Turning the Page on Paper and Going Paperless

Human error is one of the biggest factors putting customer loyalty and business profitability in jeopardy today. As such, the risk to the one-third of warehouses still relying on paper-based systems is even greater.

To understand how paperless systems are impacting modern warehouses, we hosted a virtual panel with several distributors who’ve paved a paperless path with the help of a warehouse management system (WMS).

Q: How was your former paper-based system impacting your core business goals?
A: “We were at a point where the accuracy of our outgoing shipments to customers was not at an acceptable level. If customers received incorrect products or incorrect quantities, we would do our best to fix the problem, but the damage was already done. This was not only creating additional overhead for us in terms of freight costs, we were losing customers due to frustration… Fisheries Supply is built on great customer service. We aim to be the go-to location for all things boating in the Pacific Northwest. From a competitive standpoint, we want to earn the loyalty and trust of our customers by consistently delivering on our promises and becoming their distributor of choice. A big part of that is accuracy.” – Kyle Sutter, VP of operations, Fisheries Supply

Q: Where has your business benefited the most by going paperless?
A: “The most challenging part of our process from a distribution perspective was the lack of traceability. We used to handle receiving with a pen and a piece of paper. Understandably, when this system failed, we had very few ways of verifying what had happened. Our paper trail took too much time to dig through, and it was often unreliable. We realized that we needed sustainable data to track everything about our inventory from the point of receiving on the dock all the way to that item being available for sale. We needed new technology that would improve operational efficiency.” – Sean Wallace, head of business systems group, Mingledorff’s

Q: Speaking of taking too much time, can you share with readers an example of how your WMS has helped you save time?
A: “We used to do bin stocking manually. A salesperson would visit a customer’s premises with a notebook to write down all of the items and quantities needed. They would hand the inside sales person the paper and the order was manually entered into the ERP system. Now we use the WMS and the sales person uses a hand-held computer to scan a barcode and then transmit the order to the ERP system. The internal sales person receives an e-mail from our WMS that basically says there is an order waiting to be approved. The sales person approves the order and it goes to the WMS to be picked, packed and shipped. This new process saves a tremendous amount of time.” – Chris Cunningham, vice president of inventory and operations, Becker Electric Supply

Q: That’s a very interesting example. How has going paperless helped with order picking in your warehouse?
A: “We’re pulling orders faster, we can definitely keep track of what our pickers are doing all day. Previously we didn’t have a record of how many orders they were pulling, or really what they were doing all day other than work. Latitude has really allowed us to have good record-keeping on the history of items, history of orders, inventory of the nursery. In that way, it’s more efficient about getting information on an order, finding an item in the yard. Previously we had to go ask someone in the yard. Now you can look in computer and find most of the information you need.” – Valerie Hom, systems implementation manager, Devil Mountain Nursery

Q: In which department of your warehouse has going paperless impacted the process the most?
A: “The benefits of a WMS are different for each department. For the picking teams, the WMS has revolutionized the entire process. In the past, as soon as a pick ticket was printed out, an order puller had to manually check whether the inventory was on a shelf or still in the receiving department. This physical confirmation of inventory was previously done dozens of times each day, taking many hours to accomplish. Today, our WMS provides accurate, automatically updated information about where material is at all times.” – Nick Meyer, warehouse manager, SEA Wire and Cable

Q: A WMS is a big investment in both time and money. How long would you say it took to see benefits from going paperless?
A: “We immediately started to see benefits in going paperless with our first phase in receiving. Using our old method, we had to print out a manifest of everything that was supposed to be in an incoming shipment and then manually check off items as we found them. The inherent problem with that process is that we often have multiple boxes of the same product divided over different pallets, so it’s a lot more time consuming and prone to error. A WMS learns all of the product barcodes as we go, so we just scan items as they get pulled off each pallet. In fact, everything can be scanned directly onto a shelf, and the WMS adds it all up. I’d say that our WMS has increased receiving speed by about 25 percent.” – Kyle Sutter, Fisheries Supply

Q: Lastly, have there been any regrets since making the switch to a paperless system?
A: “We’ve often asked our guys if they would ever go back to the old system. Their answer? ‘Absolutely not.’ With our WMS, we can train a new person on receiving in a week, and after two or three weeks, they are awesome at it. With our old system, it would take staff a couple of months to become productive.” – Nick Ruscher, assistant warehouse manager, Becker Electric Supply

At its most basic level, a WMS can reduce paper-based processes that directly hinder company growth. Paper-based systems inherently lead to more errors and customer frustration. As these distributors highlighted from their own experiences, paper cannot compete with a WMS that can identify operational inefficiencies.

If your company is looking to compete on picking accuracy, delivery and improved customer service, then it’s time to turn the page on paper.