IT Outsourcing

The ABCs of WMS: What Is Warehouse Management System and How Does It Work?

23 May 202325 min read

Marcin Kulawik

Marcin Kulawik

The ABCs of WMS: What Is Warehouse Management System and How Does It Work?

In the dynamic, demand-driven world of warehousing, efficiency is paramount. Managing warehouse operations effectively can significantly influence a business's success. Warehouse Management System (WMS) is a technological tool designed to optimize all facets of warehouse operations. From inventory management and order fulfillment to labor optimization, a WMS transforms chaotic warehouse environments into smoothly functioning units. Whether it's a standalone, ERP-based, supply-chain suite, or a cloud-based solution, a robust WMS can markedly enhance productivity and customer satisfaction while realizing cost savings.

This article delves into the world of WMS, exploring its key elements and features, comparing top solutions, and discussing scenarios for custom-built systems. Such understanding can enable businesses to make an informed decision on the WMS that best suits their operational needs, driving efficiency and growth.

What is WMS and How Does It Work?

Embodying efficiency in a modern supply chain, a Warehouse Management System (WMS) is a powerful software solution purposefully designed to turbocharge every facet of warehouse operations. As the strategic backbone of inventory control, it deftly handles crucial tasks such as real-time tracking, precise replenishment, and thoughtful disposition of goods. Coupled with its prowess in order fulfillment, the WMS fine-tunes the entire cycle, from customer orders to shipping confirmation, ensuring accuracy and punctuality.

Aiming to elevate productivity, the system dynamically allocates labor resources based on workload and task complexity, thereby significantly reducing the wastage of manpower. Harnessing the power of advanced technologies, WMS integrates real-time data analysis, barcode scanning, and cutting-edge automation to ensure seamlessness and transparency in operations. This synergy not only streamlines processes but also reduces errors, enhances efficiency, and ultimately boosts bottom-line results for any warehouse-centric business.

What is a Well-Managed Warehouse?

A well-managed warehouse is all about being efficient, organized, and precise. It shows that the inventory system is carefully planned, operations run smoothly, and customer service is top-notch. It's not just a storage facility; it's a busy centre that keeps the supply chain running smoothly, ensuring products go from suppliers to customers without a hitch.

In a well-managed warehouse, some essential qualities matter:

  • Organized Inventory: Inventory is the lifeblood of any warehouse. A tightly controlled and strategically organized inventory ensures smooth operations in a well-managed warehouse. With systems in place for efficient inventory rotation, such as FIFO (First-In, First-Out) or LIFO (Last-In, First-Out), there's minimal risk of stock obsolescence or wastage, enhancing profitability.
  • Efficient Layout: Layout optimization is a strategic art in warehouse management. An efficient layout means streamlined aisles, strategically placed goods based on demand and adequate space for smooth movement. This well-thought-out arrangement reduces retrieval time and minimizes the risk of accidents, contributing to a safe working environment.
  • Accurate Tracking: A well-managed warehouse implements robust tracking systems, integrating technologies such as RFID and barcode scanning. These systems allow for real-time inventory tracking, reducing errors, preventing stockouts or overstocks, and enabling precise data-driven decision-making.
  • Timely Order Fulfillment: Excellence in order fulfilment is the mark of a top-tier warehouse. An efficient order picking, packing, and shipping process ensures that customers receive their orders promptly and accurately, fostering customer satisfaction and loyalty.

A warehouse that functions well brings many advantages. It boosts productivity by getting rid of wasted time and resources. It ensures customer satisfaction by delivering orders on time and with accuracy. It also saves money by preventing situations where there's too much or too little stock. Additionally, it improves operational visibility and helps make proactive decisions. So, a well-run warehouse is not just an expense; it's a valuable asset that helps businesses grow and make more profit.

The Four Types of Warehouse Management Systems

Understanding the diverse landscape of Warehouse Management Systems (WMS) is critical for making informed business decisions. Here are the four main types of WMS with their unique features, advantages, and famous examples:

  • Standalone Systems: Standalone WMS are independent software applications dedicated to warehouse management. They offer robust features and are generally more customizable than other types, suiting the specific needs of a warehouse operation. These systems can integrate with existing hardware and software, making them versatile and flexible. AccellosOne and HighJump WMS are examples of standalone systems renowned for their adaptability and comprehensive features.
  • ERP-based Systems: ERP-based WMS are modules within an overarching Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system. Their major advantage lies in their seamless integration with other business functions such as finance, HR, and procurement, providing a unified data repository. This allows for improved data consistency and visibility across the organization. Notable examples include SAP's EWM and Oracle's WMS, both part of their larger ERP suites.
  • Supply Chain Suites: These systems offer a WMS as part of a larger suite of supply chain applications. This provides a holistic approach to managing the entire supply chain, from sourcing to delivery. They streamline operations and ensure coherence in supply chain decisions. JDA and Manhattan Associates offer popular supply chain suites encompassing a wide range of functionalities, including advanced WMS modules.
  • Cloud-Based Systems: Cloud-based WMS are hosted on a provider's servers and accessed via the Internet. Their most significant advantage is scalability, allowing businesses to adjust their warehouse management capabilities as per demand quickly. Furthermore, these systems offer reduced upfront costs and hassle-free updates. Fishbowl and Infor CloudSuite WMS are recognized cloud-based solutions offering flexibility and cost-effectiveness.

In essence, each type of WMS serves different business needs and operational demands, and the choice largely depends on the organization's size, budget, and strategic goals.

The Six Key Elements of WMS

A Warehouse Management System (WMS) is a complex interplay of various essential elements, each playing a vital role in achieving optimal efficiency. These six key elements define the efficacy and reach of a WMS:

1. Inventory Management

The backbone of any WMS, inventory management oversees the tracking, controlling, and optimization of inventory in real-time. It ensures accurate stock levels, minimizes overstock and out-of-stock scenarios, and regulates stock rotation policies. This systematic approach reduces costs, prevents wastage, and supports efficient operations, with popular examples including Zebra's inventory management solutions.

2. Order Management

Critical to customer satisfaction, order management streamlines the order fulfilment process from receipt to dispatch. It optimizes picking, packing, and shipping processes, reducing errors and improving order accuracy. Efficient order management contributes to shorter order cycles, lower operational costs, and enhanced customer service, as showcased in systems like Oracle's Order Management Cloud.

3. Labor Management

This system enhances productivity by allocating and monitoring tasks based on competencies, zones, and workload. It matches demand with resource availability, minimizing idle periods and decreasing extra hours expenses. A proficiently implemented workforce management module, like the one in HighJump's WMS, bolsters efficiency, promotes job satisfaction, and contributes to an improved bottom line.

4. Warehouse Layout Optimization

WMS software often includes tools for designing an optimal warehouse layout. By strategically organizing storage areas, picking routes, and workstation placements, it reduces travel time, enhances safety, and boosts operational efficiency. Layout optimization features are a crucial part of WMS, like Infor's CloudSuite WMS, driving efficient space utilization and seamless workflow.

5. Reporting and Analytics

Advanced WMS come equipped with robust reporting and analytics tools. These provide valuable insights into warehouse operations, performance metrics, and potential bottlenecks, enabling proactive decision-making. Data-driven WMS solutions like SAP EWM offer real-time analytics that drives performance improvements, strategic planning, and overall business growth.

6. Integration Capabilities

A WMS's ability to seamlessly integrate with other business systems, such as ERP, TMS, and CRM, multiplies its effectiveness. Integration ensures coherent data flow, enhances system visibility, and streamlines operations. WMS solutions with robust integration capabilities, such as Manhattan Associates' WMS, offer a unified view of operations, contributing to a more responsive and agile supply chain.

Each element of a WMS is instrumental in orchestrating warehouse efficiency, propelling cost savings, and promoting a responsive, customer-centric supply chain operation.

The Eight Features of WMS

To help you navigate drought the process of evaluating a Warehouse Management System, the following eight key features prove indispensable in managing a dynamic and efficient warehouse:

  • Real-Time Visibility: This feature offers an up-to-the-minute snapshot of inventory levels, order status, and labor productivity. It supports swift and accurate decision-making, mitigates risks, and improves service levels. Real-time visibility, as seen in Infor CloudSuite WMS, enhances responsiveness and control over warehouse operations.
  • Barcode Scanning and RFID Technology: Barcode scanning and RFID technology allow for rapid and accurate identification, tracking, and location of items within the warehouse. These technologies, integrated into systems like Oracle's WMS, significantly reduce errors, expedite processes, and improve inventory accuracy.
  • Automated Task Management: Automation in task management assigns, prioritizes, and sequences tasks to maximize efficiency. It minimizes manual intervention, reduces the potential for errors, and optimizes workforce utilization. HighJump WMS, for example, offers robust automated task management to streamline operations.
  • Wave Picking and Optimized Order Fulfillment: Wave picking organizes picking tasks into batches or 'waves' for efficiency. It reduces travel time, improves throughput, and ensures timely order fulfillment. WMS, like Manhattan Associates', provide wave-picking capabilities that significantly expedite order processing.
  • Cross-Docking and Put-Away Optimization: Cross-docking bypasses the storage process by directly transferring inbound goods to outbound gates, while put-away optimization determines the best storage location for items. Both features, offered by systems like SAP's EWM, improve space utilization, reduce handling costs, and expedite deliveries.
  • Returns Management: An efficient returns management process is vital for customer satisfaction and inventory control. It handles and tracks returns, arranges for inspections, and organizes restocking or disposal. WMS like AccellosOne provides comprehensive returns management to maintain high service levels.
  • Dock Scheduling and Yard Management: These features manage the movement and staging of trailers in the yard and schedule dock door assignments. They enhance throughput, reduce demurrage costs, and improve turnaround times. JDA's WMS offers comprehensive dock scheduling and yard management capabilities.
  • Integration with Other Systems (ERP, TMS, etc.): Seamless integration with other business systems enables a unified view of operations, synchronizes data flow, and supports informed decision-making. WMS solutions like Manhattan Associates offer strong integration capabilities, enhancing visibility and coherence across the supply chain.

Including these features in a WMS not only boosts operational efficiency and accuracy but also propels the warehouse's contribution to the overall business strategy.

SAP vs WMS: Understanding the Differences

Suppose you had done some prior research on WMS before reading this article. In that case, you may have come across an acronym SAP which stands for Systems, Applications, and Products in Data Processing, a type of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system. Those to ther often appear together, and to minimise any confusion, we will discuss their similarities and differences in the following text.

  • SAP (ERP) Systems: SAP is one of the most widely used ERP systems globally, designed to integrate various business functions into a unified system. It covers a broad range of modules, from finance and HR to procurement and sales. SAP enables companies to manage resources, information, and functions across the organization with improved visibility, thus facilitating strategic decision-making. For instance, SAP's ERP system can track a product from procurement to sale, covering the entire lifecycle.
  • Warehouse Management System (WMS): A WMS, on the other hand, is a software application designed specifically to optimize warehouse operations. Its scope is narrower but more profound, focusing on inventory management, order fulfilment, labor allocation, and warehouse layout optimization. For example, a WMS like Manhattan Associates would provide precise control over warehouse processes, ensuring efficient use of space, minimization of errors, and improvement in labor productivity.

Choosing between an SAP system and a WMS would largely depend on an organization's specific needs:

  • A company with complex supply chain requirements, running multiple operations across different departments, would likely choose an ERP system like SAP. This is due to its comprehensive nature, enabling holistic management of the business.
  • Conversely, a company primarily optimizing warehouse operations might prefer a standalone WMS. This choice caters to the intricate dynamics of warehouse management, offering deep functionality specific to this area.
  • However, in many cases, organizations opt for an integrated approach. They employ an ERP system for broad organizational management and a WMS for specialized warehouse operations. For instance, integrating SAP's ERP system with a WMS like HighJump can combine the best of both worlds, enabling holistic business management with precise control over warehouse operations.

In conclusion, both SAP systems and WMS have distinct functionalities and scopes. The choice between them, or the decision to integrate, is primarily influenced by the organization's operational complexity and strategic objectives.

Top 10 Warehouse Management Systems

When it comes to Warehouse Management Systems (WMS), businesses have many top-tier options to consider. Each system offers its unique features, scalability options, and pricing models. Here are ten of the best WMS solutions available on the market:

  1. SAP Extended Warehouse Management (EWM): SAP EWM offers advanced warehouse management capabilities such as cross-docking, slotting, and wave picking. Renowned for scalability, it's suitable for businesses of all sizes. Pricing is quote-based, and users often praise its seamless integration with other SAP modules.
  2. Oracle Warehouse Management Cloud: This cloud-based WMS is known for real-time inventory visibility, labor optimization, and seamless integration with Oracle's ERP systems. It's scalable and comes with a subscription pricing model. Customers commend its user-friendly interface and robust analytics.
  3. Manhattan Associates WMS: Offering advanced features like labor management and cross-docking, this system caters to large, complex operations. It's highly scalable with a quote-based pricing model. Users appreciate its comprehensive capabilities and industry-specific configurations.
  4. HighJump WMS: HighJump offers a robust standalone WMS solution with strong capabilities in task management and integration. Its scalability makes it suitable for small to large businesses. Pricing is quote-based, and reviews often highlight its flexibility and ease of use.
  5. Infor CloudSuite WMS: Infor's cloud-based system boasts real-time inventory management, labor management, and 3D visualization. It's scalable to accommodate growth and operates on a subscription pricing model. Users praise its comprehensive features and modern interface.
  6. JDA Warehouse Management (BlueYonder): Known for advanced capabilities like intelligent fulfilment and real-time task interleaving, JDA serves large operations. It offers scalability and a quote-based pricing model. Customers commend its holistic supply chain management and automation features.
  7. Fishbowl Inventory: Ideal for small to mid-sized businesses, Fishbowl offers affordable inventory management solutions with a one-time license fee. Users praise its user-friendliness, integration with QuickBooks, and excellent customer service.
  8. AccellosOne WMS: AccellosOne caters to small to mid-sized businesses, offering features like directed picking and put-away. It's scalable with a quote-based pricing model. Users highlight its functionality and ease of integration.
  9. 3PL Warehouse Manager: Tailored for third-party logistics providers, this WMS features intelligent parcel routing and customer billing management. It operates on a monthly subscription model, offering scalability. Users value its 3PL-centric functionalities and customer support.
  10. Zebra Warehouse Management: Zebra's WMS focuses on optimizing warehouse operations with real-time data and automation. It's scalable and uses a quote-based pricing model. Users appreciate its reliability and wide range of functionalities.

Remember, selecting the ideal WMS depends on the specific needs, budget, and operational complexity of your business.

When to Build a Custom WMS?

Choosing the right Warehouse Management System can significantly impact your bottom line. While off-the-shelf WMS solutions are standard, certain circumstances might make a custom-built WMS more beneficial for your business. You may consider building a custom WMS when your unique needs and complexity exceed what off-the-shelf solutions can provide.

When Custom WMS Might be Your Best Fit:

here are some of the main needs of your business that may indicate that you need custom software instead of a read-made one:

  • Highly Specific Needs: If a company's warehouse operations involve unique processes, proprietary systems, or highly specialized inventory that off-the-shelf WMS can't handle, custom development may be the answer.
  • Advanced Integration: Businesses with numerous in-house or legacy systems may require a customized WMS to achieve seamless integration, preserving data integrity and coherence.
  • Scale and Complexity: If a business operates multiple warehouses with varied sizes, geographical locations, and operational complexities, custom WMS could provide the tailored functionality needed for efficient management.


Another way to determine if a customer solution is for your company is to look at the advantages it brings and consider how much they will improve your company’s function:

  • Tailored Functionality: A custom WMS is designed to align with a company's unique operational processes and business goals, offering a tailored set of features that perfectly match their needs.
  • Scalability: Custom WMS can be designed to scale in line with business growth, providing the flexibility to accommodate operational complexity and volume changes.
  • Competitive Edge: By building proprietary features and innovative functionalities into their WMS, companies can gain a competitive advantage over businesses using standard solutions.


Lastly, it’s good to acknowledge the drawback that the custom solution may bring. This way, you can determine whether they are worth the risk and it is something that your company can handle.

  • Development Costs and Time: Custom WMS development can be costly and time-consuming. From system design to programming, testing, and deployment, the process can take months or even years.
  • Maintenance and Updates: Unlike off-the-shelf solutions with regular updates from vendors, maintaining and upgrading a custom WMS falls entirely on the business, which may require substantial IT resources.

Industries Benefiting from Custom WMS

To better understand the instances in which choosing a custom solution would be beneficial for your company, we can present you with the primary industries that swear by this solution:

  • Highly Regulated Industries: Businesses in sectors like pharmaceuticals, aerospace, or defence, with stringent regulatory and traceability requirements, might benefit from custom WMS.
  • Complex Supply Chain Operations: Industries with complex supply chains, such as automotive or electronics, may find custom-built WMS beneficial to handle intricate logistics and fulfilment processes.
  • Large-scale Retailers: Large retail businesses with vast inventories, high-volume transactions, and omnichannel operations may need a custom WMS for comprehensive inventory management and efficient order fulfilment.

Ultimately, the decision to build a custom WMS depends on a cost-benefit analysis that considers the company's unique requirements, budget constraints, and long-term strategic goals.


Warehouse Management Systems (WMS) are crucial tools that enhance efficiency in warehouse operations, from inventory and order management to labour optimization. They come in various forms, including standalone, ERP-based, supply-chain suites, and cloud-based solutions, each with unique features catering to specific business needs.

Choosing between off-the-shelf and custom-built systems requires carefully evaluating a business's unique requirements, resources, and strategic objectives. Ultimately, the right WMS can significantly improve productivity, customer satisfaction, and cost savings, driving business growth.
Therefore, if after reading this, you concluded that your company needs a WMS system but you are still trying to figure out what to do next, it's best to contact experts in this field! Trust our team at SolveQ, a company that specialises in creating software that brings efficiency to warehouses and reduces costs. Book a meeting with one of our Consultants and get your project to life with no trouble!

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Marcin Kulawik

Marcin Kulawik

Founder and CEO of SolveQ. Huge fan of building things with purpose, agility, and having fun while changing the World. Loves his family, teammates, and nature.