2023: A Retrospective of WMS Development
As the year draws to a close, we all tend to get sentimental, reevaluating the 365 days that have passed. Building on the mistakes of the past to reshape the future, warehousing technology needs this retrospective to avoid repeating the same patterns. That is why today, we will take a trip down a year-long memory lane and tally up the biggest shifts that happened in the WMS industry in 2023.
THE BOOM OF ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE
In the future, 2023 will be remembered as the year of AI. While artificial intelligence has been a powerful factor of logistics digitalization for years, it is this year that the general public got their first taste of personal AI-powered experiences. Such influx of interest has made this STEM-coded term into common knowledge and an everyday tool, breathing second wind of excitement into all industries that already utilized AI to streamline their processes on the down low. Warehouse management is no exception; AI has been a well-known player, but this year, it got the starring role!
Defining The Limits of What Is Possible
Before we go all in on the artificial intelligence, it is important to grasp the limitations of the concept. AI is based on existing patterns in the data that humans feed into it. On its own, it cannot react to an unprecedented new scenario that goes beyond what has been previously described, but, as a tool, it can still help in case of a completely unexpected problem.
The article “Dial AI for assistance: leveraging AI for supply chain resilience and crisis management” by Sydney Business Insights explores a case study where AI significantly sped up the crisis response team’s search for solutions after their company’s largest supplier ceased operations overnight. It was the team who had to leverage the AI, and later use its findings to choose and implement the best decisions, proving that even the best possible instrument still has to be wielded by a human hand.
According to LogiSync, the future won’t be dominated by the robotic hivemind, but rather by the collaboration between machines and humans, in which “warehouse staff can focus on tasks that require human judgment, creativity, and problem-solving, while AI handles repetitive and data-intensive processes”. To dive deeper into the necessity for human supervision in supply chain and WMS, read our recent article where we interviewed two Innovecs experts on this subject.
AI-Powered Warehouse Management Systems
Can a Warehouse Management System not merely utilize AI, but be powered by it, using it as the main driving force? In 2023, this is no longer a hypothetical question: OmneelabWMS, XoroWMS, Focus, and others like it are already here. Fully AI-powered warehouse management solutions are making their way out of the fringe, firmly establishing themselves as viable options.
For the most tech-savvy clients of the future, having a couple AI features in your WMS may not be enough. The discussion of cloud-based, fully AI-powered systems is broadening as we speak, so, if a company wants to define itself as innovative, it may have to do its homework on just how much artificial intelligence it can understand, integrate, and advertise.
ROBOTS AND AUTOMATION TO FOLLOW
Quite like AI, the use of automation and robotics has been on our logistics-industry-minds for a while. According to Charles Brennan of Nucleus Research, “these technologies are now tightly integrated with WMS, facilitating faster and more accurate order fulfillment while reducing labor costs”. And, following in the footsteps of AI, the topic has experienced a resurgence of interest in 2023 as a logical continuation, since robots use AI and its pattern recognition to function. While the self-driving trucks have become something of a meme for how long the concept has been in the works, other logistics-optimizing automated solutions have been on the rise: notably, in the warehousing sector.
Robotics in Warehouse Management
The year has ended with a bang, or rather a shiny new development in warehouse robotics. Sequoia from Amazon is an all–new robotic solution, optimizing inventory management through collaboration with other “robots, gantry systems, robotic arms, and a new ergonomic employee workstation”. It has been implemented only a month ago, but its performance adds up to some pretty impressive numbers in the long run.
UPS has also recently opened its biggest warehouse as of yet, with 3,000 robots being the main driving force of this $79 million facility. According to Fortune, this means that the warehouse will need just 200 employees to start functioning. Emergence of such warehouses that are more robot than human is indicative of the need to integrate robotics-friendly WMS solutions that can swiftly directing the small army of machines, as well as the need for highly advanced warehouse managers to run the system. Are we ready to meet these demands and compete with the companies who are already there?
Forbes’ response to this is: not yet. Despite the positive prognoses for the upcoming years, today less than 8% of US warehouses are deploying mobile robotics. According to Vice President of Supply Chain Services at ARC Advisory Group, Steve Banker, this causes a vicious cycle where “because so few logistics executives have worked with these systems, there are misconceptions surrounding how warehouse mobile robots work with humans”. His article foreshadows an evolution in the WMS logic, necessary for those who wish to catch up to Amazon and UPS.
The Era of Smart Warehouse
In the meantime, your warehouse does not need to be fully automated to still be smart and efficient. According to Thomas Jorgensen, President & CEO, Green Worldwide Shipping, “true intelligence goes far beyond robotics—it’s about creating warehousing and supply chain resilience”. Your warehouse can be smart even if it is not populated by robots. In 2023, smart warehouse means more than cutting-edge machinery: it is also about lean principles, intelligent utilization of WMS data, and tech-savvy staff. Your WMS should be prepped for integration and implementation of robotics, sure, but smart warehouse is a broad term that celebrates educated approach to warehouse management above all else.
On the subject of being well-informed to make the best decisions for your warehouse, data management was another relevant topic of 2023. Innovecs’ Supply Chain Sales executive Daniel Ahearn has noted that “the logistics industry has been undergoing a digital transformation, with data management playing a crucial role in enhancing operational efficiency, visibility, and decision-making processes”. He has also shared the list of the key trends that defined WMS development in that area in 2023:
- Real-Time Data Analytics and Visibility
- Integration of Internet of Things (IoT)
- Cloud Computing
- Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning
- Blockchain for Transparency and Security
- Advanced Warehouse Management Systems (WMS)
- Compliance and Regulatory Reporting
- Customer-Centric Data Use
Looking back at 2023, it is obvious that the boom of AI has affected many industries. WMS development, too, has felt its touch. The rise of AI-powered warehouse management systems came hand in hand with a piqued interest in robotics and automation. We have seen some new warehouse-optimizing robots enter the stage, and pondered on what really makes a warehouse “smart”. Data management remained a relevant topic, and the lifeblood of many warehouse management processes.
Innovecs offers a wide selection of logistics-oriented software solutions, and we collaborate with some of the most advanced WMS providers in the world: Corax WMS by Davanti and Savoye. Feel free to take a look at our recently-expanded list of services or reach out to us for an operational audit to optimize the performance of your warehouse.