The evolution of Warehouse Management Systems (WMS) is very similar to that of many other software solutions. Initially a system to control movement and storage of materials within a warehouse, the role of WMS is expanding to including light manufacturing, transportation management, order management, and complete accounting systems. To use the grandfather of operations-related software, MRP, as a comparison, material requirements planning (MRP) started as a system for planning raw material requirements in a manufacturing environment. Soon MRP evolved into manufacturing resource planning (MRPII), which took the basic MRP system and added scheduling and capacity planning logic. Eventually MRPII evolved into enterprise resource planning (ERP), incorporating all the MRPII functionality with full financials and customer and vendor management functionality. Now, whether WMS evolving into a warehouse-focused ERP system is a good thing or not is up to debate. What is clear is that the expansion of the overlap in functionality between Warehouse Management Systems, Enterprise Resource Planning, Distribution Requirements Planning, Transportation Management Systems, Supply Chain Planning, Advanced Planning and Scheduling, and Manufacturing Execution Systems will only increase the level of confusion among companies looking for software solutions for their operations.
Even though WMS continues to gain added functionality, the initial core functionality of a WMS has not really changed. The primary purpose of a WMS is to control the movement and storage of materials within an operation and process the associated transactions. Directed picking, directed replenishment, and directed putaway are the key to WMS. The detailed setup and processing within a WMS can vary significantly from one software vendor to another, however the basic logic will use a combination of item, location, quantity, unit of measure, and order information to determine where to stock, where to pick, and in what sequence to perform these operations.