Working with a Systems Integrator: Discovery & Analysis
If you’re considering working with a systems integrator to design your warehouse or DC, then you’ve undoubtedly got a lot of questions about the process, and for good reason—any new DC or DC expansion is a major investment, so you’ve got to make sure that it gets done right.
The journey from initial conversations to design and ultimately to building your facility is a long one, with many steps. These steps can be largely broken into four main phases: Discovery & Analysis, Design, Implementation, and Maintenance & Support.
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It may seem counterintuitive, but the design of any new space should be from the inside out. That means you should design the storage, picking, packing, and shipping systems before you design the construction of the building. But how does a systems integrator know what systems work for your operation’s needs? That answer lies in Discovery & Analysis.
Here, we will take a deeper look at the Discovery & Analysis phases that must be done before a systems integrator can begin to help you design your facility.
Laying the Groundwork
Before any discussions about design specifications can take place, your systems integrator will need to have certain information so that they are fully informed going into the process. Every business, even within the same vertical or industry, has its own operational issues that makes it unique; understanding the key operational issues that make your business unique is key to designing a facility that performs well.
To understand those key issues, your systems integrator will need to roll up their sleeves and learn how your operation works, as well as its unique attributes—this is the Discovery phase. They will then spend some time evaluating your answers alongside data—this is called Analysis
Asking the Right Questions
The most critical phase to overall project success is something that takes place before the design even begins. “Discovery” is the process of asking questions in order to gain a better understanding of the operation and the desired outcomes for the project.
Each stakeholder in a project has their own expectations that are not always clearly communicated between all members of the team. The first step in the Discovery phase is uncovering these various expectations so that they can all be addressed through the ultimate system design. If these requirements aren’t identified early in the process, they can lead to issues further along in the process, such as missed timelines and blown budgets if designs need to be changed at the last minute.
These requirements can be both internal—say, reducing costs or improving inventory management—or external—say, meeting certain service levels, order accuracy, or other customer-related needs.
Also of importance is understanding any challenges that exist in the current operation, as well as other potential areas of improvement. This is required so your design partner knows what data to request so they can quantify all of the aspects of the current and future operations. It is also necessary so that inefficiencies are not replicated in the new facility.
Understanding the Data
Once there is a clear understanding of all of the expectations and challenges of the project, the systems integrator will turn to data to inform the system design. This analysis, paired with the answers found in the Discovery process, seeks to quantify all the key metrics of the operation and will lay the groundwork of all conversations about the design moving forward.
What kind of data is important to systems integrators during the Analysis phase? The exact specifics will vary from operation to operation and from industry to industry, but will usually include:
What does a typical order look like in terms of orders per day, lines per order, pieces per line, cartons per order, etc.? This is typically learned by examining order history, including: Order number, date and time that the order was picked, items in the order, quantity of items in each order, when the order was placed, and units of measurement in an order.
Is there a pronounced affinity between certain products? I.e., do certain products tend to be ordered together? This may impact layout and storage in the facility.
How are orders placed—What channels are they placed through, and what is the timing of orders (batch orders vs. throughout the day)?
What are order cut-off times, and what happens when order cut off is missed?
SKU and Inventory Data
What is the SKU base, in terms of the number of active SKUs currently handled, the number of SKUs expected to be handled in the future, design specs of SKUs handled, and storage requirements?
What does the item master look like? This will include a description of each physical item, the number of each item generally kept in stock, the type or category for each item, dimensions (length, width, height, weight) of each item, the unit of measurement, Ti, and Hi.
Additionally, what is the cubic velocity of each SKU? The demand for each SKU must be modeled in order to determine what the best type of storage is that should be used for each SKU in both the forward picking and reserve storage locations.
Shipping and Receiving Practices
Knowing how products ship can have a drastic impact on the material handling and sortation design since most conveyors are usually designed to handle cartons. This may also impact the size and shape of the shipping dock. Important things to know include:
- How do products ship?
- Do orders leave the facility in bags or in cartons?
Just as important as knowing how orders ship is knowing how goods are received. Helpful points of data include:
- How are goods received? Do receipts arrive in full trailer loads or they received via LTL and/or parcel carriers? Are they palletized or floor loaded loose cartons? How are cartons and pallets labeled?
- Are items received against an Advanced Shipping Notice (ASN) or are they received against a hard Purchase Order (PO) as they arrive?
- What systems need to be interfaced with? What are the interfaces to such systems (API, FTP, etc)?
- Once they are received, is there inbound Quality Assurance (QA) required to be performed on each inbound receipt? How are each of the items dispositioned if they are damaged and how is that information communicated back to each vendor?
Service Level Stats
What is the expected service level? What percentage of orders qualify for free shipping and how does that affect the type and number of carriers used?
Customer expectations towards same day or next day shipping will impact technologies used.
Any Operation-Specific Concerns?
Are there regulatory concerns (especially important when the operation handles food, medicine, or has a cold chain)?
Are there seasonal fluctuations to the business? For example, does business explode on cyber Monday or Black Friday, do order volumes pick up substantially around the holidays, or do they dry up in the summer, etc.? This will impact peak rates and the technologies ultimately put in place.
Knowledge is Power
Armed with answers and a deep understanding of your operations from the Discovery & Analysis phase, your systems integrator will be able to better conceptualize a warehouse or DC design that will fit your business’s unique needs. By understanding this process ahead of time, and going into it already having given some thought to the questions your systems integrator is going to ask, you can expect a more productive meeting and streamlined experience as your project gets underway.