This blog post was adapted from a live expert webinar with our partner, Open Sky Group.
The supply chain industry has witnessed an impressive and welcome level of innovation over the last decade, and this trend only seems to be accelerating.
Shifting consumer expectations drives business change from the ground up. But the greatest pressure comes from software vendors, in a bid to move from customization to standardization.
On top of this pressure, shifting executive priorities are forcing supply chain strategy to evolve along with them. Flexibility is the name of the game, and the winners in this new landscape are going on the offensive. Proactive strategies that encompass long-term planning are the hallmark of these organizations’ success.
This is the new world of warehouse management system (WMS) implementations. And it requires a rethinking of the value of change management and quality assurance.
WMS Implementations Are Changing: Are Businesses Changing With Them?
A quick Google search reveals that the Amazon Effect is well documented—for years, Amazon has been setting the bar for consumer expectations. Shopping habits have been steadily moving from in-person to online for as long as the e-commerce giant has been in operation, but the pandemic put this trend into overdrive.
The pandemic also taught us that if we can count on anything, it’s change. Systems have to be flexible and resilient as well as efficient.
Dealing With Disruption
Such a landscape of disruption — both good and challenging — in the supply chain space inevitably affects WMS implementations. How businesses deal with this disruption — proactively or reactively — is up to them.
In the past five years alone, organizations have migrated away from traditional, on-prem solutions en masse in favor of software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions.
Driven by client requirements, software providers are pushing toward offering SaaS solutions, and clients’ increased interest in subscription models naturally lends itself to SaaS-based, cloud-native environments.
Goodbye Customization, Hello Standardization
What’s behind the move? For a start, SaaS providers have a keen interest in ensuring that platforms and products are as standardized as possible, offering maximum functionality.
The tussle between customization and standardization is a natural ebb and flow — we’ve seen as much in the preceding two decades. The most recent preferred route saw heavy system customization, but strategy pivots from industry leaders now encourage providers to take a fresh look at more templatized approaches.
Today, standardization is critical for partners and clients deploying across multiple sites. It reduces time-to-value (TTV) and supports the use of automated testing solutions — the linchpin of modern risk management and reduction. The templatized approach also enables economies of scale, which are impossible with a multitude of unique processes.
Finally, if unique nuance in a particular process really is valuable, businesses can assess whether its maintenance is worth the effort over time — and always on a case-by-case basis.
Seizing the Shifting Supply Chain Strategies
If the era of standardization is upon us, how does this translate to what chief information officers (CIOs) and supply chain vice presidents (VPs) want? Company leaders need to make all decisions with a long-term view — and now, they’re thinking much more strategically.
Given the shift in mindset for executives, the SaaS transition, and increasing consumer expectations, flexibility must now be the backbone of every supply chain strategy.
Go Lives Now and Then
In the past, WMS Go Lives were the finish line. But now, we have to view them as the starting line. All the work that goes into reaching the cutover milestone is necessary not just for the Go Live, but for ongoing maintenance as well, which requires staying up to date in a changing world and remaining adaptable.
In the past, technical upgrades recreated existing processes for the sake of perceived efficiency. But that approach merely put a band-aid on a bigger problem: It pushed inefficiency around to other parts of a business instead of dealing with the root cause.
Not only is that route no longer desirable — it’s no longer possible. Change and adaptation aren’t just buzzwords: Defensive CIOs and VPs are losing out. The winning organizations today are those with an offensive, proactive strategy of innovation.
Upgrading the Upgrades
SaaS migrations encourage long-term thinking because executives have to consider the total cost of ownership on a longer timeline.
The old-school upgrade method led to businesses falling behind and failing to stay current. Traditionally, customized solutions across multiple sites encouraged varied processes. But new operational priorities necessitate higher velocity deployments and better performance measurements, which means standardization is the order of the day.
A new, dynamic, and templatized upgrade process makes measuring performance and productivity improvement across multiple sites easier than ever before. Then, businesses can enjoy the features and functionality with each new upgrade.
Change Management Is More Important Than You Realize
Not all project roles and functions are created equal — or so some would have you believe. Change management has recently been overlooked and underestimated, but this is a mistake.
Change management is testing. It’s training. And it’s absolutely making sure that you have an appropriately defined project charter. For these reasons, change management needs to be embedded into WMS implementations from the get-go. If you’re at the user acceptance testing (UAT) stage, it’s already too late.
The days of getting away with short-changing change management are over: It’s time to move change from the backend to the frontend. Moving it to the front means that key stakeholders can help operations teams understand and manage the charter requiring standard products, rather than trying to recreate legacy functionality and processes.
Accepting Change To Maximize Opportunity and Growth
By acknowledging the rising demand for standardized product features and functions, businesses work with rapidly shifting market dynamics rather than against them.
No less importantly, businesses implementing WMS should never forget that upgrades are opportunities — to change, to improve, and to do things better than they’re currently being done. If implementations simply replicate processes, what’s the gain?
Just because something’s working fine doesn’t mean it can’t work better. The best innovations always come from what isn’t immediately obvious, but they still yield great results for businesses.
The necessary cultural shift to foster a more innovative space starts with acceptance of change. Ultimately, this acceptance comes from customers trusting the process — the quicker, the better.
Heavy customization can look attractive, but it can also slow organizations down in the long term.
(Re)investing in Quality Assurance
For WMS implementations to succeed, organizations have to get in the trenches and work with the operational veterans living and breathing these processes every day. Businesses need to help them understand why change matters and how it benefits them. Sometimes this leads to the realization that the veterans have the best ideas for how to improve.
People come first for a reason. It’s too easy to see testing as a necessary evil that moves organizations closer to their actual goal of producing software. But if these same organizations want to make the necessary changes to stay current, they need to look to quality assurance (QA).
The businesses that are winning aren’t just proactive and open to change — they’re investing in QA leadership. Why? Because prioritizing QA leads to huge ROI with lower costs and faster TTV.
Test To Reduce Risk
The earlier in a WMS implementation that organizations identify testing challenges, the more breathing room they have throughout that implementation. They can easily achieve this with the help of a partner.
With proactive strategies in place that truly give change management the respect it deserves, testing teams can handle the requisite business processes smoothly.
Organizations empowered with strong testing infrastructure and automation as early as possible ultimately find an almost magical drop in risks during WMS implementation.
But it’s not magic: It’s just good testing.
How can change management move from something organizations avoid at all costs to something they embrace? Similarly, how does testing turn from an afterthought into an essential part of reducing risk?
In this free white paper, you will learn:
1. How and why WMS implementations have shifted
2. The problem with putting change management and testing on the back burner
3. How organizations can embrace innovation through testing solutions