From SCDigest's On-Target E-Magazine
From Too Much Pain in WMS Deployments to Walmart's Failed RFID Mandate to Enterprise Supply Chain Management, Hill and Dan Gilmore Discuss Supply Chain
SCDigest Editorial Staff
John Hill is a legendary figure in the Warehouse Management Systems and automatic data collection worlds. Currently a consultant with St. Onge, he was CEO of WMS pioneer in the late 1970s/early 1980s, a company that helped define the modern WMS market and which produced a large number of professionals that greatly influenced the industry after Logisticon's ultimate closure.
He and a small group of folks - notably the late Dave Scott - ran a small consulting firm called Cyprus for many years through and beyond the 1990s that had influence in the market well beyond its size. He was a fixture giving conference presentations for years, to the point many assumed he was running a very large consulting firm. He has been highly involved and influential in the MHI organization (the former Material Handling Institute) and automatic identification group AIM, and indeed is a chart member of a group called the AIDC 100.
In the Fall of 2003, just weeks after the first issue of Supply Chain Digest in September, Hill did the very first "unplugged" interview with SCDigest editor Dan Gilmore. Now he's back in 2015 with a much longer discussion, summarized in Gilmore's First Thoughts column last week.
As promised then, below you will find part 1 of the full transcript of that interview. Part 2 next week.
Gilmore: When we first did this in 2003, there had been huge changes in the WMS market from when you helped build it in the late 1970s to that time, especially in terms of moving from largely custom systems to much more packaged products. What have you seen changing in the market from 2003 to today?
Hill: You know, it's hard for me to say "back in 2003." But you look and say it's been 12 years. Amazing. At that time, it had been almost 30 years since I joined Logisticon, the WMS pioneer. Most of the changes between the mid-1980s and 2003 had to do with the refinement of the WMS systems, significant improvements in functionality, and the move to more packaged systems, but what I think was perhaps more important was the early signs of market consolidation.
As you know, that consolidation has continued on for the last 12 years. In fact, only one tier 1 provider [Manhattan Associates] from the old days really remains today. Remember when we used to talk about there being more than 100 WMS providers, maybe even over 200 at one point? Some of them are still out there somewhere today, but the ranks have been thinned remarkably.
Since 2003, we've also seen the emergence of increasingly viable WMS modules from the ERP providers, Software as a Service and WMS in the Cloud, and growing capabilities in Warehouse Control Systems that are WMS-like. I think these trends are going to continue.
And of course, though the trend has already started in 2003, leading WMS providers have greatly expanded their capabilities beyond the four walls of the DC, beyond even Transportation Management and Yard Management to Distributed Order Management, supply chain visibility, vendor managed inventory and even supply chain planning.
All that means it may not be tool long before we start talking about my newest acronym: ESCM - enterprise supply chain management.
Gilmore: Did you hear that somewhat or did you come up with that?
Hill: No, I invented it last night - though we need another acronym like a hole on the head. [Alas for Hill, the term has already been coined, our research discovered.]
Gilmore: No, that's a good one, with the integration of planning and execution systems, we need a more umbrella term like that. I think you have a winner there.
Hill: Well, if I can copyright it and drive some revenue from licensing it that would be wonderful.
Gilmore: Well, I wouldn't count on too much of an income stream but you can live on the glory. But back to WMS - I've had this debate with some of the providers - have we taken WMS about as far as we can in terms of functionality, hence in part why the vendors are investing in all these other modules, or is there more that can be done in core WMS?
Hill: I think that's a great question. I am very hesitant to say we're at the end of it [advances in WMS], in part because there are always new developments, such as changes in the physical nature of warehouses and distribution centers that will change what is needed in terms of WMS functionality. But clearly a lot of the focus now for WMS vendors is outside the four walls, as we said.
Gilmore: What are some things that haven't really changed since 2003 - some universal sorts of things?
Hill: There are some concepts that we heard all the way back in the late 1980s through 2003 that are still very relevant today. Things like "real-time visibility," task interleaving, cross docking, slotting optimization, user configurability - we've made progress in all these areas, but they remain key focus areas, and will stay that way for a long time.
One other thing hasn't changed - I'll bet you that the average WMS user leverages less than 70% of the capabilities they could be using in their system. Why is that? We'd need a hour to really go through it, but the message to current users and prospective users is don't be in such a hurry to get the system deployed that you omit full training of the work force and really understanding what all you have there in terms of capabilities to maximize the efficiency of the operation.
Gilmore: I would add don't just declare victory because you got the system up and running. Look for additional capabilities you can turn on over time to drive continuous improvement.
Hill: Agree. And you know, that also applies to one of my other loves, the world of automatic identification. There have obviously been significant changes and improvements in that industry, and that has left it almost being taken for granted. If fact, one scanner manufacturers at a trade show recently told me their scanners were so good now you didn't really even need to worry about bar code quality any more.
Gilmore: Do you think he was right?