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WMS Implementations: Measure Twice, Cut Once for Value



WMS Implementations: Measure Twice, Cut Once for Value

May 2, 2023

Reducing Risks in WMS Implementations 

These Days, the best modern warehouse management systems live on the cloud.  According to Entrepreneur magazine, by mid-2018, Amazon was “responsible for roughly 50 percent of the nation’s ecommerce sales and five percent of all combined offline and online sales.” Their speed, efficiency, and phenomenal delivery network no doubt set the standard for customer expectations among supply chain enterprises.

Then, during the pandemic, those expectations skyrocketed as more people shopped from home, pressuring direct-to-consumer distributors to “Amazon-up” or risk becoming irrelevant.

Over the past five years, the race to embrace faster, better, leaner warehouse management systems (WMSs) has only increased. Migrating away from on-premise WMS installations to Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) is evidence of the industry’s move to more flexible, lower-cost, less customized solutions. The kind only a subscription model can support, where template-based implementations promise the latest in standardized features and functions and vendors are responsible for maintaining the software to the latest available version.

Today’s executives and stakeholders are now taking the long view on software investments, emphasizing flexibility in their supply chain strategies. What used to be the finish line to a cutover system, “go-lives” now represent the starting line to a perpetual journey of system improvement. Top WMS developers know this and are designing software that can adapt.

With a modern SaaS solution, software upgrades are all in a day’s work. The cost of ownership plummets, as operational functionality stays on the cutting edge. What’s more, a standardized WMS solution offers streamlined implementation, especially in high-velocity, multi-site deployments, while also simplifying performance measurements against a constant benchmark.

In 2023, solutions that are hosted on the cloud embrace change. This is the new requirement. Why be forced into a defensive posture for change, when you can take the offense, innovate, and win with SaaS?

Taking the Stress Out of Change

The move to SaaS itself will likely require a change in thinking. Change management, therefore, plays a key role in any successful SaaS transition.

The person assigned to manage the change should be aware of the testing and training involved, communicating expectations to the people who will ultimately use the system. The IT department will need to prepare for the new technology stack in advance, where operations will likely shift in many areas where old habits have formed.

These preparations represent job one and should be written into the project charter early, so that those providing input will have a view of the end game and can effectively contribute to the process.

Any time you implement a new system, you have an opportunity to assess your current operational processes and make decisions that can benefit you going forward. Remember: it’s not about replicating the past; it’s about improving future performance. Heavily customized solutions will seriously hinder your nimbleness in the face of evolving market demands and system upgrades. So, if continuous improvement is your priority, include change management in your program up front.

Quality Starts with Good Communications

In lock step with change management is clear and frequent communications. The adoption of a new WMS typically requires some level of cultural nurturing, as everyone, from the warehouse floor to the C-suite, will be affected by the change.

For this reason, it is wise to place boots on the ground. Walk the warehouse, engage with veterans and new hires alike, make sure your people are heard and understand the benefits of the new system. And ask lots of questions. The deeper your curiosity is in the discovery, the greater the impact will be in the outcome. Some of the most important conversations you have will take place at the front of your transition, as some of the best ideas will come from the trenches and your implementers learn from first-hand input.

As well, quality assurance (QA) leaders will be necessary to keep the project on track. This includes testing, an area that often gets downplayed, put off, or short-changed. The time to make necessary adjustments in an implementation is “as you go,” not at the end, when simple changes can turn into major rework. When a testing team is aware of user needs up front, appropriate test infrastructure, automation, and scaling can be engineered into the program, leading to reduced risk, expressed time-to-value, and maximized ROI.

Spot Opportunities to Add Long-Term Value

Resist the urge to preserve legacy processes for the sake of change avoidance. If you have the proper change management, communications, and QA elements in place early, real opportunities for improvement will become evident to all, preserving both the best of the past and brightest of the future.

It is the job of your implementation team to minimize risk. This means leveraging the standard functionality of your software to satisfy the business-critical needs of your organization.

Getting from point A to point B does not necessarily mean a custom makeover. Most WMS software today provides options that can work comfortably within the confines of how your business operates, without wholesale process changes. However, where a process truly is broken or in need of repair, by all means take this opportunity to correct it. Focus on the end result and your decisions will take care of themselves. A skilled and seasoned implementor can help you see the forest for the trees.

Not All Transitions Are Created Equal

Different organizations will have different transition journeys. Those upgrading a WMS from on-premise to on-premise will probably be several software versions behind, prompting a lot of custom coding in the process to make up for several lost years of upgrades.

Transitioning from on-premise to SaaS can create even more complexity, as so many custom processes tied to the legacy system suddenly don’t fit in the SaaS environment. Instead of just upgrading the software, you’re likely looking at a whole new implementation, involving decommissioning a part of your old infrastructure along with the old system, not to mention the culture shock your people may experience going to a new online platform.

The easiest transition, then, becomes the SaaS-to-SaaS journey, where a templatized approach fits nicely with standard features and functions, upgrading from a not-too-distant version. SaaS, as we have already established, is all about maintaining the latest software as it is introduced.

In all cases, the key to ensuring a smooth transition will be in testing the installation, to avoid potential misfires before they occur. Automated, regression testing baked into your implementation from the start validates each phase of the migration and prevents the need to rework what is already essentially a rework, going from one solution to the next.

Take your time. Think it through. Examine your existing processes as a part of your project charter. Make sure to respectfully consider and vet any valuable process updates discussed. And test it all. If you can approach your transition within a culture of curiosity, your potential to innovate and accelerate value compounds with every decision.

Ready, Set, Hold On

A mock go-live is always a recommended quality check to avoid risk in your final implementation. A mock go-live should not be confused with a conference room pilot. A mock go-live is a system test of how your new software will work in practice, with people and processes in place, within the context of your total operation. That means testing how it plays with your ERP system, your various data loads, production floor personnel, operational workflows, and other actual practices surrounding your new software.

As well, a mock go-live should not take the place of quality testing. Without the necessary quality tests, you will only uncover issues that have to be backtracked ahead of production, and that means costly delays. Rather, think of mock go-lives as simply a part of a more comprehensive, cohesive quality strategy that must include:

  • Scalability testing, gauging performance against fluctuating volumes.
  • Concurrency testing, understanding how well the new system interacts with other systems and applications in the infrastructure.
  • Acceptance testing, ensuring your users and support team understand, agree with, and can benefit from the update.
  • Physical testing, ensuring your physical footprint, including RF scanners, material handling equipment, printers, etc., all work as intended.
  • Performance testing, gaining feedback on how the software acts in relation to processes on the floor per expectations.

In addition, it is not unusual to perform two mock go-lives in the interest of minimizing risk; one to uncover issues and another to test the corrections. These QA pillars will help eliminate potential problems post go-live and minimize risk ahead of startup.

Measure twice, cut once to effectively validate your implementation, while avoiding myriad potential stumbling blocks on your way to true value.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

To summarize, the implementation of a new, tier one WMS can be a boon or a bust depending on how you manage it. There are many complexities involved, and it pays to take a “crawl, walk, run” approach.

Start with a minimum viable product, stick with a standard application deployed using a proven template, satisfy your top business needs first, and apply the necessary quality practices along the way for best results. Most of all, lean on the experience and capabilities of a trusted partner, and stay open to new opportunities to create value.

Do these things and you will find yourself with a stable, responsive, and consistent system capable of reducing your total cost of ownership, while creating new value for your organization long-term.

Contact Open Sky Group today for more information about WMS implementations.

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Jeremy Hudson

Vice President of Client Services

Jeremy’s focus is on the products and services clients need to stay competitive. Open Sky Group’s mission is to deliver technology-enabled solutions that allow our customers to achieve more while having the flexibility to adapt to change. Jeremy lives the core values and mission by bringing the best experience possible to our clients. He is an essential member of implementation teams, working alongside clients, and encouraging them to use innovation and best practices instead of customizations for success.

Jason Yantiss

Vice President of Client Services

Jason provides leadership to a variety of teams focused on implementation and integration. With 27+ years of experience holding operational and technical management roles in transportation, billing, and warehousing across a vast array of industry verticals, Jason is adept at driving multiple complex projects, understanding customer needs at all levels of the operation and providing viable solutions. Jason’s resume of 150+ implementation projects include Warehouse, Labor, Transportation, Yard Management and multiple AR/AP Freight Pay and Customer Billing systems. 

Eric McPherson

Vice President of Client Services

Mac works to oversee implementation and integration projects. A former Marine officer and military police officer, he brings over 27 years of supply chain experience, including 11 years at Blue Yonder in both delivery and service sales. Mac is a dedicated, team-oriented professional with a background in business management, professional services, customer service, and supply chain technology. His specialties include sales support, supply chain execution systems, project management, fulfillment operations, distribution operations, and GSA contracts.

Shannon Caflisch

Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing

Shannon is responsible for the strategy and management of all sales, business development, and marketing programs. With over 25 years of sales experience and 15 years focused in the supply chain space, Shannon focuses on building strong relationships with clients and partners and strives to deliver the right software solutions to help conquer supply chain challenges. Shannon believes in learning by listening to understand clients’ goals, struggles, and what is important to their business to build lasting, successful relationships.

Alan Prillaman

Senior Vice President of Client Services

As Senior VP of Client Services, Alan oversees all consulting services and account management at Open Sky Group. Possessing over 30 years of combined industry and consulting experience, Alan leverages his unique background in IT, logistics, quality management systems, manufacturing and distribution operations, and facility and strategic account management to provide clients with creative resolutions to complex challenges. His core philosophy and passion are to deliver tangible value for and establish long-term trusted partnerships with our clients.

Mike Noble

Senior Vice President of Technology

As Senior Vice President of Technology, Mike leads Open Sky Group’s Managed Services, Software Services, Infrastructure Services, and Information Technology teams bringing 35+ years of experience in Supply Chain Execution and Information Technology. Mike and his teams ensure we maintain the highest levels of customer service in a secure and reliable environment, constantly reviewing and evaluating new technologies, their appropriateness and applicability so we can safely and securely transact our own business – and help our clients accomplish the same.

Chad Kramlich


Joining Open Sky Group in 2015, Chad, served as Chief Revenue Officer for three years prior to his appointment to CEO in 2022. With over 25 years of experience delivering results for high-growth software and consulting organizations, Chad is leveraging his background in building efficient and effective implementation teams, establishing high-impact services operations, achieving revenue growth, and deepening executive-level client relations to help propel Open Sky Group into a very successful future.

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