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Warehouse Management Software Buyer Trends

We would like to share a new research report by Forrest Burnson, the Managing Editor for Software Advice, an organization that  provides detailed reviews, comparisons, and research to help other organizations choose the right software to meet their needs.

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Every year, Software Advice speaks to hundreds of businesses that are searching for the best warehouse management system (WMS) to fit their needs. These interactions give them tremendous insight into the needs of WMS buyers across a wide assortment of industries. They recently analyzed a random selection of 385 of these interactions to examine the main reasons buyers are seeking new WMS software.

Some key findings include:

  • Among big businesses, 72% wanted barcoding capabilities, and nearly one-fifth wanted RFID tracking capabilities.

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  • More than one-third of buyers are currently using manual methods (e.g. pen and paper) as their warehouse management solution.

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  • More than 25% of 3PL firms wanted a WMS that offers EDI capabilities.

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If you are in the process of evaluating potential WMS solutions or would like to simply learn out more about their findings, you can find the rest of their research here: warehouse management software buyer trends

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The True Value Adders – 3PL Service Providers

3PLs and their clients share a unique relationship. When a prospective client is sourcing for a potential firm to do business with, they are looking for a variety of key business offerings. To meet this demand, 3PL firms offer a number of key services to ensure their clients’ companies receive stellar service and increased value to the bottom line:

Expertise3PL Value Adds

A 3PL firm offers a high level of expertise in logistics and operations, resulting in a reduction of time, an improvement in carrier management, order tracking efficiencies, shipment visibility and reduced risk.

Analysis

Analyzing networks is a key process that cannot be avoided. 3PL firms are able to provide a detailed analysis of distribution and inventory while being able to make changes along the way. This keeps all changes, production and other factors up-to-date and removes the responsibility from the employees that may not have the know-how to do a thorough in-house analysis.

Cost-Containment

3PL firms have the ability to provide information on all production issues and ineffective processes, including having the ability to employ corrective measures within certain boundaries.

Strategic Capacity

3PL firms are able to strategically measure, evaluate and employ methods that will cater to an organization’s needs according to price and level of service. They are capable at resolving any issues and demands when analyzing and executing these methods using a large carrier network.

Compliance

No shipping organization can go without supply chain management. 3PL have the ability to create a reporting platform that will communicate with supply chain partners in a timely and accurate manner while providing objective feedback to improve processes.

Load Optimization

3PLs are able to give information on cost-savings achieved through load optimization based on times, dates and shipping details provided. This helps optimize all shipments, removing the in-house responsibility.

Systems Support

3PLs are able to provide adequate systems support, coordinating results with the expectations of current and future customers.

Reduction of Risks

3PLs are able to evaluate and diminish easily identifiable risks, giving perspectives on how to develop a program to address those risks that are harder to pinpoint and resolve.

In a general sense, these are some key business services that many 3PLs offer and should help organizations when determining whether or not their firm is making a difference in their bottom line and serving all their needs. 3PLs after all are proven experts in the field and a highly professional and experienced one can take care of all your logistics needs.

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Social Media in Third-Party Logistics

Social MediaTechnology continues to alter the way companies do business, placing a huge focus on customer engagement and product marketing. Although the use of social media is fairly new to the third-party logistics arena, companies are starting to take notice and incorporate a variety of platforms into their processes.

Why social media?

Why not? Social media has now become a significant part of the industry, with companies using social networks to market products, recruit new talent, advance sales and improve customer service. Social CRM in the Supply Chain, a report from IDC Research Services indicates that logistics companies who use social media platforms see increased benefits over companies that do not use social media. According to the report, 88 percent of the respondents have reported savings in time of over 10 percent, and a 60 percent reporting of improved satisfaction among supply chain vendors and partners.

Third-party logistics companies have successfully used LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and blogs as outreach methods to enhance their business model. Used wisely, social media can open doors and create viable partnerships for current and future business.

Go-gulf.com reports a 74 percent research rate of a company’s social media presence by consumers prior to making their decision to purchase. This means that companies must use social media effectively in traditional marketing, enhancing relationships and increasing their exposure.

One of the major obstacles in building brand equity is understanding how clients and potential customers or prospects use social media to gather information. Researching which platforms are used by these individuals and providing a relevant stream of engaging content on a continuous basis is a quick way to build and retain audiences.

Social media helps create dialogue with prospective customers and current clients. Being able to address questions and participate in conversations using Twitter or other forums helps a company stay relevant and informed on what customers and clients need and want. Being engaged through social media also allows a company to introduce new innovative methods, ideas and products that are coming down the pipeline, enhancing other marketing efforts that may be a part of the current strategy.

Using social media can help the company’s overall bottom line, and the impact of online reviews should be taken very seriously. Using a fulfilment center that is active and engaged on social media platforms can increase brand equity and enhance brand image.

What are the best social media platforms for 3PL?

That depends on your scope and marketing strategy. For executives recruiting talent, LinkedIn has proven to be a great resource, with a large number of companies using this tool, with Facebook coming in at a close second. Although every platform is not for everyone, using Twitter for quick updates and conversations is a growing trend. Companies should also consider using blogs with informative content and visuals to keep clients and customers engaged.

Putting together a strategic team to assess which platform would be most useful is important, but at the minimum, using a blog, Twitter and LinkedIn can work wonders. While Facebook has its advantages, the trend of Facebook is dwindling in certain B2B scetors. Companies should focus on those platforms that will keep them highly engaged with their customers on a continuous basis that is simple, quick and effective.

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Cultivating a Successful Partnership with your Clients

Having a great product or service that people want to buy is the first step to any successful business. However, there are a number of other steps needed to complete a satisfactory transaction between a business and their customers.

In the Internet age, most customers order their products online, which means streamlined shipping, transportation and billing systems are critical to the success of most businesses. The better these systems are, the less amount of strain will be put on the shipping of various products and the less chance of orders not being properly fulfilled, all of which will result in a higher amount of customer satisfaction.

Below are some of the best ways to cultivate a successful relationship between your business and your clients, so your customers will be sure to get what they have paid for.

Make Sure Your Warehouse is Perfectly Organized

The better organized your warehouse with the location of all the different products you are selling, the more efficiently you can track and put together orders to be shipped, so that it is easy to send your products to customers. An alphabetized shelving system is one good idea, with all products organized based on the letter of what they start with. A numerical system can also be set up — whichever system works best for your warehouse. Make sure all your employees know this system like the back of their hands as well, so that it is like a second language when doing business.

Double Check All Orders

Every order that comes through the warehouse should be put together by your team and then should have another employee or employees whose sole responsibility is to cross check the orders, making sure they are exactly right every time. This will reduce the number of incorrect or incomplete orders and will also reduce the number of orders that are delivered to the wrong addresses.

Communicate with the Shipper

Communication is key in most relationships as you should regularly communicate what you need from the client and what they need from you. This should be done on a regular basis, so that everyone is on the same page and adjustments on both sides can be made to make all of the business run that much more smoothly. This may be on a monthly or quarterly basis, depending on what you think your company needs, and it may take some time to get everything smoothed out regarding the efficiency of the whole process. Making the client understand exactly what you need through various charts and graphs that detail your business and where you need things to improve may also be helpful in this whole process, so consider presenting that to them as well.

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The Manual Way – An Outdated Warehousing Practice

Your warehousing practices can mean the difference between being productive versus using your labor for unnecessary tasks. If you’re not utilizing the most current warehouse management system available to you, then you’re just throwing your money away.

How Many Of These Outdated Warehousing Systems Are You Using?

  • Paper lists or paper forms of any kind for any reason
  • Manually writing down product locations or information
  • Any type of face to face communication
  • Manual batch processing
  • Anything else you’re doing manually

Think back to the time when everything was done manually, by hand, using only paper and a pencil. That seems like it was ages ago. Now compare that to today’s technology and how quickly you can send someone an email versus writing out a handwritten letter, addressing it, sealing it, putting a stamp on it, walking it to the mailbox and having it mailed out. Then you have to wait days until your receiver gets their letter.

You can make the same comparison when it comes to how you are running your business. Whenever you do something manually, it is the equivalent of handwriting a letter and sending it in the mail. It takes more time, there are more steps and quite a bit more effort involved. And the end result can’t be achieved in real-time, which means, while you’re waiting, you are losing money.

If you are still using outdated warehousing systems, don’t you think it’s time to upgrade to something that will make your staff and your business more efficient? It’s time to stop using paper. Why write something down on a piece of paper and then have to process it again once it gets to the next step. Then you rinse and repeat that same time-wasting process for each step of the entire warehousing process until your product reaches its final destination.

All those manual steps intermingled with the face to face communications that are necessary when you are not using an updated warehousing system just lead to a greater potential for human error and a huge waste of precious time, money and valuable resources!

Why You Should Consider Moving Away From A Manual System?

  1. Manual systems leave too much room for human error.
  2. Manual systems take more time and will cost you more in labor and supplies.
  3. Manual systems waste paper and valuable resources and are bad for the environment.
  4. Manual systems will make your company look less professional versus a company who utilizes all the latest technology.
  5. Manual systems make it hard to effectively multi-task all the functions within any given project.

The Take Away

Certainly everyone will agree that doing anything manually is not the best way to run a successful business. And it definitely won’t allow your company any room for unlimited growth without having to hire a much larger staff to maintain that growth.

Moving away from doing anything manually and purchasing a more modern warehousing solution is the absolute best way to grow your ROI and make your business as efficient and productive as possible. If you are still using any types of manual systems in your business, you’re losing money.

Manual Methods

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Cycle Counting (Part 1): What Every Inventory Manager Should Know About It

We would like to share an interesting blog post by Adam Bluemner, the Managing Editor for Find Accounting Software, a service providing free software selection assistance.

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Cycle counting is an improved approach for inventory stock verification. In brief, cycle counting provides a method of splitting the inventory verification task out over time in order to create greater process efficiency and inventory records accuracy. It has two fundamental characteristics:

1.       Stock verification happens continuously over the year, rather than all at once.

2.       High value inventory items get additional attention.

Key points:

  • Industry experts attribute bin location accuracy rates of 95% or even 99% and overall efficiency gains of 5-10% to the implementation of a cycle counting program.
  • Cycle counting puts attention where your investment is by using a group assignment model based on item “value.” An item’s value is determined not by unit supply cost or number of inventory turns, but rather by the combination of the two factors.
  • The advantages of cycle counting over end-of-the-year stock verification intensifies as your organization’s investment in inventory increases.
  • Cycle counting doesn’t require a major investment in equipment, outside services, or human resources.

You can find the rest of this interesting article here: Cycle Counting (Part 1): What Every Inventory Manager Should Know About It

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Top Reasons for Considering an On-site WMS Solution over Cloud-Based

On-Site WMS Solutions

If you are a participant in the rapidly growing and increasingly competitive 3PL market space, you know you are forced to constantly evaluate every aspect of your operations. As information technology plays an increasingly vital role in all elements of logistics, making the right decisions today often determine your ability to succeed tomorrow. One of the pressing issues for many providers today is the issue of relying upon on-premise or cloud IT services.

Warehouse Management Systems

Grappling with everything from transportation to billing to warehouse management presents a complex challenge for many small to mid-sized companies. For those involved in any aspect of warehouse and distribution center management, the solutions begin at the choice of an effective WMS.

The initial decision you face is choosing between one of two directions. The first approach is the traditional method of installing a proprietary system onsite with total, local control of the hardware, software, and network. The second option is to access your WMS through the cloud, relying on the services of a cloud-based data center.

If you turn to the cloud, you face another decision. You can still choose your own, custom WMS, or you can use a web-based product sold as a Software as a Service WMS. There are, then, two key parts of your decision-making process. These are:

  • Keep your WMS customized and proprietary, whether it is on local hardware or managed via the cloud
  • Turn to a more generic, cloud-based WMS that you use in a SaaS environment

Develop Your Scorecard

In coming to a solution that is right for your business, you will balance a number of issues ranging from short-term installation costs to long-term ability to get the job done. If you are trying to decide between a custom installation and SaaS, here are a number of factors to include in that scorecard:

  1. The problem with “one-size fits all.” For all the benefits of a cloud-based SaaS product, the simple fact is that when it comes to effective WMS, it is rare for one package to provide the flexibility and functionality your circumstances requires. Be careful when compromising on essential features when a “simpler solution” seems attractive.
  2. Integration with automated warehouse and handling equipment. One area many packaged systems fall short is full integration with existing and to-be-purchased handling equipment. This usually represents a large capital investment that reflects your specific warehouse operations and needs. Any WMS that does not offer full capabilities in this area presents a major challenge to operational efficiency.
  3. Customer responsiveness. As with your warehouse infrastructure, you have built a customer base with your own style of operations and service. Be wary of any standard WMS that requires you to tinker with that formula of success. Likewise, always remember that your customers are interested in results, not with conforming to your IT needs.
  4. Accountability. If you have a vendor providing your own customized solution, they are accountable and responsive to you. Dealing with a remote vendor serving many customers with a packaged or even slightly modified package often presents problems.
  5. Legal issues. While your cloud SaaS vendor will provide a service agreement, many companies are unaware of their exposures if that remote vendor or data center fails or has other problems. Recapturing your applications and stored data presents a real, if minor, risk to your continuity of operations.

While the cloud is here to stay, the solution that works for you may include an onsite installation. Properly considering your options is the first step in making that decision.

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Retail Trends to Watch in 2014

The supply chain is always sensitive to trends, and retail is the trickiest of all. Consumers love to jump on new products and new ways to shop, and as online shopping continues to soar in popularity, the warehouse industry makes it possible for retailers to reach bigger markets and sell more products. However, new trends in e-commerce might change the role warehouses play in the future of retail.

Ship-from-Store Options

More and more shoppers are skipping brick-and-mortar stores to order from store websites instead. That might sound like good news for the warehouse industry, but there’s a new trend in ecommerce that threatens to bridge the gap between stores and behind-the-scenes warehouses: ship-from-store programs.

Major retail brands have long maintained national databases, to help them keep track of each store’s inventory. In the past, if a customer wanted something that wasn’t on store shelves, they could request it from another store, or the manager could add it to the next shipment from the warehouse.

Now, inventory databases are integrated into the online shopping experience. Shoppers can look up an item to see if their local store has it, but if not, they don’t have to drive to the next town. Instead, another store can ship it directly to their local store — or better yet, to their house. This process gradually inspired a larger trend among retail chains, turning stores into makeshift fulfillment centers for individual customer orders.

As online revenue continues to increase and customers expect more streamlined shopping experiences, more retailers will likely get on board, setting up ship-from-store programs. Future construction projects might even reflect this distribution center trend in the form of changed layouts or increased square footage. After all, they’ll have to designate more space for shipments and pick-ups. Ship-from-store options won’t render retail high-capacity warehouses irrelevant any time soon, but it’s still a trend worth watching.

Gimmicks, Specials & Bargain Websites 

Retail Trends

The warehouse and retail industries are symbiotic, creating a consistent flow of merchandise from a variety of different manufacturers. This is still very true in 2014, as the best brick-and-mortar stores thrive by embracing e-commerce and outsourcing their shipments and storage. However, savvy entrepreneurs are jumping onto the back end of the ecommerce trend. There are dozens of new retail companies that “exist” only online, without physical locations, and they rely on their interface to bring in customers who could purchase the same products elsewhere.

Warehouse managers must be able to assess any big change in demand, and decide whether staffing changes are also necessary to accommodate (or weather) it. As people with less retail experience jump into the retail business, managers will have to work harder to anticipate demand and coordinate their resources accordingly.

Shoppers are smarter than ever, and they’ll compare prices online even if they’re standing in a store aisle. The same gimmicks that sell products — limited-time sales and last-minute discounts — can throw off the predictability of the supply chain. When a brick-and-mortar store slashes the price of a hot electronic, pop-up electronics websites can respond with slightly lower prices, but warehouses must be able to accommodate that demand and get the products out.

As “free shipping” offers flood the Internet and online-only bargains keep shoppers in their pajamas, the demand for fulfillment centers will continue to grow. The warehouse industry can hold onto retail clients by focusing on capacity, efficiency and adaptability. Warehouses already make e-commerce look way easier than it really is; they can handle these new retail trends too.

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Utilizing New Technologies to Improve Warehouse Operations

M2M Technology

When attempting to make a warehouse operate more efficiently, there are few options that a third party logistics (3PL) provider can utilize. 3PL companies are specialized and focused on making sure their operations are functioning at peak efficiency.

The best news for shippers who don’t have a big budget for a crew to monitor inflow and outflow is that 3PL providers already have that infrastructure in place. The infrastructure is set up to such a degree that contracting with 3PL companies can turn out to be less costly in the end, as 3PL companies have perfected the process so your team doesn’t waste time troubleshooting.

M2M solutions have changed the way that technology can be used when it comes to warehouse operations. M2M or Machine to Machine refers to technologies that allow both wired and wireless systems to communicate with other devices of the same type. For example, storage and transportation is aided with the implementation of tracking labels that are smaller than your average UPC sticker but provide bar codes that enable managers to track location as well as temperature and the physical state products are in. If something is damaged, or removed from a storage area, M2M tech can alert companies automatically, allowing for 3PL service providers to deal with a problem before it takes hold.

Another M2M advancement that has been hitting the market in the last few years is the ability to monitor not just the temperature of the storage unit being used, but the individual temperatures of the products themselves. M2M solutions work to tell people if something has been damaged by being exposed to extreme temperatures much quicker.

Having this data at hand means the warehouse manager has a better understanding of what products are still viable at a glance and which need to be replaced. Using M2M logistic solutions keeps the return on investment when it comes to dealing with warehouse operations as high as possible. There are times when the ROI can have a razor thin margin between high and low, and getting as much information as possible about the products is the difference between turning a profit and recording a loss.

On-demand transportation is a relatively new offering from some 3PL service providers. On-demand transportation services take the worry of transportation management out of the hands of the warehouse operations chief. 3PL services handle the worries about transportation instead. On-demand transportation can still be somewhat costly and the return needs to be examined further, but for warehouses that are suffering from employment shortfalls, the option is there for the taking, even if it is only being used in the short term.

A good 3PL takes some of the trickiness away by offering up different solutions that are fully customizable and scalable. Having a one-size-fits-all approach in this type of business is counter productive. 3PLs are very good at making sure a warehouse operation is chugging along by tracking the actual product but also by making sure financial targets are being met. The inflows and outflows of a warehouse operation can be tricky depending on what sector of the market the business is operating in.

Sources

http://ipcommunications.tmcnet.com/topics/ip-communications/articles/31196-ramco-systems-savid-technologies-enter-strategic-alliance.htm

http://maves.com/Solutions.html

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Logistics in a World of 3D Printing

Logistics 3D Printing

It wasn’t too long ago that 3D printing was limited to science-fiction novels or incredibly expensive government and corporate prototypes. However, major advances over the past few years have made additive manufacturing, or “3D printing” as it is more commonly known, a very practical and increasingly cost-effective way to manufacture certain products. However, 3D printing technology is still very much in its infancy, and it is just now starting to become practical in specific industries.

How will the logistics industry will be affected by 3D printing?

One of the industries poised to be most affected by 3D printing is the logistics industry. After World War II, the global economy entered a period of time in which massive quantities of goods were produced in one country or region then shipped somewhere else on the planet far away from the product’s origin. Early on, this meant that the United States was shipping their goods around the world. More recently, robust logistical routes allowed countries like China and India to manufacture goods that could then be shipped to wealthier countries where consumers could actually afford the products being made. This scenario helped raise previously impoverished nations out of poverty, and was a boon for the global logistics industry.

3D printing is poised to completely revolutionize this status quo.

The good news for logistics companies

Fortunately, it is not all bad news for the logistics industry. While it is true that the ability to inexpensively produce manufactured goods in the destination country will reduce the amount of international freight being shipped, logistics companies will also see substantially reduced overheads.

The increased ability to customize products and materials will dramatically reduce warehouse requirements across the industry. Because products can be made to order, there will be less need for stockpiles of inventory. At the same time, next-generation 3D printing devices will reduce, if not eliminate, the need for low-level assembly line workers. With less money tied up in warehoused inventory, reduced warehouse requirements and less expensive payrolls, logistics companies will become more flexible and streamlined.

How logistics companies can survive and thrive in the new environment

While it is true that localized manufacturing will reduce the need to ship finished products across the world, it is important to remember that products that are 3D printed still require raw materials to be produced. Shipment of raw materials is likely to be even more important than it is today. Not only will large companies require direct shipments of the raw materials, but every household with a 3D printer will require shipments as well. Residential delivery of raw materials could be a massive boom sector for the logistics industry.

In addition to residential delivery, logistics companies can transition into more of a full-service entity. Logistics companies can move away from the 3PL model, in which a particular logistics company is only directly involved in one specific part of the supply chain. Instead, logistics managers can adopt a 4PL strategy, in which they serve as a comprehensive solution from raw material sourcing to home delivery.

Many experts believe that 3D printing has the potential to completely change the way the world economy works, and to dramatically increase the living standards of individuals across the globe. Inevitably, there will be some painful transition periods and rough patches, particularly for companies so integrated with the current economic order. However, with the proper foresight, logistics companies can adjust their business models to become even more important than they are today.

Sources:

http://www.manufacturing.net/blogs/2013/10/why-3d-printing-could-be-a-manufacturing-and-logistics-game-changer

http://cerasis.com/2014/02/10/3d-printing-supply-chain/

http://www.supplychain247.com/article/the_implications_of_3d_printing_for_the_global_logistics_industry/manufacturing

http://www.inddist.com/blogs/2014/02/why-3d-printing-could-be-manufacturing-and-logistics-game-changer

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