Third party logistics provider Walker Logistics has introduced the Empirica warehouse management system from Chess Logistics Technology to enhance its operations and provide customers with an integrated and seamless interface with their own systems to deliver new services and support new ways of managing stock control and distribution operations.
"Everything Empirica touches has been improved and it’s helped us streamline our operations," says Bob Montague, Managing Director at Walker Logistics. "We’ve been very happy with the support from Chess. They really committed to our plans and were a good choice as partner."
Walker Logistics is a privately owned third party logistics provider based at Membury in Berkshire. The business can trace its heritage back to the 1970s and relocated to the site in 1999 where it operates 200,000ft2 (18,600m2) of warehousing supporting over 50 customers. The team of over 50 employees prides itself on quality of service, flexibility and attention to detail. The company had been using an ageing stock control program for some time but came to realise it could offer more services with a fully-featured application that would enable closer control over warehouse operations and integration with other business systems.
"Systems are very important to us and we realised we had to get into a higher league," says Bob Montague. "Customers wanted more information with direct access to our systems and this meant new features and functions."
The company reviewed the market and involved numerous people across the business. Customers were asked their opinions and, after assessing a shortlist of potential suppliers, the decision was for the Empirica system from Chess Logistics Technology. This is built around a comprehensive core application which provides all main warehouse management functions with enhanced reporting features and integration provided by additional system modules. The core application runs on Walker Logistics’ own servers and supports a full real-time solution using mobile handheld computers with bar code scanning to control all key warehouse tasks. This provided real-time, accurate and paperless management over the warehouse operation for the first time.
"This was central to our operations and we needed to get it right," says Andrew Dixon, IT Manager at Walker Logistics. "The system knows where everything is at all times and in real time. Movements are captured and there is no risk of paperwork being lost."
The next phase was to look at EDI requirements for each customer and integrate the new application with their own systems. One of the primary objectives was to reduce the need to rekey data. Some orders had previously been entered manually while others were received electronically. Each customer used different field types and names in its datasets and, while not a major problem, to avoid complexity it made sense to standardise formats to streamline data exchange. Walker Logistics worked with its customers and their EDI providers to ensure greater uniformity of data. This reduced the time taken to process orders from a day in extreme cases to more or less instantly with no rekeying for the majority of customers.
"Nobody likes change and we did it when we were busy, but everyone who’s been involved has recognised the benefits," says Andrew Dixon. "Chess has good experience and it felt like they were hand-holding all the way. They grasp just what we need whenever we call and try to help rather than squeeze every penny out of us."
For many customers the ability to perform a simple order file download was more than enough but some wanted a more advanced level of integration. One requested an interface with its SAP system and another wanted to link its JD Edwards application. In each case the objective was seamless information transfer and real-time updates of stock and order positions. Empirica has an integrated interface design module specifically to simplify this process.
"Our old system could input and output data but it was cumbersome, relied on a lot of manual intervention and was paper-driven," says Andrew Dixon. "Now we can manage the warehouse how we want but the customer can continue to use systems such as SAP and JDE for their own operations and access the information we hold. Customers have invested a bit of time but now have better efficiency, stock accuracy and all the other benefits."
Using a standard Internet browser all customers can now access an instant, real-time view of their stock. Reporting has also been improved. Account managers used to enter data manually before sending reports to customers which was time consuming and error prone. Reports are now produced automatically and sent to customers, typically daily, in a consistent format using Empirica’s built-in, user configurable templates. Data is also exported in various formats, including PDF and Excel, for customers to complete their own reports. This has reduced the time to prepare reports, eliminated rekeying and generally improved the quality of information. Customers with integration have access to the full range of reports whenever they require.
"Real-time visibility is great and we’re getting a lot of interest from customers," says Bob Montague. "Reports are more efficient because we’re producing them automatically in the correct format. Our owner-operated customers take great pride in their decisions and this provides them with an extra level of comfort."
The application has enabled complete control over the warehouse function and driven efficiencies that have cut costs and supported better customer service. By its own admission Walker Logistics has been more disciplined and changed some of its working processes to take full advantage of the system’s capabilities. The information available has also provided insight into warehouse performance and how it can be improved. Many inefficient processes, such as rekeying, have been eliminated. Fulfilment performance has improved and new services such as serial number tracking have been introduced. The system’s cycle count facility has enabled more accurate, efficient and disciplined stock taking.
The company believes at least two major contracts secured in 2011 were directly due to its new application. Potential customers are particularly impressed with the live stock view. They also recognise they can use the functionality and information available to provide new capabilities and levels of service to their own customers, who are increasingly demanding.
"Empirica is a great selling point for us," says Bob Montague. "Our customers are always being challenged by their customers and they come to us for support and expertise. Often it’s the case that we’ve already done it for someone else so we already know how to help them."
The company is now looking to use more of the system’s functionality, for example generating KPIs to meet customer demand for this type of information. It is also developing its own ordering facility to provide additional flexibility to manage smaller or unusual consignments.
"It’s a comprehensive system and what we do with it is fantastic," says Bob Montague. "It was a huge step up but we are beginning to see the benefits of the investment we have made. The more we can use it the better."