Interfaced WMS vs. ERP WMS: What's the difference?

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If your warehouse management system (WMS) has trouble talking to your enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, your company’s efficiency and customer service are at risk. You’ll likely face lags, miscommunications, frustrated customers, and an inability to monitor the entire Order to Cash process and keep it running smoothly.


Even the best WMS can be clunky to attach to your ERP system. That’s why many companies choose an ERP solution with WMS capabilities. Let’s take a look at some common scenarios and how interfacing an external WMS stacks up against a WMS built into the ERP.


Interfacing Independent Systems


If you decided to implement an external WMS, you’ll need a custom integration that allows it to interface with your ERP. Building interfaces is difficult, and whether you handle it internally or hire it out, it can be costly and time-consuming.  Even if the WMS has a standard interface with a given ERP, these interfaces typically require customization to your requirements.


Here’s how this situation tends to play out in the real world. A company purchases separate warehouse management and ERP systems, often because they are excited about a few unique features in the WMS.  What gets missed is the level of effort to transfer and maintain data between two systems, while providing users in both systems the visibility they require.


Customer Service Concerns


It’s bad enough when a WMS/ERP integration affects employees; it’s a nightmare if it affects customers. When things go wrong, customers don’t really want to know about the technical details of your interface issue. From their standpoint, it’s just bad customer service.


Typical integration challenges that affect customer service include:


  • Lack of visibility into the customer order stage (picking, packing, staging, shipping).  Customer service personnel don’t usually have access to the WMS; they just know the order is “in process”.  This can make it very difficult for customer service to provide order status to customers.
  • Communication issues between the warehouse and other departments.  Warehouse managers cannot simply drill down into the original sales order when troubleshooting a shipment.  They may have to switch over to the ERP to see the order or work with IT to troubleshoot the integration.
  • Lags and syncing problems that cause inaccurate data to be displayed
  • Order delays and errors  When there are issues with an order, you now have to troubleshoot two disparate systems to see what happened.
  • Inability to modify orders after being released to the warehouse.  This process typically requires manual intervention or manipulation of data in two systems.
  • Difficult to cancel orders upon request, may require intervention in both systems


If your customers routinely experience one (or more) of these issues, they’re likely to take their business elsewhere.


Reducing These Risks


The best way to avoid these issues is to choose an ERP with a built-in WMS. In this setup, the software components are designed to work flawlessly together, without workarounds. They speak the same language.


However, if an ERP with built-in WMS isn’t an option for your company, you’ll need to meet with vendors who can offer individual ERP and WMS solutions. Here are some crucial questions to ask during that process.


  • Can you do a demonstration of a complete integrated system?
  • Can we see examples of live orders going back and forth between systems?
  • Will we need middleware (data transfer software that sits between systems) to make the integration happen?
  • How will our customer service staff have visibility into orders at every stage?
  • What prevents syncing lags, and how often are the systems synced?
  • Are the WMS and ERP system hosted on separate databases/servers, and how will this factor in?
  • Will you be doing a custom development, or will we buying exactly what we see in the demo environment?
  • What are the data elements that are included in the integration?  For example, are sales returns included?   What about kitting or light assembly?
  • What are the additional costs of administration, beyond the integration stage?


If your vendor can’t answer the questions above, or if the answers seem vague or troubling, you could face a cascade of problems later.


For example, if the demo environment can’t allow you to watch firsthand as orders move seamlessly between systems, it’s questionable whether the final version would really accomplish it. You’re probably in need of custom development - a costly and time-consuming prospect.


Finding a Solution


Whether you opt for an interfaced WMS or an ERP with a built-in WMS, Western Computer is here to ensure your systems operate and integrate smoothly. Let us know how we can help you make the best decision for your specific needs.

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