This year Zebra Technologies is introducing a new concept to drive decision-making in your planning and investment strategies for new devices and equipment in distribution centers and other warehouses. Referred to as the “Warehouse Maturity Model”, it provides a structured roadmap for modernization for your facilities.
While we will be going into much more depth on some aspects of this model in the coming year, today we want to do a high-level overview that will help you understand the concept and a provide a way to view your existing facilities through this lens.
COVID-19 created a “100-year event” that created both extreme upheaval and an unprecedented acceleration of change for SOME industries – while others were slowed enough to delay changes that were already planned. A structured approach to modernization may be what is needed most right now.
Start with the Big Picture
Like all big, visionary changes, it’s best to get out of your floor staff hat and climb back up to the 30,000 foot level and look over your whole supply chain before drilling down into specific areas and details. This graphic does a good job representing all that’s involved in getting a product from the factory floor to the buyer or user and the key role played by the warehouse(s):
Modernization is by necessity something that needs to be done in steps, or in pieces, because it is generally not advisable to overhaul many different pieces at the same time. What happens in instances like this is that troubleshooting is inevitable, but made much more difficult if multiple systems are brand new because the source of early problems are harder to identify.
But simply upgrading your facility with a new WMS, some new devices and updated processes isn’t a productive approach either if you are not looking more holistically at your entire supply chain and your end goals for the effort, because all the different pieces of your puzzle must be considered together to get the kind of productivity and efficiency that is possible from modernization.
What Are the Five Phases of Warehouse Maturation?
While it is not covered in a lot of detail, there is a “Phase Zero” which refers to a facility that is “siloed and reactionary”, with only basic data capture in place (and no real ability to leverage the data captured).1. Improve Operations and Increase Individual Worker Productivity
This is all about focusing on the “foundational” elements – process improvements, process integration, security gaps, errors, mobility opportunities, etc. Even if you already know you will end up with a certain technology or set of devices, this is a requirement to give you a basis on which you can measure your success and find additional opportunities to benefit from your new technologies and others you may not have considered.2. Achieve Greater Team Productivity and Workflow Conformity
If the Phase Two success factors look pretty familiar, it’s because they are. They are here because they are part of the early foundation required to modernize for Operations:
- Improving consistency and accuracy
- Leveraging task-specific devices and form factors
- Unifying team communication and mobilizing managers
- Increasing visibility of assets and workflow processes
And Information Technology:
- Simplifying remote device management
- Utilizing your IT resources to help get workers to full productivity faster
The key to achieving these success factors is in the small details of the technology upgrades and process improvements that you or your Reseller are already capable of executing. “Increasing visibility of assets” would include adding tracking to more steps of the process (i.e. cases en route, not just single products on hand) and “Simplifying device management” is as easy as deploying a Mobile Device Management tool like SOTI Mobicontrol.
3. Integration for Greater Asset Visibility and Utilization in Real-time
“Scan everything” doesn’t sound like and attractive “solution”, but strategically expanding not just WHAT you scan, but HOW OFTEN you scan it and HOW you scan it can provide a breakthrough for your ability to gain visibility across the business. If your average worker is manually scanning 800-1000 times per hour, doubling that doesn’t sound like a productivity gain, but by expanding into a hybrid environment that includes both 2D barcodes and RFID allows for more passive scans.
Passive scanning, along with other similar “sensing” style technologies can provide insights into every part of your supply chain, and every element: vehicles, people AND products.
Adding an integration-friendly collection software like VIZITRACE into the mix will allow you to automatically add all these additional scans into your existing WMS, ERP or Data Warehouse where the data can provide the foundation for real-time decision making along with higher quality analytics.4. Automated Rule-Based Guidance and Decision-Making for Maximum Responsiveness
All the additional scans and reads talked about in Phase Three now start bearing fruit in Phase Four. This is where automation can start to play a role by using contextual data and business rules to not only enable alerts for managers and others, but to execute on parts of the process as well. For example, knowing the weight and dimensions of your incoming or outgoing packages can be used to know when to redirect the outgoing ones to a different truck when the first one gets full, or to change the destination rack ID for incoming cases when the initial reserve area fills up.5. Pervasive Automated Decision-Making to “Predict and Adapt” in Real-Time
Finally, Zebra includes in this phase the full adoption of “pervasive data capture” to enable the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to allow your systems to proactively improve performance by anticipating the needs of the business based on real-time data. For example, a typical direct-to-consumer forecast for a certain product might call for 30 units a day after launch and you set up a picking rack with a bin that has capacity for 40 units to allow for typical bumps in daily demand. But an unexpected appearance of the product on a local cable show suddenly spikes demand to 50-60 units/day. Automated decision-making would then inform your replenishment crew to double up the bin in the picking area for the next day(s) bit also foresee the potential lost sales from the early depletion of the product ahead of forecast, or automatically increase the order from distribution or the manufacturer and add to the backorder availability.
More to Come
We’ll be delving deeper into this model over the course of the year as part of the “Touchless Warehouse” strategy that we deployed in 2020. For now, please contact us with questions – especially with questions about how to audit your existing facilities and processes to determine where to start. If you were to put together an honest review of your facilities using just the basic criteria described in Phases 1 and 2, where would you be right now? Where would you want to start?