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» WMS and RFID

When does warehouse management software become not just warehouse management software? For all intents and purposes, right now. WMS is changing and changing rapidly. It is not enough in todays business environment to just be able to manage warehouse functions and track merchandise while it being stored. Competition demands that warehouse management systems be synchronized with a variety of other supply chain functions to provide end-to-end tracking and verification. A WMS system is just the beginning of what has become a very complicated process.

The major development in the evolution of WMS at present is the addition of radio frequency identification technology. The nations largest retailers are demanding RFID tracking for the products they purchase andven the Department of Defense (DOD) has jumped on the RFID bandwagon. Nobody knows for sure how the insurgence of RFID will affect the supply chain as a whole, but most experts are betting that it is around to stay and will only grow in popularity and widespread use. Companies should investigate RFID now so they can be ready when it becomes an industry mandate. It also appears that strategic alliances are being formed between WMS providers and RFID providers - another sign that RFID is the technology of the future and isnt going away any time soon. The beauty of RFID is that it provides added capability to supply chain transition seamless from end-to-end and, while the initial costs may be high, the cost savings to be realized down the road are estimated to be even higher. All things considered, companies will likely have to implement RFID technology sooner or later, whether they really like and understand it or not.

And, RFID is not the only technology that is pushing the evolution of warehouse management systems. Optimization tools that maximize warehousing operations are another technological addition to WMS. These are tools that are specifically designed to take a look at a warehouse or distribution business and discover which operations are most effective and least effective. They can then be used to create more efficient ways for distribution centers to function while doing so at the lowest cost.

Event management and visibility are two more functions that are appearing increasingly frequently in WMS packages. Events management technology examines day-to-day operations and determines when situations might become critical, alerting management ahead of time. Some packages contain an alert system that generates the information in real-time so that the company can react immediately when something is going wrong somewhere along the line. Visibility is a web-enabled tool that taps into partner systems all along the supply chain and provides a complete look at where products or materials are at any given time. This has become another valuable planning tool for warehouse managers.

Another evolution for WMS systems is that they are no longer provided only by WMS-specific vendors. Others are getting into the act, specifically providers of enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions. Experts say that in recent months ERP providers have made significant advances with their WMS offerings and are becoming competitive. WMS vendors, in response, have had to develop packages that seamlessly integrate ERP systems with WMS.

Warehouse management systems are evloving into much more than simple management systems. For some companies, they are becoming an integral part of the company's overall supply chain.

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