Technology, efficiency, and accuracy: the key factors shaping effective warehouse management 

The dynamics of warehouse management have certainly changed in the last couple of years. A recent study, conducted by VDC Research on behalf of StayLinked Corporation, titled ‘Making Supply Chain Resilience Work: Keeping Up with Ever-Demanding Warehouse Operations,’ indicates that Covid forced renewed investment in modernizing warehouse operations and technologies, but maybe not in the way you might expect.  

Justin Griffith is Chief Technology Officer at StayLinked
Justin Griffith, Chief Technology Officer at StayLinked

Published in March 2024, the report builds on the previous 2021-2022 research study, which began by asking businesses what their top warehouse improvement initiatives were. The 2021-2022 study, titled ‘Warehouse Operations 2022: Streamlining Technology Investment Time to Value and Overcoming New Technology Investment Challenges’ found that respondents’ number-one priority was on-time shipments and getting shipments out faster – a goal that surpassed other initiatives by almost 50 percent.  

The 2021-2022 research also showed that only 30 percent of companies were running the latest version of Warehouse Management System (WMS) software available. The remaining 70 percent were either running older versions or had custom software.  

Quality versus quantity  

In comparison, the March 2024 report shows that while on-time shipments and getting shipments out faster remains the top focus for warehouse improvements, there has been a big increase towards achieving the ‘perfect order rate’. This suggests that whilst Covid forced businesses to focus heavily on getting more boxes out of the door, the emphasis has now shifted to getting the right boxes out of the door. 

The latest report also sheds light on the evolving strategies that are centered around improving warehouse management. While the focus on timely shipments has persisted, companies have increasingly embraced a balanced approach that also emphasizes achieving the perfect order rate. This signals a shift from merely speeding up deliveries to ensuring accuracy and precision in every shipment.   

The impact of technology  

Another interesting trend uncovered by the March 2024 report is that a WMS has an outsized impact on an operation’s ability to adopt new technology.  

Pre-Covid, supply chain organizations faced challenges associated with the availability of labor. During the pandemic, companies grappled with the risk and liability of having too many workers in close proximity within a warehouse. The efforts to address this issue with technology were met with an unforeseen challenge – integrating new technologies with warehouse management systems that had outdated or non-existent integration capabilities.  

The March 2024 report showed 42.5 percent of respondents were using the latest version of their warehouse management software. This ‘software-first’ approach has enabled companies to effectively test and implement improvements, ultimately resulting in more cohesive and resilient warehouse operations. By combining speed, accuracy, and technological integration, these strategies are driving significant progress in warehouse management. 

This shift can be explained by the lessons learnt during the Covid era around the failure to adopt new technologies en masse, largely due to the complexity of evaluating, piloting, and integrating new technologies with older WMSs.   

The March 2024 report revealed that: Warehouse workers checking shipment

  • 54 percent of respondents running legacy WMS software (3+ years or older behind current versions) said: “The complexity of piloting and evaluating new technologies limits thew number of solutions we can fully test”, compared to the 34.8 percent of respondents running the current version of their WMS software 
  • 45.9 percent in the legacy WMS software group responded that “most new technologies evaluated do not evolve beyond the pilot phase”, compared to 31.6 percent of those deploying the current version of their WMS’ software 
  • 63 percent of companies cited the ability to streamline the piloting and evaluation of new technologies to be a huge motivator to run their system’s latest software 

 A balanced approach  

However, having a current WMS is no guarantee for new technology being adopted. When taken together, companies responding that “most technologies do not evolve beyond the pilot phase” rose by 11 percent when compared to the 2021-2022 research. Companies responding “the complexity of piloting and evaluating new technology limits the number of solutions we can fully test” rose by ten percent when compared to the previous survey.  

Improving technology, efficiency, speed, and time-to-value often hinges on more mundane aspects. It’s a battle between warehouse health and warehouse fitness; just as someone in good health may find exercise easier (but not necessarily easy), technology investments resemble this gym-like challenge.  

Large, long-tail investments like WMS upgrades can facilitate the adoption of new technologies and improvements, making this integration smoother for companies in good ‘health.’ However, this doesn’t guarantee warehouse fitness; it doesn’t guarantee an easy process or an automatic success, underscoring the need for measured progress and effective warehouse management. 

Smooth integration of new technologies, which enable measured progress and effective warehouse management, can be achieved with the deployment of enterprise-grade terminal emulation (TE) software, combined with today’s no-code technology adoption platforms. This combination delivers warehouse operations that are fit and healthy!  

Justin Griffith is Chief Technology Officer at StayLinked, a market leader in terminal emulation (TE) solutions for the supply chain industry, which is headquartered in California, US with an innovation center in Oxfordshire, UK. StayLinked’s no-code technology adoption platform, Evolve, is transforming how supply chain organizations and warehouse operations adopt new technologies.