Upgrading a warehouse management system (WMS) can seem as time-consuming, complex and expensive as the original implementation, a fact that may keep many warehouse operators from upgrading their systems at all. It doesn't have to be that way, and in fact, for many, system upgrades can be seamless and cost little or nothing.
"Most companies can get the new releases at no cost if they're on a maintenance contract and get all the new applications without having to renew licenses," says Tom Kozenski, vice president of product marketing for distribution products at RedPrairie Corp., Waukesha, WI, provider of the DLx Warehouse solution.
Similarly, when Logility Inc., Atlanta, added RFID capabilities to its Logility Voyager WarehousePRO WMS earlier this year, the company's built-in approach enabled customers to make the upgrade quickly, and there was no additional cost for the upgrade to active Logility WarehousePRO customers on maintenance programs, says Mark Balte, vice president of product development.
Provia Software, Grand Rapids, MI, also makes upgrades to its ViaWare WMS available to customers on a maintenance contract for free. According to Ken Lewis, Provia's president and CEO, 99 percent of all customers are on a contract, which gives them unlimited upgrades, unlimited tech support phone calls and access to a personal account manager.
"Each customer on a contract has a dedicated account manager assigned to it and [the account manager] knows the customer's level of understanding and what level of service Provia needs to provide it with for an upgrade," Lewis says. "The account managers can also work with customers to determine which upgrades are necessary and resolve technical support problems."
The account managers also work with the customers to audit their WMS usage and determine what their needs might be, both at the present and a few years down the line. "They may encourage systems upgrades depending on how old a system is, but it is not required," Lewis continues.
For customers not on a maintenance contract, WMS upgrade costs are about 10 percent of what costs were for the initial roll-out. "It's very cost-effective to upgrade, and people can do it more frequently because of that," Kozenski says. "They can be on the latest releases because it's really not that painful."
Most WMS vendors typically send out two or three product releases a year. Provia, for example, launches major upgrades to its systems every nine to 12 months; minor upgrades are usually available quarterly. Prior to each release, the vendor sends all its customers an e-mail. Customers can view the specifics about each upgrade on Provia's password-protected Web site.
RedPrairie releases updates to its DLx Warehouse package twice a year—every April 15 and Oct. 15. Prior to releasing the upgrades, the vendor sends its customers a product announcement that tells them what the upgrade will offer and how they can get it.
These releases "are logical extensions of existing products," and have included components for more mobile asset management, order sourcing, promise of delivery and more sophisticated load building, according to Kozenski.
"As part of our last update, customers have the ability to link to more users. Most systems are now Web-based and companies can share information with their customers, suppliers and more people within their company," he continues. "A lot of companies are now doing these upgrades just to gain that Web visibility."
HighJump Software, Eden Prairie, MN, releases three updates to its Warehouse Advantage WMS a year, one that goes to all customers and two others that can be delivered to customers upon request. The releases typically include new functionality or support of new operating systems, hardware or technology, such as the recent upgrade to establish the protocols for working in an RFID environment.