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Disruption as a Catalyst for Change in Warehousing
Change is nothing new for those in warehousing, distribution, and fulfillment. But the pandemic accelerated a number of trends affecting the supply chain, increasing the need to make warehouse operations as agile, automated and resilient as possible
A Global View of Warehousing
For years, warehouse operators have been adapting to changing consumer habits, growing labor recruitment and productivity challenges, as well as increasingly interconnected supply chains. Fluctuating market conditions and new disruptors are prompting decision-makers to accelerate their plans to improve workforce productivity, responsiveness and agility.
Warehousing Evolution by the Numbers
Despite recent challenges, warehouse operators have made progress in several areas they identified as a “priority” in the 2019 Zebra Global Warehousing Vision Study. In addition, they are taking on what were likely long-standing challenges they can no longer ignore.
Greater Focus on Outbound Operations
With the rise in e-commerce, decision-makers in the current survey ranked returns management as their top operational challenge, along with many fulfillment-related outbound operations. Concerns and priorities in the 2019 survey were more generalized around recruitment, productivity and utilization. Today, warehouse operators are focused on identifying their weakest operational areas. This will enable them to prioritize improvements more effectively
Warehousing Evolution by the Numbers
Desire for Increased Productivity-Related Outcomes In 2019, nearly a quarter (23%) of respondents managed operations with all paper-based or fixed workstation systems. Decision-makers say that will drop to only 5% within the next five years, and a greater focus will be placed on augmenting workers with mobile devices and automation solutions. Back then, decision-makers were focusing on simply connecting warehouse workers with enterprise systems (31%), and some were optimizing that experience (32%). Since then, there has been a noticeable shift, as 41% said they were focused on giving workers the right technology for the task to ensure improved team productivity and workflow compliance outcomes. In five years, almost 70% of decision-makers would like to achieve more realtime visibility of people, assets and goods, as well as the ability to automate decision-making.
E-commerce Impact: Where Do We Go From Here?
Decision-makers surveyed across all sectors have plans to address the rise in e-commerce that are both immediate and expected to persist over time.
Modernization: Labor Constraints: A Leading Automation Driver
Warehouse labor is becoming increasingly difficult to attract and retain. Decisionmakers say it takes an average of 4.7 weeks to train new staff to full productivity in warehouse operations. Despite these concerns, it is clear people will continue to play a significant role in the warehouse—but technology will too. Decision-makers need a backup plan in case it takes longer than expected to hire enough people, especially during peak periods. Eight in 10 say a greater reliance on automation is in their future. Of those who have already implemented automation or plan to within the next three years, 66% say they are doing so to offset their recruitment challenges.
Technology’s Value in Labor Recruitment
Associate sentiment is greatly influenced by the technology their employer provides them, with 83% agreeing they would be more likely to work for an employer that gives associates modern devices versus one that provides older or no devices. Decision-makers concur, with nearly nine in 10 agreeing technology advancement will make the warehouse environment more attractive to workers. Fortunately, most decision-makers report some level of their workforce is already augmented with technology or devices, and they hope to achieve greater levels of automation to advance their worker augmentation plans within the next five years. A significant advantage of today’s automation technologies is that organizations can start small with options that do not require reconfiguration of floor space, then scale up as use cases are proven.
Perspectives: Warehouse Operations by Industry
Each industry sector plays a critical role in supply chain execution. In a dynamic market like today and the foreseeable future, collaboration will be the key to everyone’s success. Warehouse industry leaders are adapting and evolving their operations to do their part to make a stronger, more resilient ecosystem to do business.