How to Make Warehouse Upgrades & Modifications Without Downtime: Planning for Success
Imagine the following scenario.
Business is good. Your warehouse is taking on more: More SKUs, more orders, more value added services (VAS). The way your warehouse automation has been supporting your old business is no longer enough.
Maybe you need to add picking and packing areas, kitting, or increase the VAS you provide. Maybe your warehouse has started to ship ecommerce for the first time and you are struggling under the load of “omni-channel”. Maybe the automation you have is just broken down and it needs to be replaced after decades of trusty service.
Download our Guide to Warehouse Automation Ebook
All these problems are “good to have” if you can keep up. Time to upgrade your operation and stopping operations for a few days or weeks to do this is not an option. It may be a “simple” replacement, expanding an existing area, or adding an entire new operation to the distribution process.
Whatever the case, one thing is clear: Extended downtime while you are getting the new equipment or system up and running is not an option. This is why thoroughly planning for your system cutover is so essential to success.
Below, we define system cutovers and tie-ins and offer advice and tips that you can use to better prepare for your next upgrade.
What is a warehouse system cutover?
When you are adding a new piece of equipment or a new process to an existing system or workflow, eventually that new process will need to fit in with the rest of your operation and automation. That’s where a cutover or tie-in comes into play.
A warehouse system cutover (also called a tie-in) is simply the process of integrating new equipment into an existing system. It is the act of literally cutting over to the new equipment.
Cutovers and tie-ins are typically planned to occur during periods of time when the operation is already closed, such as overnight or over a weekend. They can also be scheduled to take place during a system shutdown, such as those that take place for regularly-scheduled maintenance.
With a cutover, the goal is simple: Complete the upgrade or swap in the new equipment during the allotted time frame so that downtime is kept to a minimum and the operation can get back up and running as quickly as possible. Ultimately, this schedule will vary depending on the unique business realities of the individual business. For operations that run 24/7, scheduled downtime will be a necessity; in these cases, it is particularly crucial that the cutover goes as smoothly as possible.
Making the best use of your available time is, therefore, critical. The surest way to guarantee success is by planning ahead, preparing for changes and challenges that might crop up during the process, and working with someone that you know and trust.
Preparing for a System Cutover or Tie-in
1. Get Creative.
At the risk of stating the obvious: Order fulfillment operations are complicated. Each piece of technology, workflow, and system interlocks with at least one other, which can make it difficult to make changes or adjustments. Especially if you have done things the same way for years or even decades, this complexity can make brainstorming new ideas challenging.
But there is often value in getting creative. By taking a step back and inspecting your system from a “big picture” view instead of a zoomed in view, it’s possible to come up with novel solutions that enable you to design a system that reduces risks of downtime and makes the cutover process easier.
This is why it is so important that you work with someone who does not try to force a one-size-fits-all approach onto your operation. Your business is unique; your cutover should speak to that.
2. Create a Plan.
Without a thoroughly thought out plan, it is extremely unlikely that a cutover or tie-in will go off without a hitch. Planning accounts for a large percentage of the entire process for more complicated cutovers, and even the simpler ones require substantial time upfront to determine the best course of action before implementation. Simply put, the more you plan, the better the process will go.
This plan should include:
- Technology and system selection that accounts for the strategic needs of the operation while also minimizing downtime during cutover
- A detailed timeline and schedule for the project outlining exactly when each critical step will take place
- An understanding of what is realistically achievable within a given period of time (whether overnight, a weekend, etc.) so that, if necessary, the cutover can be completed in stages to minimize downtime
- Pre-installation of as much equipment/as many components as possible prior to the cutover in order to minimize system downtime
- Sourcing equipment, parts, and personnel ahead of time to ensure that everything necessary to complete the job is onsite and available before work begins
“Many of the businesses that we work with operate on very thin margins, and they can’t afford to take a day or more off to put new equipment in place,” says Chris Benevides, solutions consultant and project manager at Conveyco Technologies. “You can’t simply design a new process or system without understanding how you are going to get it installed; you’ve got to tailor the new system to the existing reality to ensure that it makes sense for their needs.”
3. Be Prepared for Surprises and Changes.
As mentioned above, it is critical that you create a thorough plan for your cutover far in advance of when work begins.
Still, no matter how well you plan, Murphy’s Law states that there is always the potential for something to go wrong, which is why it is also critical that you anticipate surprises, challenges, and changes that might crop up during the cutover. By anticipating these challenges, it is possible to create a contingency plan for each potential challenge, which will make resolution easier in the long run.
“I always like to tell customers it’s not about how we act when things go well, but how we act when things invariably do not go well that sets us apart,” says Benevides.
One way to prepare for these challenges, and head them off preemptively, is to conduct thorough testing of the system and its components before the cutover. By testing the system and understanding how it will perform alongside other components, it’s possible to make necessary adjustments in advance of the cutover so that your time will be better spent.
4. Work With Someone You Trust.
When choosing someone to helm your project and carry it through from planning to implementation, it is essential that you select a systems integrator whom you know and trust to guide you to a successful cutover. Exactly who the ideal partner is for your operation will of course depend upon your needs, but some general qualities to look for include:
- Manufacturer- and vendor-neutral: The partner you select should be someone who you know will guide you towards the technology and equipment that makes the most sense for your operation, not someone who will take a one-size-fits-all approach because it is the easier thing to do or someone who will turn to specific vendors because they know they will receive a kickback of some sort. An integrator that is vendor-neutral will be the best option.
- Experienced: There is no better teacher than experience. That’s why, when selecting a systems integrator to handle your cutover, you should seek someone with a wealth of experience, which they will leverage throughout the process in order to help you avoid pitfalls, anticipate challenges, and simply have a successful implementation.
- Transparent: Clear and open communication and transparency between the client, personnel, and integrator is essential to success. Everybody needs to know what’s going to happen, how it is going to be achieved, and when it will take place. Without these details, it will be difficult or impossible to adequately prepare.
Above all, you are looking for an integrator who will be a partner in your success, not someone who is trying to sell you the most expensive system to bolster their own margins. The right integrator will be someone who works with you to accomplish your goals.
Cutting Through the Noise
While many systems integrators may advertise that they have extensive experience completing cutovers and tie-ins, it is important that you do your homework to truly understand whether or not they would be a good fit for your operation. Ask them about the challenges they have experienced in the past and how they would preempt these now. Inquire about seeing a sample plan so that you can truly understand their process and critique their attention to detail.
At Conveyco Technologies, we have nearly 40 years of experience completing cutovers, tie-ins, and go-lives for our clients. We conduct dozens of these projects in any given year, and treat our clients as true partners in growth. Request a consultation to learn how we can help steer your operation through a critical upgrade.