omni-channel marketplace. ?For instance,? he points out, ?our WMS has expanded out from the warehouse and a store?s back office onto the retail floor, and is even integrated with POS systems. This enables real-time control and greater visibility of all inventory, allowing grocers to source products from nontraditional locations.?

    Regarding next-generation WMS tools for the supermarket industry, Fuerst says those that provide a seamless experience will be key. Grocers must be able to grow their online strategies while maintaining and growing their brick-and-mortar businesses.

    HighJump is readying itself for these changes, observes Fuerst, in a number of ways: automatic control and prioritization of store replenishment processes to minimize stock-outs and better manage the workforce; store receipt processing with support for ASN (advanced ship notice) and PO receipt processes with directed put-away for streamlined work flow; cycle counting and inventory adjustment controls to maintain inventory accuracy, work queue, labor and productivity management to support store associate management; and real-time inventory visibility to support more timely supply chain decisions and supplier visibility.

    ?We are also exploring how augmented reality can be leveraged within the supply chain,? he says. ?There are definitely some obvious benefits that could come from leveraging this type of technology, especially the hands-free operations, as well as the use of product images for efficient product recognition and error reduction.?

    HighJump is ?also focused on ensuring the mobility of our solutions, including support for a wider variety of devices and user experiences, and being able to leverage consumer-grade devices within the store that can support store execution tasks, as well as maintain the shopping experience,? he continues.

    Cash Flow is King

    According to Simon Sterling, marketing executive at Chicago-based Snapfulfill: ?The evolution from a single sales channel to multiple channels and now to an omni-channel scenario has created increasingly multifaceted work processes and decisions involving allocation and segregation of inventory. In today?s increasingly complex sales and supply chain environment, the single most important function for a warehouse management system is full network visibility and traceability.?

    Sterling believes that establishing processes to ensure inventory is synchronized across different systems is one of the primary factors that a modern WMS must achieve. ?At Snapfulfill, we are ever cognizant of the fact that our e-commerce customers operate in a very price-sensitive market and need to keep their distribution costs to a minimum,? he notes.

    Cash flow being king for most online retailers, Snapfulfill has adopted a SaaS (software as a service) business model to replace upfront hardware and software costs with a pay-as-you-go/monthly installment model, says Sterling. ?This way,? he explains, ?food retail companies are not locked into an inflexible three-to-five-year payback period, which is frequently the case with conventional software solutions. As SaaS costs are crucially dictated by the level of usage, they can be scaled easily and quickly according to nuances and fluctuations in the marketplace.?

    Further, a SaaS system like Snapfulfill?s significantly reduces training needs, while upgrades are automated, notes Sterling. This is key because labor costs in non-automated warehouses account for about 50 percent of total warehouse costs.

    ?Snapfulfill unusually offers a ?no cap ex? [capital expenditure] scheme,? he says, ?so not only do companies make ongoing cost reductions through improved efficiency, visibility and accuracy, but they are also guaranteed the high level of customer service that is always delivered with a managed SaaS model.?

    A new product at Snapfulfill, according to Sterling, is Snap-To-Light, which was designed to enhance the power of the SaaS WMS with a Pick to Light (PTL) cart that not only drives the warehouse maTherial handlers/operatives on the shortest walk sequence, picking multiple orders in a single pass, but also, through the use of a robust lighting harness, indicates which orders/totes the items need to be picked into, lowering the number of visits to a pick face while also increasing accuracy.

    With Snap-To-Light, concludes Sterling, ?there is no longer a trade-off between shipping accuracy and a hands-free picking environment.?

    Thus, warehouse management, critical to food marketing evolution, is obviously anticipating and meeting the real-time challenges of a constantly evolving industry.

    ?In today?s increasingly complex sales and supply chain environment, the single most important function for a warehouse management system is full network visibility and traceability.?
    ?Simon Sterling, Snapfulfill

    By Bob Ingram
    • About Bob Ingram

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