WMS developments to expect in the next five years

echnology is changing at a rapid pace, and few of us can really know what to expect in the coming years. While WMS has been slow to change in the past, it is likely that we’re in store for a rapid evolution of capabilities, automation, and intelligence in the warehouse.

Here are just a few thoughts on where we’re headed and what to expect when we get there.

Everything is a warehouse

We’ve already seen it this year, but we soon expect all locations where goods are stored to be treated as a warehouse with the same platform. In the near-term, this will expand to more local brick-and-mortar stores with large stockrooms who are shipping goods to fulfill online orders.

Over the next few years, we expect this to expand to include third-party distributors, wholesalers, and other partners all from a single platform.

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The owner of the purchase channel may end up serving as a dashboard that connects the WMS from all of these systems. Their inventory/warehouse system could see all possible real-time inventory and price options for order fulfillment, then automate the entire process based on a variety of rules for the price, availability, shipping, and more.

A single solution for all warehouse execution

Warehouse control systems (WCS) currently sit as a software layer on top of the WMS to help combine data collection and automate processes that involve order and inventory management plus materials handling and production.

It’s likely that the WCS and its incorporation with your WMS will evolve into a new control platform. Early versions attempting to bridge WCS and WMS functionality are being called warehouse execution systems (WES) and they focus on omnichannel fulfillment.

While WES may not be the eventual name of the software category, the future of your warehouse management is likely to be execution software that encompasses every aspect of the operations and keeps it all relative to customer orders.

Look for the WMS to grow into something that manages field devices, tracks electrical systems and usage, monitors flow control, performs routing and sorting as parts and products move, incorporates WMS practices from receiving to pack-and-ship, and blend in all of your ERP requirements.

A better AI

The WES single-system push is going to take an incredibly smart AI that can dynamically adjust orders based on a myriad of factors while keeping goals aligned with higher-level controls. Look for AI that can make decisions to optimize revenue, profit, operational effectiveness, use of human labor, maintenance cycles, and much more.

With the growth of sensors that are projected, AI will likely make all of these decisions and adjustments based on predictive analytics and current, real-time data. If a machine on your floor reports a malfunction, the AI of the future will be able to dynamically reroute activities, call for diagnostics, and then put in trouble ticket requests in a matter of moments.

Drone delivery services

Drones are moving past the fun toys children and adults are hoping for during the holiday. The drones of tomorrow will be industrial machines that can fly and drive safely on almost any road.

I’m a fan of the drone and truck combination put forward by Red Stag Fulfillment, where driverless trucks will take large quantities of goods to central distribution areas – which may be a warehouse or a field with a clear airspace – and drones lift off from the back of the truck making local deliveries.

Flying only on the last mile will be a major cost-saver and the truck can sit as your WMS monitoring point to track packages, deliveries, and drones through RFID (or whatever will replace RFID).

A focus on the end-consumer

And to wrap up my predictions, I think we’ll soon see a WMS that keeps the customer ever-present in its mind.

By pairing all the marketing and persona data companies have with warehousing, it isn’t far-fetched to imagine a WMS that automatically selects the right packaging based on persona. This could be elaborate wrapping for gifts based on the receiver’s favorite color or easy-off packaging when shipping to older consumers.

It’s going to be a very interesting few years for WMS, and a focus on customer experiences is going to be at the forefront of that excitement.

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Geoff Whiting

About the author…

Geoff is an experienced journalist, writer, and business development consultant with a focus on enterprise technology, e-commerce, and supply chain development. Outside of the office he can be found toying with the latest in IoT, searching for classic radio broadcast recordings, and playing the perpetual tourist in his home of Washington D.C.

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Geoff Whiting