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WMS - Good to the last byte... (Part 3 - Technology)

By Steve Simmerman | 06/15/2010 | 1:16 PM

We’ve talked about the People and Process factors with regard to making your WMS “good to the last byte”, but let’s explore the Technology angle a bit.  As my co-contributor, Don Benson (http://www.wmssupport.com/) and I discussed a few weeks ago when we kicked off this series of blogs, technology seems to be one of the key drivers behind upgrades or replacement of older WMS systems.  While many WMS systems seem to have a useful life of 7-10 years (or more in many cases), the reality is that they are running with some really old, and usually unsupported technology.  It could be hardware, operating system, database, peripherals – yet companies continue to run these systems.  Nothing wrong with being frugal, but frugality has to be weighed against risks to your supply chain execution operations.  I’ve seen companies scour the market for replacement parts and spares for their aging RF and buy whatever they could find – I’ve seen the same thing for AGV’s in automated facilities.  Sure you need to carry an inventory of spares for older devices…but there is a tipping point.


There must be an operational or economic benefit behind technology upgrades or replacements.  These benefits could be in terms of reduced maintenance costs, improved productivity and even risk reduction to the operation in the event of a failure.  If your database is unsupported and it crashes…what would you do?  Can you afford to be down for 2-4 hours, or worse, perhaps a day or two?  How many technology ‘fire drills’ have you really prepared for?


Lest any of us need a stark reminder of how important backup plans are for accidents and failed technology – no need to look any further than the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  A recent “google” for “Tony Hayward” (CEO of British Petroleum) resulted in 2,160,000 results in .24 seconds – way more attention than any of us would like to receive.  A recent “google” for the “Gulf Oil Spill" resulted in 38,800,000 in .51 seconds – that’s right, 38 MILLION!


We’ve seen companies running WMS systems that are running on unsupported versions of operating systems, databases – even running on WMS software that has been de-supported by the vendor.  It’s a tribute to those aging technologies that they can still run but there comes a time when they must be upgraded or replaced.


How often does your WMS team do a risk assessment of the various technology components behind your WMS?  Do you even do a risk assessment?  Have you really fully stressed and tested your backup plans in the case of an extended system outage?  Back to our earlier blogs, are your People and Processes really current in the event of a major technology failure?  Have you developed a simple and complete communication plan for your organization if disaster strikes?  How many phone calls, text messages and emails would you receive if your WMS was down for a significant period of time?  It’s a delicate balance, but risk assessment relative to aging technology is a reality that we must all face.  Better to be prepared…just ask Tony Hayward.


We'll be back next week to wrap up our People, Process and Technology series.  We hope we were able to shed some light on helping your organization make your WMS "good to the last byte".

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About Steve Simmerman

Steve Simmerman

Steve Simmerman is a Senior Director with JDA. Simmerman has more than 25 years of experience in the supply chain industry including software, consulting and material handling. He has focused his efforts on working with clients to achieve high performance supply chain results through partnerships and creative solutions. He is a member of CSCMP, WERC, and MHIA and is a regular contributor to several industry publications and events. Simmerman holds his undergraduate and MBA degrees from The University of Notre Dame.


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