Does Cloud Reign?
Does choosing a cloud based WMS limit your opportunities to grow?
Many suppliers have recently been promoting the advantages of cloud based Warehouse Management Systems (WMS), but is this a case of jumping on the bandwagon without considering all the implications?
For a smaller business with a manual warehouse operation, cloud technology initially appears to makes sense in many respects, particularly when combined with a software as a service (SaaS) payment option. Cloud systems benefit from a large scale IT infrastructure with applications running on virtual servers hosted remotely from the warehouse site. The disaster recovery plan is already in place and the customer does not need to worry about maintaining servers on site.
To get the real benefit of a WMS you need real time responses to the warehouse transactions, usually this involves RF terminals to promote accuracy in receipt, storage, picking and despatch operations. RF terminals require an RF infrastructure, the maintenance of which needs to be someone’s responsibility. It’s possible to outsource this support to your WMS provider or third party, but how long can you afford for the operation, or at least part of it, to be out of service while they respond with a site visit? A cloud based WMS also needs a reliable internet connection and an internal IT infrastructure to connect local PCs and peripheral equipment. So in reality someone on site needs to be responsible for internal IT support regardless.
These are not uncommon arguments against use of a cloud WMS. However one key argument always seems to be overlooked. Most businesses have aspirations to grow, and growth generally requires increased throughput and improved efficiency. So what happens when you realise that to get these improvements you need to move to some level of automation, no matter how simple?
The general opinion is that you need to have an on-site Warehouse Control System (WCS) to integrate and control the materials handling equipment (MHE). So now you have a WMS hosted remotely and a WCS hosted locally, communicating over the internet, which can mean you’re paying for two systems, often from two suppliers.
Many WMS vendors specifically avoid any responsibility for WCS functionality, focusing only on non-automated operations. However this can preclude their customers from receiving the benefits that come with efficient use of MHE.
The question that needs to be asked when considering a cloud based WMS should really be “Do I want my business to grow and will this system limit that?”
This is not to say that cloud computing will not have a huge impact on how we share and manage data. Hybrid cloud computing in which enterprises extend their resources to public clouds may well be the trend of the future. In addition to providing reliability and scalability of public clouds, hybrid cloud computing has the appeal of providing the most suitable environment for some applications, such as databases, that run better on a dedicated server than on a shared server. What is important as with any new technology is to understand both its advantages and limitations and to ensure it fully integrates with established and proven systems.