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A Guide to Testing Your Warehouse Execution System (WES)

 

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Installing a Warehouse Execution System?

You Better Understand Your Testing Requirements.

Warehouse Executions Systems (WES) are becoming more and more common these days to help optimize order management and synchronize automation.  For decades, operations have been adding new processes and automation to support growing demand and necessary e-commerce delivery schedules.  As technologies were piecemealed together, systems grew more and more complex, with dated WMS/WCS software that struggled to keep up.

Luckily, the WES was branded and marketed to solve every warehouse manager’s problems: optimize release of work, plan/manage labor, control inventory movements across picking areas, and finally integrate with all existing automation to ensure these pieces stay in sync.  Who wouldn’t invest in a software system to help synchronize their 20 years of automation investment along with a seamless integration to their existing ERP/WMS?  The WES is a powerful tool that can help a wide range of warehouse DCs, but customers need to understand how big of an undertaking it truly is.

Blackout Periods

In today’s online world, the majority of the 4th Quarter, the busy holiday retail season, should be considered off-line for new system implementation.  Whether it be design, remote or on-site testing (and let’s not even kid ourselves with go-live), operations and IT will not have the bandwidth to support or dedicate themselves to a new system implementation.  To truly train end-users and make them systems experts, operations needs dedicated time to learn the new WES system and processes in place.  These busy months are almost always better suited for hands-off project phases like internal software development.

Conference Room Testing vs. Warehouse Floor Testing

E-commerce commitments have DCs running all week, sometimes with two to three shifts and even weekends when demand exists.  How can operations expect to continue running their existing business AND implement a new system?  Aside from moving demand from one facility to another to help free up bandwidth, maximizing remote conference testing should be your biggest priority.  Here are some of those pieces:

  • Interface Touchpoints – Pick, Pack and Ship. These are your baseline touchpoints between the ERP and WES.  But what about other process flow updates, like inventory adjustments or order adjustments?  Testing interfaces upfront and with due diligence can help save you further headaches down the road.
  • Web Applications – Picking applications, waving screens, dashboards and labor metrics. Eventually, true system volume will need to be introduced for fully integrated testing, but validating process flows via operator-facing screens can help uncover software bugs and necessary tweaks to meet specific customer requirements.
  • Volume Simulation – Now that interface touchpoints and the applications have been tested, how do we stress test the system to ensure the database can keep up? Simulators and custom SQL scripts can help ensure the correct network architecture is in place and that the system can keep up during peak hours.

Testing with Existing Automation

Eventually, there comes a point where conference room testing needs to be moved onto the warehouse floor and to have the operations team interact with the WES software and existing automation.  Walking through the process flows with the new functionality will not only help train the operations team, but also vet out pieces that cannot be simulated in a conference room, like unexpected product profiles or unexpected hardware constraints.  And when this time comes, system access will be limited. More than likely, weekend work and project teams will need to maximize their system access to complete these necessary testing requirements:

  • Cutover Tasks – Doing weekend testing isn’t as simple as flipping the switch at 5pm Friday and flipping it back late Sunday evening. Cutting over from an existing system can take many hours to do things like inventory uploads, hardware setup, and switching IP addresses. Plus, all of these tasks take a dedicated IT team to help facilitate.  Even with a full team, these activities can and will take crucial time away from system access.
  • Isolated Automation Testing – Once cutover into the new test environment, it’s neither realistic nor efficient to test all pieces of automation together to start. Project teams should plan on testing each individual island of automation alone before even attempting a fully integrated test case.  Things like pick to light, goods to person, controls systems and other existing technologies need to be tested with the WES software to ensure interlocks are in place and working properly.
  • Fully Integrated WES Testing – Once each island of automation has been tested with the WES, then it’s time to entertain a full system test and bring in end users for proper training and test case scenarios. Whether it be a “mock go-live” or “day in the life” trial, testing the software with all of the automation at once and with the end users will provide a true test to see if the system and processes in place are ready for real orders and real demand.

This is not meant to be a deterrent from Warehouse Execution Systems or operations looking to expand their software capabilities.  But customers do need to understand what kind of schedule and cost implications are associated with these systems.  The more that can be detailed up front, the better relations between the customer and vendor – and less surprises down the road.

Author: Sarah Fronczak

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