Five Reasons Why Test Automation is Essential for your WMS Implementation

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Are you implementing a best-of-breed warehouse management system (WMS) like Blue Yonder, Manhattan, or Körber / HighJump? Does your implementation plan include weeks of user acceptance testing – with a resource placeholder for the business users to be assigned? Manual system testing is an important and challenging aspect of implementations, but the complexity of modern warehouses has made it even more difficult to keep up with changing business requirements without the use of software test automation.

Here are five reasons why test automation is critical to modern WMS implementation.

1. Mission-critical systems have now expanded beyond the back office. If you cannot ship quickly and accurately, your business may suffer.

Do you remember the old days when most warehouses just had to worry about pallet-in-pallet-out or pallet-in-case-out? Warehouse management logic often came down to maintaining proper first-in, first-out (FIFO) / last-in, first-out (LIFO), freight billing, and compliance label printing – maybe even a conveyor integration with a print-and-apply.

For many companies, warehouse system testing usually came down to manually verifying that inventory was allocated from the expected locations in the right order and that it could be systemically picked and loaded onto a trailer. Then came the Amazon effect with a wave of omni-channel fulfillment, each-pick automation options, and two-day shipping requirements.

These days, if you don’t meet customer expectations in the shipping experience, you either won’t get paid fully or you will lose repeat business. It is more important than ever to safeguard the customer experience down to the last mile.

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2. Warehouse automation systems have added integration dependencies and created more points of failure.

All of these changes mean more API integrations, more middleware, and more potential failure points that human workers have little control over. In order to scale WMS deployment, you need to adapt your implementation methodology to support agile development with continuous “shift left” testing to ensure all these connections are consistent and perform as expected.

As execution system implementation veterans, we know that your manual testers are often your brightest business analysts as well, which puts a lot of strain and pressure on the team. Automated testing is an important addition to your tool set to ensure that your QA team has backup during the project and that the system goes live with processes working end-to-end both on the user interface and in the backend database.

3. SaaS cloud deployments are not just set-it-and-forget-it. There are a lot of third-party links between your warehouse and the cloud.

Years ago before widespread broadband, it was very common for warehouses to have on-site server rooms to host WMS and automation controllers. These days even rural warehouses can have gigabit fiber connections, which has rapidly increased the prevalence of software as a service (SaaS) warehouse management and execution systems.

Under ideal conditions, network latency should be low enough to run the web and API interfaces, but what happens when systems hosted in distant data centers encounter challenges due to a configuration issue in an intermediate hop or the inherent challenges of Wi-Fi coverage in industrial environments? The benefits of cloud far outweigh the risks, but it is important to understand where your systems are hosted and conduct performance testing to ensure there are no bottlenecks in the infrastructure.

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Test automation is a way to continuously stress test end-to-end functionality in today’s complex environments where your operation may be dependent on continuous interaction between internal data centers and public clouds.

4. Manual testing cannot validate most end-to-end processes without technical expertise, leaving the potential for missed issues that come up in production.

In today’s high-speed warehouse environment, many processes play out behind the user interface. For example, a goods-to-person system or roller-top autonomous mobile robot (AMR) may send a confirmation to the middleware or WMS, which then triggers a conveyor divert to the packing stations where a human completes the packing process.

Unfortunately, manual testing of the interface can only cover part of that process. In order to test completely, analysts would need to know specific API transactions and SQL database queries to determine if the pieces actually came together seamlessly or if the packing station interface blindly accepted the expected identifiers. In addition, full manual regression testing of releases creates a huge time burden on the QA team that sometimes leads to reduced testing coverage during critical project phases.

Manual testing is a key part of validating business requirements and checking for the many “what-if” scenarios that may catch the developers off-guard, but automated testing adds an extra layer of continuous technical validation that ensures there are fewer surprises in production.

5. Production downtime costs more than it used to and support is more complicated than ever.

As recently as several years ago, e-commerce / direct to consumer fulfillment (and related automation systems) often occupied only one part of a facility since e-comm only constituted a single-digit percentage of volume. It made good sense to prioritize palletized shipping to optimize units per hour (UPH) metrics. Pallet-level shipping drove massively efficient volumes, but it also allowed for some leniency in system support. To be sure, you wanted to load and close the truck properly in the system, but associates could technically create a manual bill of lading to get the trailer out and then send in a support ticket to clean up the system details.

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Now that each-level picking has become the main driver of distribution strategy, there are few workarounds if your automated processes encounter an issue. Humans can engineer creative solutions to operational problems, but computer AI has not yet reached a point where the warehouse systems can truly improvise.

As a result of the all-or-nothing nature of high-speed e-comm automation, it is more important than ever to get processes implemented seamlessly up front to avoid expensive disruptions and the dreaded “delayed shipping” customer updates.

Are you interested in learning more about implementing test automation in your warehouse management system? Check out our success stories, our blog, or learn more about the Cycle platform.

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