Getting It There
Once the customer decides to install the software upgrades, the different vendors have very different ways to get the files to them. Provia customers can transfer the files over the vendor's VPN (a password-protected virtual private network) right to their systems.
Depending on their knowledge, skill set, comfort level and the critical nature of the upgrade, they can do it themselves or have our technical support staff do it with them," says Lewis. "It's pretty straight-forward and easy to do. Some products may take a day or two to install; others may take a few weeks, depending on the complexity of the upgrade and the customer's own IT knowledge."
Provia has in place a program that it calls the Knowledge Transfer Methodology. "It's very focused on training customers and providing them with the tools to have them comfortable managing their system on their own," Lewis explains. "It gives them a lot of independence to run their businesses on their own."
Customers who choose to install our updates can do so "very fast and easily," RedPrairie's Kozenski says. "They can do it themselves or let us do it. We can send them a disk and have phone support available if they need it, or we can have our people come out to them."
After getting the new release, RedPrairie provides a day or two of training on the system; set-up can be completed in a few days. "They can do it in less than a week, but most go over a month or so because they stagger and spread out the process," according to Kozenski, who advocates a staggered approach so as not to completely disrupt existing system performance.
"The architecture of the product is very critical to how we do the upgrade. It should be such that we can replace the system without breaking the current configurations at the customer site," he says. "During the testing and implementation, we're not working on the main system at all, so that the event doesn't become a big disruption to the system or the company as a whole."
Recently, a number of distributors have upgraded their existing WMS from HighJump, and all without incident. For Direct Fulfillment, a third-party logistics provider based in Robbinsville, NJ, upgrading meant taking advantage of HighJump's newer, Web-based supply chain visibility features. According to Mary Teehan, IT director of Direct Fulfillment, the process was simple. "We started the upgrade on a Tuesday afternoon and were back up and running by Wednesday morning."
But upgrades weren't always this easy. For that reason, few customers upgraded systems at all in the early days of WMS. As the software solutions became more common, upgrades took place every five to eight years. Today, upgrades are usually performed every one to three years.
That's because today's WMS software providers have really stressed simplifying the upgrade process for everyone. "Fast, inexpensive upgrades are a key to HighJump's ability to keep strong partnerships with each of our customers," says its president, Chris Heim.
"We strive to keep our solutions cutting edge yet flexible and easy to use so that our customers get the best of both worlds—depth of functionality in their supply chain solutions and simplicity in their operations," adds Jeff Mitchell, executive vice president of Atlanta-based Manhattan Associates, Americas. "A great part of the success of these upgrades is due to the relationships between our professional services group and our customers and the teamwork with which they get the job done."
Manhattan Associates' WMS solution is part of its Integrated Logistics Solutions package. Each component of that solution is also designed to transition smoothly to newer versions, which the company sends out to its customers regularly.
Besides the fear of cost and effort, many companies may be hesitant to upgrade their WMS because they are afraid of losing customizations or system modifications which they often spent a lot of time to develop.
"Over the years, many customers have made a lot of customizations to their WMS," observes RedPrairie's Kozenski." Especially on the older products, we find a lot of customizations, modifications that the customers put in. Because of the way many systems are designed, we do not have to rewrite them during the implementation of the new system. Fortunately, the WMS market has reached a level of maturity that we can upgrade them easily and there is not the need to make a lot of additional modifications."