I’m working on a market study of the system integrators (SIs) who implement warehouse management systems (WMS). I was under the impression that software suppliers write the software, and either SIs or/and the software company implement the software. It’s not that simple. Sometimes the system integrators write software that complements the WMS solutions that they implement. These SIs have learned the weaknesses in various systems and have written complementary applications to close the gaps.
One example comes from a system integrator called Longbow Advantage. They created a product called Rebus designed to improve the real-time reporting of WMS solutions.
I talked to a supply chain director at a manufacturing company that had implemented Rebus. This director told me that they had replaced a WMS solution from an ERP company with one of the leading best of breed solutions. The director told me “We got all the functionality we expected. There were tons of functionality – things like task interleaving and support for cross-docking. But we had a gap to the visibility of the work being done. The real-time reporting of work was weaker than expected.”
WMS solutions are Big Data systems with production databases. The production database is in charge of giving tasks to warehouse workers and tracking the completion of those tasks. All the optimization logic also interacts with the production database. Warehouse workers use RF guns to ensure they are picking from the right slots, to tell the system they have completed a task, and to get their next assignments. Hitting the production database slows the RF guns to an unacceptable degree – perhaps several seconds to get a task. This is an eternity in a busy warehouse.
So instead to get detailed analytics, and protect the WMS production database, an archive is hit, which means the analytics are at best several hours old. According to Alex Wakefield, the CEO at Longbow Advantage, cloud-based solutions don’t improve things. “Software companies can always throw more computing horsepower at an issue, but more servers won’t help customers access their data more effectively. That’s a database structure issue.
The Rebus solution uses a document database – a NoSQL database from Mongo. This technology allows Big Data sets to be much more quickly accessed and analyzed. The transactions created in the WMS also flow into the Rebus solution. The manufacturing company I talked to said they can get analytics that are based on transactions that are less than 5 minutes behind what is occurring on the warehouse floor. Within 60 days of the engagement, these near-time analytics became completely available. “But even within the first 30 days we were getting content,” the director said. Longbow Advantage understood the data structures which made this more akin to an implementation of an off the shelf solution than a custom analytics project.
Now this manufacturer can ask questions like “How many trucks are in the yard and ready to be unloaded?” Managers can monitor all the outbound work that has to occur during the day and see how the day is progressing. For example, are the outbound orders that should be done for a 7 am shipment done? Hour by hour, picking and AGV usage target statistics can be monitored. If the warehouse is falling behind, the manager can dig into the data and understand what is occurring and what might be done to get back on track. If the warehouse is moving ahead of schedule, a manager can ask for volunteers that want to go home early. This operation has television screens that display the real-time analytics, so it is not just managers that have access to what is happening. Ultimately, according to this logistics director, this solution “allows us to and answer the question ‘Am I ahead, or behind? Am I winning or losing the day?’”
The supply chain director finished by saying, “we are also leveraging Rebus to archive our WMS data. This allows us to get analytics on historical data in seconds. This has been extremely helpful when tracing the movement of product in and out of our network. Similar to our live WMS data, Rebus is one stop shopping for archived data across all of our sites.”