Modernise Your Warehouse To Suit Your Business

Concepts and terms such as digital transformation, automation and optimisation have well and truly entered the mainstream across all aspects of business. And, no doubt, they can bring value to modern workplaces – warehouses included.

However, we also insist on always keeping our focus on the three essential aspects of a warehouse before we implement any kind of modernisation strategy. A warehouse is a place where:

  • Products come in
  • Products go out
  • Data needs to be recorded accurately

It’s through this lens that we work with technology to deliver intelligent warehouse solutions for our clients. After all, a warehouse may be made up of these three simple elements, but there’s huge scope for complexity in each one.

The operational reality of warehouses

Developments in technology offer significant potential for businesses to streamline their warehouse operations. Yet this can only be achieved if the operational realities of their warehouses are fully understood.

In addition, it’s important to remember that warehouses run on the expertise and commitment of their staff.

Even with all the talk of automation and robotics, warehouses are still places where humans and technology cohabitate and collaborate. While we’re sensitive to the fears of job losses through automation, it needs to be said that there’s a lack of deep understanding of just how technological developments will work in a modern warehouse and distribution environment. Suffice to say that humans are still very much part of the equation.

And humans always find work arounds, or hacks. Therefore, if your warehouse solution is not taking into account how your supply chain truly runs, you’ll implement a system that doesn’t really help you.

Warehouse staff are aware of the goals they need to meet every day to keep the business running. If the technology in place doesn’t help them do this, or worse, hinders them from doing it, they’ll find a way of doing their jobs independently of the technology.

For example, if a process in your workflow hinders your staff meeting their daily/weekly targets, they may record data manually or move items around the warehouse to ensure that their work is completed. This gets the job done but negates the point of having a warehouse solution in operation – and reduces the chance of your warehouse running on best practice principles.

Time is of the essence

In the last two decades, the advent of ecommerce has greatly changed the expectations customers have of retailers, whether the retailer is selling motor cars or FMCG items (or anything else).

One of these expectations is that goods ordered will be delivered as promptly as possible. This is true for both B2B and B2C environments.

Now, time is money for any business. However, for a warehouse or distribution centre, every minute is of critical importance. The success and growth (or inversely, the failure) of your business depends on delivering the right product to the right customer on time, each and every time. There’s also the need to factor in staff requirements, such as health and safety standards.

It’s for this reason that we don’t start with the technology piece when we work with our new and existing clients. We start with the client’s business and work from there.

Too often, we see businesses that are struggling to work with rigid warehouse systems that don’t fully integrate with their businesses. Or, their businesses are growing rapidly, but their warehouse system isn’t able to keep pace. The result is a loss of accuracy and efficiency that can harm business performance and damage growth.

These rigid software solutions often arise because the technology behind them has been created for a utopian warehouse environment. Which doesn’t exist!

Each and every warehouse we work with has its own complexities. When we begin with immersing ourselves into our clients’ businesses, we’re able to account for these complexities in the warehouse solution we build for them.

A good example of what we mean is our ongoing work with The Whisky Exchange.

The Whisky Exchange (TWE) was founded in 1999 and is the number one online retailer of spirits and whiskies in the UK. TWE’s client profile includes a combination of its own retail outlets, online consumers and trade customers.

In 2012, TWE underwent a massive growth phase. However, the ability to grow even more was being severely curtailed by the existing warehouse infrastructure. Among other things, there was no pick and pack solution in place and the business was finding it increasingly more difficult to keep up with customer demand.

TWE understood that a new technology solution could help them grow while maintaining the high customer service levels that they were justifiably proud of. That’s when they gave us a call.

Our focus was on providing an agile solution that could accommodate TWE’s expansion. All aspects of the warehouse processes were investigated so that the warehouse system implemented could streamline as much as possible (from goods receiving to orders to despatch and deliveries) and provide peace of mind.

Major improvements have also been noted in accuracy, time savings and productivity.

Implementing real-time overviews of the supply chain that are illustrated via dashboards has empowered managers to use data to make business decisions. Finally, the voice-directed system has increased the safety standards of the warehouse with staff able to work hands and eyes free.

Full details of the case study can be found here.

The warehouse doesn’t operate in isolation

Any business that has a supply chain, warehouse and distribution centre knows that their warehouse does not operate in isolation. Changes in legislation or regulation which impact the wider business have a direct impact on the work being done by the warehouse too.

The Tobacco Products Directive brought into play in 2014 by the European Union, and applicable to all EU Member States in May 2016, perfectly illustrates this point.

The Directive applies to the “manufacture, presentation, and sale of tobacco related products including cigarettes, roll your own tobacco, pipe tobacco, cigars, cigarillos, smokeless tobacco, electronic cigarettes and herbal products for smoking.”

As such, the European Union has placed various control measures via legislation, recommendations and awareness campaigns to improve EU citizens’ health, and improve the market for tobacco products.

One of the requirements of the Directive is for health warning to be stated on 65% of all tobacco product packaging. Additionally, the Directive sets in place “EU-wide tracking” of tobacco, e-cigarette and herbal smoking products.

These requirements all affect the way a warehouse dealing with any type of tobacco or smoking product goes about packing and delivering its wares to customers. Not complying with these rules accurately would result in businesses falling foul of the law.

Keep your business strategy in mind always

We’ve shared a few of our own viewpoints in this post to highlight the importance of really understanding what you need your intelligent warehouse solution to do.

Asking how your warehouse needs to support your wider business strategy is the best starting point to embark on modernisation and digital transformation.

Technology has much to offer to help you grow your business and streamline your operations, but adopting technology purely to be at the bleeding edge of development never works. However, using technology to help your warehouse integrate seamlessly with your business and keep pace with your business growth plans is entirely possible.

If you’d like to chat more about your warehouse solution needs, please contact us. We’d be delighted to chat with you and find out how we could help you.

Asking how your warehouse needs to support your wider business strategy is the best starting point to embark on modernisation and digital transformation.

  • Ronan Clinton
    Timewise Systems

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