A complete cloud WMS buyers' guide
Every aspect of our daily lives has moved to the cloud, and your warehouse’s functionality is following the same track.
You now can turn all your daily activities to cloud-based services and solutions, hopefully helping you move faster and have a more efficient operation.
Real-time data is a powerhouse, and the right tool can unlock it. However, it can be a little tricky picking the right cloud warehouse management system that will help you achieve the improvements and success that are possible with this new type of WMS.
So, we’ve put together this guide to help you start your cloud journey, including:
- What is a cloud WMS?
- What is SaaS WMS?
- Who uses cloud WMS?
- A comparison of cloud-based and on-premise WMS solutions
- Cloud WMS pricing
- Features to look for in a cloud-based WMS
- Top cloud-based WMSs
The chief unique characteristic of a cloud warehouse management system is that you access it through a connection to the internet, so the platform is managed by your vendor at all times.
Cloud-based software builds on past success in the software-as-a-service (SaaS) area, but the latest systems are a step beyond, thanks to advancements in processing speeds, data access, dashboards, and other warehouse functionality.
"Your data sits behind a variety of security protocols designed to limit who can access it and what each individual can see if they are allowed to access your data."
With a cloud WMS, your system and data are hosted on a segregated or private server — based on your vendor — which gives some added protection. Your data sits behind a variety of security protocols designed to limit who can access it and what each individual can see if they are allowed to access your data.
The core benefit for most brands considering a WMS in the cloud is that it comes with a decrease in cost for installation and the infrastructure you need in your warehouse. The tradeoff is that you’re paying for licenses for your team to access and these costs recur monthly. So, ultimately you may end up paying more over the lifetime of your WMS — that’s why sourcing multiple SaaS WMS pricing options.
Cloud systems offer a variety of customizations and can be beneficial, though you’re likely to face some limitations on this compared to on-premise solutions.
Software-as-a-service (SaaS) products and cloud-based software are similar, but not identical. SaaS WMS is best described as a subcategory of cloud WMS, where the customer can access a fully developed software application through the internet. Users are not responsible for maintaining the software and customization is usually limited.
Cloud-based WMS can refer to a wider range of software, including infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) and platform-as-a-service (PaaS) products. These are typically installed and require maintenance and updates, although they can allow for greater customization.
We tend to recommend cloud solutions as some of the best WMS for small businesses because of the reduced costs and simplified control for scaling. However, major players like Oracle offer logistics cloud packages, so there are plenty of enterprises switching to cloud platforms as well.
In many cases, the final decision comes down to budget and expertise. Cloud systems can have a larger cost over time, but that’s often looking just at the WMS. If you don’t have the IT team or you’re just starting your warehouse, you could save significantly with a cloud or SaaS WMS. This makes cloud one of the best e-commerce WMS choices.
If you have the expertise, on-premise can make sense for long-term budgeting. If you’re new to this space, the cloud offers simplicity and cost savings, which you may need in the event you update or change platforms in the next couple of years.
In the next sections, you’ll find a more complete WMS comparison for benefits as well as a WMS software price comparison. Use these to guide your thoughts on what is right for you.
Your typical cloud WMS and on-premise WMS have their own sets of positives and negatives, making the WMS comparison worthwhile when you focus on elements relevant to your business. Our list touches on some of the primary areas that will matter to the clear majority of potential WMS buyers, such as cost, security, access, scalability, customization, and support.
Cloud-based WMS evaluation
Pros of a cloud WMS:
- Low upfront cost
- Simple to scale up or down based on needs and business changes
- Data and system are accessible from almost any internet-enabled device or location
- Relatively fast implementation time
- The vendor maintains the environment and provides upgrades
- Remotely modify licenses, subscriptions, and software packages
- Data is generally available in real-time
- Typically includes service uptime guarantee
- Less required technical knowledge for your staff
- Vendors typically focus on implementing security best practices as they are established
- Setup is generally quicker
- Maintenance and other fees are generally built into your monthly subscription, though they often cover basic versions of support, maintenance, etc.
Cons of a cloud WMS:
- Long-term costs may scale higher than on-premise
- You may face additional costs for modules or premium support
- Non-industry-specific solutions may not ensure you are compliant with regulatory requirements
- You won't always have a clear knowledge of where exactly your data is or who can access it
- Customization is limited compared to on-premise solutions
- Common rapid release and update schedules may cause existing integrations to break or become unstable
- Requires high-quality internet access for all operations and workers
On-premise WMS evaluation
Pros of an on-premise WMS:
- Lower lifetime cost for longer installations
- You own the license and typically don't have per-user costs
- Data is more immediately accessible, especially for local backups and recovery
- Integration tends to be a little easier
- More customization options are generally supported, even if you must do the coding
- Can build and maintain your own testing environments
- Complete control of your IT infrastructure
- No monthly costs
- WMS servers can be virtualized and shared to support other business practices if needed
- Large operations with multiple simultaneous users may find on-premise solutions to be faster
Cons of an on-premise WMS:
- You're typically responsible for performing updates, including cybersecurity-related updates
- Higher team and skill requirements due to maintaining the environment and infrastructure yourself
- Higher upfront costs for installation of software and hardware, plus initial configuration
- Partners may need to travel to your location for service
- Limited access to data/systems from remote locations
- Scalability is determined by your infrastructure
- If business declines, it is more difficult to reduce costs associated with the WMS
- Fewer backup options to prevent downtime
- While data is more accessible for disaster planning, you may face system downtime to perform large-scale backups
- Implementation is generally longer
- On-premise solutions tend to have slower update cycles
- Customization often comes with higher costs, either based on consultants or team hires
- Typically, you face a maintenance fee of 10% to 20% of your license fee
You can find some broader thoughts on these and other categories in our high-level, objective comparison of these two options.
The most subjective part of a cloud-based WMS, SaaS WMS, or on-premise option is its cost. Budgets can vary with your size, feature needs, location, industry, products, and more. It is often best to find a platform that looks appealing and then reach out to vendors for specific SaaS WMS pricing.
That said, we’ll give you a few things to expect and estimates to use to set your budget based on our larger reviews of cost and solution capabilities.
|Monthly per-user license
|$25 to $100
|Up to $300
Starting around $1000
|Up to $5000
|Customization and integration
|$0 to $500
|$1000 to $5000
That can give you a good starting point for the SaaS WMS pricing to expect, though there are a few things to add in. Start with training costs that can run from about $1,000 for digital tools and email support to $5,000 or more if you have a hands-on training program at your warehouse with custom vendor support for a large team.
You might also have some additional costs associated with your data management, account setup, database migrations, advanced customizations, and more.
Also, read the fine print. Your rate for the first year may be significantly different from the second year, even if your usage and warehouse size remains the same. Look for costs, discounts, and fees that change year to year.
One final thing to note is that costs scale with features in many cases. So, you may pay more as you move to a more sophisticated solution. Let’s look at some of those features to have, and others that you might want to consider.
There are a few different must-haves for any WMS in the cloud, plus some additional concepts to consider for building out your platform. In most cases, any SaaS WMS you review will have the core functionality, but some types of warehouse management systems may excel in certain areas or skimp on others. Match the tools and capabilities for your needs to find the best cloud warehouse options.
Key features for a cloud-based WMS
- Picking: Your cloud warehouse management system needs to support your warehouse workers by creating pick orders that get your products out the door in the fastest, most efficient order. Look for picking tools that match your size, can adjust to multiple layouts, and include a variety of options like wave and batch picking. For large operations, also look for zone picking, multiple pickers on a single order, and support for new picking technology such as voice-based controls.
- Receiving: The ability of your warehouse to process inbound shipments and incorporate them into your inventory and warehouse. Not only should the WMS help you manage the physical goods putaway, but it should also help check orders you receive against your purchase orders to reduce errors and paperwork.
- Inventory counting: One of the biggest timesavers is automated counting of inventory from your WMS. It reduces human error, can perform multiple inventory checks without disrupting daily activities, and can give you different counting options to keep things on track. Look for sophisticated counting tools such as random audits and rank-based selections.
- Locators: This is a simple must-have of knowing where your goods are located in your warehouse. It can work with advanced features to help you optimize locations and workflows while assisting with replenishment tasks. Serial and lot tracking functions can work with locators to help you keep inventory counts as high as you need plus.
- Order allocation: This feature ensures your orders from a variety of sources move from your ERP to your warehouse with all the right data, labels, and customer details. Flexible order management can help you maintain accurate inventories as well as orders. It’s also a core feature for any specialty goods, such as applying FIFO to perishable materials.
- Customizable planning and picking: Advanced functions to plan your warehouse or your picking efforts are now becoming mainstream. These wave planning tools allow you to set up different order groups and priorities for picking as well as orient your warehouse in some ways to best meet the demand for orders or products, as well as adjust to your staff during different shifts.
- Adding or creating new product kits: One of the easiest ways for companies to diversify options is to create kits of goods sold together. These have varying quantities and item selections, and many times are not pre-packaged together. A cloud-based warehouse management system that helps you build these will allow you to create new kits while maintaining accurate inventory counts, so you don’t run out and then take orders you can’t fill.
Today, there are dozens if not hundreds of cloud warehouse tools that focus on fulfilling the requirements of a WMS, ERP, and more. We’ve selected just a few to help you consider various levels and options available to you.
The HighJump WMS is a warehouse management system designed to work for small and mid-sized companies, especially manufacturers, in a variety of sectors and it focuses on broader integration with your supply chain partners. It is commonly selected when someone has a warehouse but also needs support for yard management and labor tools.
The Oracle SCM Cloud runs the gamut from small business to enterprise support, and it has some of the better dashboards available. If your warehouse is deeply integrated with other business practices or you have more complicated material sourcing, it has modules designed to help. While some small businesses do use it, they tend to be specialty or high-need cases.
Aptean’s Catalyst WMS is a flexible solution that makes rule-based management easy, allowing you to better automate different activities based on events like orders. It’s got a fair number of integration partners and supports advanced features like cross-docking.
High-volume warehouses that want a cloud solution often look to SAP’s SCM, which can handle millions of items and a large number of facilities and locations. If you’ve got a high need or could use support for stock rotation, it’s a smart selection.
Snapfulfil, from Synergy Logistics, is a cloud-based WMS with a variety of modifications and modules available to users. For complex warehouses and rules, it is a good and affordable choice to balance cost with functionality.
A note on free warehouse management software
There are a variety of free warehouse management software options available for you to use right away. Some are great, and some aren’t. These require a lot more legwork to see what’s usable and if there is a strong community behind it. Free warehousing software often loses support, but it can be feasible if you’ve got a robust IT team already on staff.
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