If you’ve been researching warehouse management systems (WMS) designed specifically for logistics providers, you know how overwhelming the task of comparing vendors’ solutions can be.
WMS software offers a vast range of capabilities, but information about specific tools can be quite scarce online. In particular, the capabilities most important to third-party logistics providers (3PLs)—such as client portals, storage billing and value-added services billing—often aren’t well-documented in the product descriptions software vendors provide.
That’s where Software Advice comes in: We contacted WMS software vendors that offer functionality for public warehouses (i.e., those storing inventory with multiple owners) to learn the specifics of what their systems feature.
You can use the tables below to develop a shortlist of vendors that meet your company’s needs. At the end of this article, you can also access a pricing guide that will allow you to compare pricing for popular WMS solutions.
Here’s are the three capability areas this guide will cover:
Web Portals for 3PL Clients
Industry experts recommend that clients focus on inventory visibility when selecting a logistics provider. Clearly, 3PLs need a WMS that offers clients this functionality. Visibility can be provided via electronic data interchange (EDI) integrations between your WMS and your clients’ accounting, ERP and order management systems.
A client Web portal, on the other hand, provides visibility even without EDI integrations with clients’ software. Clients can simply log in to view inventory levels, place orders and more:
3PL Client Web Portal Functionality
Visibility into inventory levels and transaction history (e.g., moves and counts) is the most basic, common functionality of 3PL Web portals—and is offered by all the WMS vendors listed in the table above.
Tracking of inbound/outbound orders and shipments is less common. The ability to enter sales and purchase orders is also less widespread, though purchase order placement is somewhat more common than sales order entry.
Most client portals offer the ability to create or upload advance shipping notices (ASNs). Clients use these electronic notifications to alert their customers, in a timely fashion, of the shipments their warehouse is sending out. Many clients have complex ASN requirements (Walmart is a well-known example). By offering flexible, easy-to-use ASN tools for your clients through a Web portal, you can potentially expand your client base.
Another important feature is the ability for clients to view transaction documents, such as invoices. This can be found in most warehouse management systems geared toward 3PLs.
Logistics providers need to bill clients for both storage and value-added services. Time intervals for storage billing are relatively uniform across systems:
3PL Billing Time Intervals
All the systems we analyzed with 3PL billing functionality are capable of billing on a daily, weekly, bi-monthly or monthly basis. If your clients have unique billing needs, you’ll need a billing engine that offers more flexible time intervals.
Anniversary billing is an especially popular option for logistics providers. In this model, the system bills for storage and handling of a client’s items as they are received over the course of the first month.
After 30 days have passed, the system calculates all of the client’s items that remain in inventory, and generates an invoice for one month’s storage fees. Subsequent invoices are generated on this date, instead of on the first of the month. Anniversary billing is thus a good alternative to pro-rata (prorated) billing.
We also asked WMS providers about the units of measurement they track for storage billing. However, these units (volume, weight, bulk, pallet etc.) were relatively uniform across all products, so we didn’t create a chart for them.
Billing for Value-Added Services
One area where 3PL WMS solutions differ significantly is in the tools they offer for managing value-added services. All of the systems below can track basic warehousing operations for billing purposes, such as putaway and picking. Support for more specialized services such as price-tagging, however, isn’t universal:
Value-Added Services Management
Nearly all systems support common processes such as kitting—the packaging of multiple items into a “kit” that is treated as a single item—and labeling. Build-to-order tracking (for 3PLs that assemble customized products according to sales orders) and configure-to-order tracking (for those that install or configure software according to sales orders) are also easy-to-find capabilities.
On the other hand, billing support for order processing is a bit rarer. If you directly place purchase orders to suppliers on behalf of your clients, or if you accept and process sales orders for your clients’ customers, you’ll need a solution that can track and bill this work.
E-commerce order processing is tracked in most systems that can bill for other kinds of order processing. If you need this functionality, you should also consider a system that integrates with e-commerce shopping baskets.
Price-tagging is less commonly tracked than labeling, due to its downstream position in the distribution chain. Additionally, the ability to track assembly or light manufacturing work is somewhat rare. If you’re taking on this role within a client’s supply chain, make sure your system can either track this activity, or be configured to track assembly as a form of kitting.
Finally, custom fields are a great way to handle unique client needs. Be sure to inquire about how such fields can be created and used for billing purposes in a vendor’s system.
Now that you’ve begun shortlisting vendors that offer the tools you need for your public warehouse, you can download our pricing comparison guide.
By comparing the information in the pricing guide with the functionality tables we’ve provided, you can square your needs with your company’s budget.
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