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The Importance of Making Fixes and Upgrades Part of your WMS Continuous Improvement Process

Keeping Current Is Key
Warehouse Management System (WMS) vendors are continually improving their software and releasing new versions to their customers. These between-version ‘hot fixes’ not only contain minor corrections, but they also add helpful features requested from the vendor’s customer base. In fact, each supply chain software vendor will release hundreds of individual hot fixes to a version of software over the life of the application. There’s no reason to do things the way you’ve always done them if there’s a better way built right into the latest version of your software. A good rule of thumb would be to schedule periodic hot fix installs as part of your maintenance plan so you’re never more than two hot fixes behind the current release. Otherwise, you could be looking at a large amount of regression testing.

It’s essential for your organization to develop a workable plan of action to make continuous improvement a reality for your operations. There are cost savings and efficiencies to be had when you regularly apply the latest updates to your WMS, regression test the changes, and push the new functionality into production, adding employee training along the way when warranted. Once you have a scheduled plan to take advantage of these hot fixes, not only do you get the latest functionality to improve your efficiency, but you also define a culture of continuous improvement that simply becomes part of your operations. 

It’s much easier if you’re regression testing fixes in small chunks versus dealing with large numbers of wide-sweeping changes. This is particularly true if you’ve been running a customized version of a function that now has a hot fix incorporated into the base application. You need to ensure the fix doesn’t cause conflicts in other areas of your software. If you delay applying incremental versions and then have to implement a slew of changes all at once, the potential for disruption to your environment—and your ability to meet deadlines—is much greater.

Part of establishing your continuous improvement initiative will be knowing when your vendor will release new fixes so you can plan your testing and training accordingly. There may be business events that require you to adjust your timing, and having as much notice as possible about upcoming software updates will improve your planning capabilities. Make sure to subscribe to the vendor’s news release feeds, special interest group postings, or blogs announcing these changes.

When Is It Time for a Full WMS Upgrade?
If you’ve been running the same version of your software for five or more years, it’s probably time to evaluate whether an upgrade is the right path or if it’s time to move to a different WMS application. There’s a similar amount of work involved in upgrading to a new version of your current WMS and moving to a completely different system. Both options are big undertakings. Here are several common reasons why organizations decide the time is right to pursue one of these paths.

  1. Your software vendor is ceasing support for your version. Supply chain software providers differ on how long they support each version of their application before they announce end of life. Some offer support for six years, others offer 10. In any case, you need to have visibility into your support contract so you can plan to re-evaluate your operations and any new requirements at least a full year in advance of this event. Developing a business case is an excellent first step.
  2. The functionality included in the new version will drive ROI. Supply chain best practices aren’t stuck in stone, and neither are your operations. Distribution is a fast-moving environment in which innovations arise all the time. Whether it’s making sure you can implement threshold picking or leveraging the latest optimizations for replenishment, the newest versions of software will have a lot of useful bells and whistles that can drive ROI and cost savings in your operations.
  3. You’re evaluating new material handling equipment (MHE) or related supply chain software. Combining multiple projects into one can pay dividends when it comes to system testing, training, and gaining employee buy-in. Many organizations elect to pair an upgrade to the newest version of their WMS (or a move to a different system altogether) with an implementation of related supply chain software or new MHE. Slotting or labor management systems are common add-ons, and organizations often don’t want to integrate the latest versions of these applications with an older WMS. Likewise, if you’re evaluating the purchase of new automated guided vehicles (AGV), conveyors, automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS), or other equipment, it could be a good time to provide the most current software backbone to work with these powerful tools. It’s likely that the latest version of a WMS will include standard integrations to many of the most common MHE options in the industry, which can streamline your project.

Put a Continuous Improvement Plan in Place—or Evaluate an Upgrade
4SIGHT has years of experience working with companies to develop a culture of continuous improvement for implementing the latest hot fixes available in their WMS. We’ve also helped many clients evaluate whether an upgrade to the newest version of their current software is a good next step, or if it’s time to consider other software options based on new business requirements. Learn more about our software and selection services or developing a culture of continuous improvement.

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