This year, we’ve got a nice short list of warehouse technology must-haves – electricity, a roof, some of those fancy plastic bins full of zip ties, and a coffee machine. Job’s a good’un.
Now, if you’re interested in actually succeeding, you might have some slightly fancier tech on the list. You might care about remote data security or interfacing with a wide range of systems. You might, crazily, care about the tech that’s going to change the way picking and packing is done.
You might, in short, care about real trends and real solutions. Hold onto the zip ties, though, those things are wicked useful.
1. A better way to handle big data
Warehouses generate heaps and heaps of unsorted, but useful, data. From the number of times a shelf or area is accessed to the amount of time spent picking per shipment. In aggregate, these are just data sets with no discernible story behind them.
Welcome to the world of big data. By running real-time analysis on the data you’re generating, you’re able to better manage the actual day-to-day operation of your warehouse.
Upp Software says, “Employees will look to act on this data in easily consumable ways, from graphical dashboards displaying real-time operational information on mobile devices to labor production statistics displayed prominently on large screens throughout the facility.”
As we find more and better ways to access and parse the data we’re generating, warehousing operations will get more and more efficient. If you’re interested in keeping up with the Jones’s – and their crazy auto-picking robot thing – you’ll need to start figuring out the value of the data you’re already generating.
2. An EDI plan
In addition to all this unstructured data you’re generating, the warehouse is also home to plenty of clearly useful data. What money people owe you and what they’d like you to ship them are obvious examples.
EDI (electronic data interchange) is already the smart way to exchange information, but adoption levels are still relatively low. According to a white paper from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, only 24 percent of US invoices are exchanged electronically. While that puts us in line with Europe for now, government initiatives overseas mean that we’re likely to end up in the dust a decade from now.
EDI implementation can cost tens of thousands of dollars, but the time gained back in efficiency will make that cost up over time. EDI is going to continue its acceleration in the US, so get ready to put some time and cash into a system.
3. A good reason not to be in the cloud
There was a time when local data storage was the only way to go. I don’t mean that in “JetBlue is the only way to fly” sense either. I mean, there was really no other option. Those days are gone, and more and more companies are moving their data into the cloud.
Of course, there are a handful of benefits that come along with the cloud. A few things jump to mind, like security, cost of ownership, and accessibility. Cloud backup removes the risks associated with updating your own technology, can alleviate location risks – by having redundant, geographically diverse copies – and can give you increased access.
There is almost no reason not be using cloud storage. You can control access completely, if you want. You can literally make a thousand copies of your data and spread them across the globe. You can scale up your storage at will, with each terabyte in the Google cloud setting you back a whopping $20 per month.
4. An warehouse-based Internet of Things
The amount of data you can generate with connected devices is ridiculous. This year, more and more stuff is going to be connected. The warehouse is the perfect setting for the IoT – and augmented reality, but we’ll cover that some other time – with millions of moving parts, tight deadlines, and massive opportunity for efficiency increases.
“Smart warehouses” are the warehouses of the future. And by future I mean, next month.
IoT tech allows robots to pick more accurately, cuts down on human picking errors, and can speed up time at every step of the process. As Samsung has pointed out, these benefits require a lot of planning, so don’t go thinking you can just jump in with both feet and not break an ankle.
Even with the planning and investing required, IoT improvements are going to change the way we ship things over the next three years.
5. Mobile implementation
If you can’t buy into a whole IoT system, with automated picking and shipping, you should still be on the lookout for places where mobile technology can make an impact.
Whereas IoT changes can make your warehouse function more smoothly by itself, a good mobile program can support the people working in the warehouse. Tools like tablets and mobile phones are already a daily part of your workers’ lives, so just integrate them into your workflow.
Mobile applications also allow you to make better data-driven decisions, by collecting data on movement, work performed, and other repetitive tasks that you can streamline. Many of the insights you’ll receive from a good mobile program will help save you time and money, simply by making small changes in your employees’ everyday routines.
Final thoughts for 2017
There’s a lot shifting in the logistics space, and 2017 is going to be a part of the slow move from the Old to the New. I’m a firm believer in step changes, so I don’t anticipate a huge move in warehousing this year. What I do expect is to watch small changes slowly increase margins as the most efficient operations creep ahead of the competition.
To watch it all unfold and keep an eye out for what’s coming next, check out Capterra’s Logistics blog. We’ll talk about upcoming trends in the ERP space, shipping changes around the world, and ways technology can help you make your business stronger.