Gain Real-Time Execution Visibility With Labor Management Software

Gain Real-Time Execution Visibility With Labor Management Software

A recurring theme in this space lately has been how distribution and fulfillment (D&F) operations are having to deal with unprecedented challenges. Look closer, however, and you’ll find that most of these problems have the same root cause: you’re being asked to make a lot more decisions using imperfect information.

That makes the information that you can get more valuable than ever before. Getting the right data to the right people at the right time allows you to make better, faster and more accurate business decisions — from reducing your costs to responding to changes in customer buying behavior and improving the outcomes of your operations.

So how do you do that? Where can you get better information? How do you get the visibility into your facility’s performance and the data points you need to reduce your operational bottlenecks, speed up your processes, and provide your customers with an experience so delightful that they’ll want to do business with you again and again?

Two essential tools make these goals possible: labor management software (LMS) and warehouse management system (WMS) software. Each has its own strengths, but you can also get value-added synergies when they’re natively integrated. Let’s start by looking at each one in turn.

Leveraging Labor to Its Full Potential

A lot of operations have data — sometimes too much of it. But which data points matter most, and how do you derive value from that data? That’s where LMS starts to come into play.

The primary role of LMS is to optimize every labor management function within your operation. By increasing the visibility and control you have, you’ll see the benefits of a good LMS package quickly in the form of lower overhead costs. It also highlights opportunities for you to invest in your workforce and maximize its overall productivity.

LMS packages can differ, but here’s a quick snapshot of what Momentum Labor from Honeywell Intelligrated provides. In short, it delivers the on-demand intelligence you need to measure, manage and plan your warehouse or distribution center labor needs. This user-friendly system has a proven track record of increasing productivity, efficiency and facility performance.

It’s important to understand that LMS doesn’t just look at last week’s performance, or yesterday’s, or even what happened on the last shift; it’s a continuous data-collection system. This has two powerful implications:

  1. It’s now possible for you to get insights you can act on within minutes instead of hours, or even days.
  2. You can now predict your resource needs for the next day, or even the next week — calculating the precise number of workers you’ll need to run at peak efficiency.

Say, for example, you need to ship 1,000 packages on a given day. You’ve got eight hours to get them packed and ready to go, and the last delivery truck leaves at 4 p.m. Without LMS, if your packing team falls behind schedule, you may not know there’s a problem until 3 p.m. — by which time it’ll probably be too late to do anything about it. That means delayed shipments, frustrated vendors and disappointed customers.

A good LMS system could prevent all of this by tracking the progress of your shipping area in near real time. In the same scenario, the LMS application will indicate a deviation from your set plan, for example at 10 a.m., and that based on the performance of the last two hours, you’re not going to make your goal by 4 p.m. with the labor currently assigned to the task. You’ll know six hours ahead of time that you’ll need to reassign available resources to remove the production bottleneck to hit 100 percent service level agreement (SLA) achievement for that day.

Here’s another common example. Say your team is running like clockwork and executing your plan perfectly, but then three employees on that team get sick on the same day. Your LMS can tell you how much you were expecting those three people to accomplish that day based on their previously established productivity/performance metrics, and what shortfall you’ll need to balance with other resources.

These insights go well beyond the number of people you’ll need in any given area, because your LMS tracks each individual’s performance metrics. Modern LMS systems incorporate sophisticated data science, which enables you to collect detailed information about how well employees perform specific tasks. You can then use this data to determine where each employee will be most effective. For example, if a worker is 75% efficient in picking but 105% efficient at loading, it stands to reason that they are best utilized for loading tasks. In a similar way, you can determine which incentives will best motivate your workers to get their jobs done, which supervisors are managing most effectively, and even who’s thinking about quitting.

Once an LMS learns the patterns of a particular site, it can be leveraged to develop engagement models and incentives to retain and develop your best workers, creating measurable improvements for both employees and the warehouse. It’s not quite a “crystal ball”, but it’s about as close as you can get.

To deliver these benefits, and determine how your performance is measuring up to your plans, your LMS needs data from a WMS. So let’s take a look at what that does.

The Master Warehouse Manager

There’s a good chance you’re already using WMS software. It’s basically the comprehensive inventory management system of the warehouse. It’s also a kind of “master planner” that analyzes orders coming from your enterprise resource planning (ERP) system and releases them into your process.

A good WMS should do four things:

  1. Give you accurate, location-level detail of your inventory — That way you’ll know where any item is at any time.
  2. Boost your throughput — Visibility and accuracy will help do that, along with planning capabilities such as grouping orders by customer, pick and pack strategies, or shipping deadlines.
  3. Provide inventory information in as close to real time as possible — Data that shows up an hour later — or even 15 minutes later — might already be out of date. And the more frequently you can get this information from your WMS, the more effectively your LMS will be able to perform.
  4. Save you time and money — WMS achieves this goal by automating critical tasks like inbound and outbound processes, staff activity tracking, cycle counting and so on.

These are the basics that any WMS ought to provide. But there are many other possibilities, depending on which package you use.

Momentum WMS, for example, has more than 500 configurable parameters that can be activated or deactivated quickly. We think this is a great approach because you get a system that provides exactly what you need while remaining flexible enough to evolve with your business. As your operation grows, you can change processes and workflow logic just by clicking a button, without incurring the time and expense of custom coding.

The Power of Seamless Integration

As we’ve seen, each of these systems is valuable on its own. But their value increases even more when you integrate them.

The good news is that you can realize many integration benefits, even if you already have a WMS that you’re happy with. Momentum LMS from Honeywell Intelligrated is flexible enough to work with any WMS from any other vendor.

That said, an all-Momentum environment delivers a greatly simplified user experience on a single platform. Integrating the two applications natively allows for enhanced data exchange between them and enables some valuable synergies.

If your WMS provides updates often enough, you can get near real-time labor visibility plus performance feedback that allows you to make immediate adjustments as needed — not just during the current shift, but up to a week or more in advance. You’ll have an accurate picture of exactly how your fulfillment execution is trending at any time, and how well it aligns with your production plans. All of this leads to better utilization of your labor in a way that not only benefits you, but leads to more satisfied workers, vendors and customers.

If you use the Momentum platform for both of these systems, you’ll also get a shared key performance indicator (KPI) platform that provides real-time alerts and event notifications, simplified deployment and support that results in a lower total cost of ownership (TCO), plus significant improvements in throughput and overall operational efficiencies.

If you’d like to learn more about either of these technologies, or for details of other advanced warehouse management and execution software for modern fulfillment operations, visit the Honeywell Intelligrated Warehouse Automation Software page.

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