Selecting and Implementing the Right WMS: How Good Is Your RFP Kung Fu?
Published on 4 July 2023
Mastering the art of the Request For Proposals (RFPs) is no small task. There’s a lot that goes into preparing a solid RFP that will actually help you find and secure the services of the right vendor. When it comes to drafting an RFP for a Warehouse Management System (WMS), things get even more complicated. It’s not uncommon for such an RFP to contain more than a thousand software selection criteria!
Whether it’s your first time putting an RFP for a WMS together, or you’ve already had the opportunity to hone your skills in the past, we want to help you become an RFP Kung Fu master. Read on to discover how to build an RFP that will enable you to identify and implement a WMS solution that’s truly the right fit for your operation.
RFP Fundamentals, a Reminder
Every time a company is about to make a major decision regarding its infrastructure or tech stack, an RFP is needed. Given the fundamental role a WMS plays in a supply chain operation, and the solution’s Total Cost of Ownership (TCO), the decision to implement one certainly falls under the “major decision” category.
An RFP’s first function is to inform prospective Warehouse Management Systems vendors about your company and your software requirements. The RFP is an invitation to vendors to respond with information about how their solution meets these requirements and is adapted to your company’s reality. The more detailed your invitation, the more information you provide on your operation, your requirements, your company’s culture, and your business objectives, the more likely you are to get interesting responses. Ultimately, the RFP process should enable you to develop a vendor shortlist that will help you identify the one that fits best with your operation.
The RFP process is different from a Request for Information (RFI), which is far more exploratory. It’s not uncommon for companies to develop an RFP on the basis of the information gathered during the RFI process. Whether or not an RFI was issued, when companies write an RFP, they already have the information they need regarding their operation’s functional requirements and the state of the WMS market—which vendors are more likely to be good candidates.
Steps to Developing a Strong RFP for a WMS
Once stakeholders have agreed that a WMS is needed to meet the company’s goals, it’s time to get to work.
Build Your RFP Team
If your company operates a warehouse, a distribution center (DC), or a manufacturing facility, chances are that you already know the central role a WMS is to play in your software architecture. The data provided by a WMS impacts operations across all segments of a business. Therefore, if you’re going to develop an RFP that includes a comprehensive list of functional requirements, you need to build an RFP team that includes voices from:
- Senior management
- Warehouse workers and managers
- IT department
- Sales and marketing
If your business involves 3PLs, manufacturing partners, corporate customers, etc., you may also want to hear them out to prevent integration problems down the line.
Define and Gather Requirements
Once you have a team in place, it’s time to gather requirements. Again: given the central role a WMS is to play in you operation, there can be over a thousand things to think about. Don’t skimp on the details; talk to everybody who might eventually use the system and take the time you need to be thorough.
Remember: implementing a WMS is a huge step for your company, a step it’s not likely to take again any time soon. You want to make sure that your requirements list is as comprehensive as possible to maximize your chances of finding the right WMS provider and set your company on the right path for the years to come. This means, among other things:
- In the warehouse: review all processes that fall under a WMS’ purview (e.g., receiving, putaway, picking, etc.) and seek the input of workers and managers. You want to create a list of functionalities that are either currently missing or could be improved. Be as specific as possible about your warehouse or DC’s capacity, the average number of orders per day/week, rate of fulfillment per hour, etc. The clearer the picture of warehouse operations you paint, the better.
- With the IT department: identify every system in your tech stack and which is responsible for generating what set of data. Establish what applications leverage the data generated by each system. Assess any information gaps. You should also try to anticipate any integration issue that might arise.
- Across the company: interview people who are likely to use the data generated by the WMS in the context of their work to gather their requirements. Take this occasion to enquire about potential/expected/planned infrastructure changes so that you may include future WMS requirements.
As you gather requirements, you and your team must evaluate their importance. It is key that the list differentiates between what your company “needs” vs. what you (and your colleagues) might “wish for”. When you sit down to write the RFP, it should focus on “must haves” and “should haves”, not “wish we had”.
Build the RFP
If your RFP Kung Fu is strong—or your company has recently issued similar RFPs—you may already have access to a template that will help you build the best possible RFP. If you don’t, then you can use the one developed by Warehouse Management Systems experts at Generix Group North America—click here to access the RFP template.
A template does far more than help you structure your RFP adequately. It can, in fact, help you better define your requirements. As a “neutral” tool that’s meant to cover a lot of ground, the template prepared by Generix Group could help you get a new perspective on your company’s operation. It might even make you aware of requirements you didn’t know you had and/or learn more about the range of available WMS features on the market.
Should you doubt your RFP Kung Fu, don’t hesitate to rely on professional help. Many supply chain consulting firms offer to guide companies in the development of their RFPs and throughout the selection process. Remember, however, that industry expertise only goes so far: no one knows your business like you do. If you decide to work with a consulting firm, your RFP team should remain deeply involved throughout the process.
Once your RFP is ready, it’s time to send it out. Be selective about the vendors to which you reach out. If you’ve gone through the process of an RFI, or if you have decent knowledge of the WMS market already, you’ll know which vendors are most likely to be a better fit.
The Art of Evaluating Proposals
Proposals are coming in and it’s time to build your vendor shortlist.
You’ll of course first want to make sure that vendors “tick all the boxes”, but that’s not enough. You must rigorously evaluate their answers to ensure that they fully understand your requirements and business goals, and to assess whether or not their WMS is truly up to the task.
To do so, create a scoring sheet. Ask the members of your RFP team to rank vendors by attributing a score for each section. During the evaluation process, pay attention to how thorough the vendors’ answers are. Be on the lookout for buzzwords and platitudes, as those are telltale signs that a vendor failed to address or understand the specificities of your requirements.
Don’t hesitate to send requests for clarifications. If you do so, be attentive to how the vendor replies. Are they courteous and prompt? Dismissive? If a vendor gives you a bad feeling at this point of the process, it’s unlikely that your feelings will change later on.
A WMS provider is a bit like a business partner: their system is integral to the success of your operation. As you grow, so will the system’s capabilities. You’ll be relying on your WMS provider to help you scale when the time comes. That’s why you must make sure that they get what you do, how you do it, and that they’re on board with your corporate culture, business goals, etc.
Once you have your shortlist worked out, schedule demos with the selected vendors. If possible, try to involve members of your warehouse teams, employees that will eventually use the solution in their everyday tasks, so that they can see how it performs—maybe even try it out themselves. Don’t hesitate to ask for a proof of concept, references, case studies, etc.—anything that might further help you determine which vendor is best equipped to provide, implement, and integrate your new WMS.
If you’ve gone through all these steps, you and your team should now be in a good position to decide on the best WMS proposal.
A few last things to keep in mind with an RFP for a WMS
Perfection is not of this world: even the best RFP cannot hope to cover everything. That’s especially true with software solutions that are going to stretch across your entire operation: the complexity of it all is hard to encompass within the scope of an RFP.
With that in mind, you’ll want to make sure you don’t lose control of the solution’s TOC. Your RFP should help you and your company avoid unpleasant surprises that might eventually bleed your capital. To that end, your RFP should prompt prospective vendors to be as forthcoming as possible.
Don’t hesitate to prompt vendors to provide an estimate that includes all the costs and fees you’re likely to face down the line, such as:
- Cost per users/cost of adding users in the future
- Customization fees
- Cost of Training end-users and super-users
- Integration fees
- Peripheral requirements
With on-premise WMS solutions:
- Licensing costs
- Upgrading fees
- Maintenance and support packages
- Hardware requirements
With SaaS WMS solutions:
- Costs to add/remove features or modules
Often, a ballpark estimate turns out to be more accurate and more useful than a prudent mapping out of the solution’s costs relative to the requirements stated in the RFP. What you want, ultimately, is to make that ballpark as small as possible.
At Generix Group North America, we provide a series of solutions within our Supply Chain Hub product suite to create efficiencies across your entire supply chain. Our solutions are in use around the world and our experience is second-to-none.
We invite you to contact us to learn more.
Download our Guide to the Warehouse of the Future
Did you enjoy this post? Here are three to read next:
- Why You Should Migrate Your WMS to the Cloud
- The Cost of Doing Nothing: The Risks of Delaying a WMS Investment
- 5 Key Benefits of Implementing a WMS System in Your Warehouse Operation