Cecile Arnaud of the Hardis Group reveals what every good WMS should have
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Given the dramatic increase in e-commerce activity over the last eighteen months, warehouse management has become more crucial than ever, with warehouse management systems (WMSs) naturally coming into focus as a result. One European company who specializes in this area is the Hardis group, whose WMS is used by a number of major players.
In recent years, the Hardis Group has expanded its activities, and earlier this year, the company opened a subsidiary in Poland.
Amid these developments, we took the opportunity to quiz the Hardis Group’s Director of International Development, Cecile Arnaud, about numerous pressing issues, including what functionalities every good WMS should have.
Thanks for talking to us Cecile. From what I gather, Hardis Group has growth plans that involve opening new branches every year by 2025. Earlier this year, you opened a subsidiary in Warsaw. What was the thinking behind opening a subsidiary in Poland ahead of other possible locations?
We want to be one of the leading Supply Chain software vendors in Europe; we are already recognized by the Gartner as a notable WMS vendor in Europe. Our ambition is to be in the top three/top five within the next three years. So we have different axes to develop; to expand in Europe and also outside of Europe.
Of course, the opening of subsidiaries is one significant part of our strategy to have some local capabilities. We already have a good footprint in Southern Europe as we opened our first subsidiary in Spain three years ago and we have a historical partner in Italy. Then two-and-a-half years ago, we opened a second subsidiary in the Netherlands. ,Of course, we also have a big presence in France, our home market.
So we wanted to have a subsidiary in Central Europe to better address the opportunities and to have more proximity with our customers in this part of Europe. And we think that Poland is the best place to be. It’s really the logistics hub between Western and Eastern Europe, in Central Europe. So, for us, it was a logical choice.
Another reason is that we see that the market is really booming in Poland. For years, there has really been an increase in terms of growth . Domestic consumption is increasing and we see that ecommerce is booming. As you know, logistics is really key for e-commerce. When there is ecommerce growth, there are usually a lot of logistics needs.
There’s Allegro of course, and now Amazon has taken the decision to launch its marketplace in Poland, and we’ve seen the growth of ecommerce during covid times. Poland has been the market with the highest growth in Europe
Our solution is very well positioned to address e-commerce challenges . For years, we have evolved our WMS solution to better address these economic needs. And we have many references in this sector. So we want to help companies address their omnichannel logistics challenges.
Another point is that we already have big customers – especially international 3PLs like FM logistic, who have big growth plans with us in this region. And we really want to support our international customers in their international expansion; it’s part of our commitment to them. Companies like FM logistic have chosen Reflex as their core logistics IT system for their new businesses, and they want to migrate many of their activities to Reflex.
So our customers required to have some local resources with local daily rates and with people who speak polish. So it was also one of the reasons why we opened in Poland, we already have some customers on which we can base our growth.
Another announcement you recently made concerns the partnership with transport management platform Shiptify. In recent times, we’ve seen an increase in the amount of similar partnerships in the sector. In your case, why did you opt for this partnership rather than creating a similar application in-house?
We took the decision not to be in the TMS business, but our focus is to invest in our R&D on supply chain execution to optimize processes and logistics operations everywhere in a company where you have stock – whether it be warehouses, factories, stores, logistics hubs or dark stores.
Historically, we were focused on the warehouse, and then two-and-a-half years ago we announced Reflex in-store logistics. Last year we also launched Reflex WMS for factories.
So we now have a dedicated roadmap to address logistics challenges in stores and in factories. Of course, we continue to evolve our solution to address the challenges in warehouses. So this is our main focus in terms of R&D. But we know that if we want to address the end-to-end supply chain execution challenges of our customers, sometimes they need the TMS, and we had good experience with Shiptfiy.
We have some customers in common like Pilot or ManoMano, and we saw that it was a really good solution – easy to integrate, and very complimentary to our solution.
So the integration was pretty straightforward then?
Yes, the two solutions, our WMS and Shiptify, are web-based services and platforms that are quite easy to integrate in a smooth way.
So I would say that the challenge was more about having to implement 2 solutions for our customers. The challenges were more in terms of project management, because of course, you need to manage your teams; the team of the customer and the team of the partner.
So it’s really a question of project management and having the global governance to make it successful.
One of the functions that was added to your WMS is the Virtual Warehouse, which provides real-time visual management of site activity. What technologies are you using as part of this system, and what developments do you plan to bring to it in the future?
As for development, as we strongly believe in the power of visual management, we are using heat maps to help teams make decisions. You can easily configure new locations and warehouses. The first heatmap available shows you the picks to perform in your warehouse. So you can see in red on the heat map the locations where you have a lot of picks to do.
And in terms of the heat map roadmap, we will have some new ones. The second heat map will be for location utilization. That will allow you to see the empty locations in your warehouse, which is quite helpful.
You can also put a screen in your warehouse so that the operators can see where they have some empty locations. So it can be useful in your warehouse for the operators too.
Given what’s happened in the last couple of years, the optimal organisation and utilisation of one’s warehouse(s) is arguably more important than ever. What functionalities should companies look for in a WMS, and what benefits should a good system provide?
With today’s omnichannel development and ecommerce growth, it’s now a must-have to have a WMS that is able to manage ecommerce orders in a very efficient way.
First and foremost, that means a WMS that is able to manage single product orders, which are quite complex orders to manage, because it’s really at the unit level and you have to prepare complex boxes sometimes. It’s a really different way to prepare orders and it requires new processes. So for me, that’s the starting point.
With ecommerce you need to be able to manage and to optimize reverse logistics, for example, you need to have many ways, many different picking strategies. You must be able to combine orders and consider their level of priority.
A year-and-a-half ago, we announced order flow balancing – it’s a new functionality that allows the inclusion of urgent orders in real time. Even if you have launched a preparation wave, you can still include the latest orders if they are really urgent, thereby meeting the deadline in terms of delivery.
Secondly, it’s critical to have a WMS that is able to manage mechanization and has an easy integration with any kinds of mechanization. Last year we announced WCS Master, it’s a module that facilitates the integration with a catalogue of API’s with any kind of mechanization.
It really helps to orchestrate all the mechanization in the warehouse.
Also, we strongly believe that it has become more and more critical to reallocate resources in real time.That’s why we have a strong management tool such as Labour Management System,
So once again, if you have your urgent orders that arrive and you need to prepare them, you can see on the dashboard the tasks to be done and you can then take into consideration the deadline and transport cut-off. And you can reallocate your resources in real time so that your orders can meet the customer promise.
Another important point is that we strongly believe that a flexible system is critical. We see that logistics processes keep evolving; companies always have new needs.
So it’s really important to choose a WMS that is highly flexible and that can adapt to new processes and new customer expectations. The robustness of the solution is important because with ecommerce, the volume of orders explodes during peak season – you can manage hundreds of thousands of orders per day.
Finally, you need to choose a solution that is easy to use and learn, because during peak season, you can have some operators that work in your warehouse for a few days, or a few weeks. They need to be up-to-speed with your solution very quickly.
With Reflex, in 30 minutes an operator can understand the system and start working. So that’s something we’ve really focused on.
I take it that the pandemic has made it a lot easier to win-over less tech-savvy companies into using digital solutions such as your own?
I have to admit that we don’t have to convince companies due to covid. As you say, there is an acceleration of projects. Every week, if not every day, we receive some new leads and some new projects from customers.
I would say that they have no choice as logistics is really at the core of the customer promise. And if they want to win the battle, they have to optimize their logistics. And maybe before covid, as you say, some of them were waiting, or did not take the decision to move forward. Now with the covid there is really an acceleration.
So I don’t really see that we need to convince companies. But of course, we need to support them and help them.
But what is good with our solution is that it has been designed by logistics people for logistics people. So key users can easily understand the solution and configure it to adapt it to their needs without having any IT skills.
That means you don’t have to be tech savvy as the solution has been designed for them. They don’t rely on IT to configure the system, so they can really adapt it to their processes in the warehouse and the way they work.
I think it’s something that really helps them because they don’t have to change the way they work drastically. They have a tool to guide them with advanced algorithms to improve productivity in the warehouse. And then in terms of the project, depending on the number of resources the customer has, we adapt the size of the team and the level of tasks that we do.
Your Relfex WMS utilises cloud technology, which has emerged as a key tool in the logistics industry over the last decade. There are nonetheless a number of other technologies that offer significant potential, including AI, blockchain and IoT devices. Are there any digital technologies in particular that you foresee bringing great change to the logistics industry?
Well, we believe that AI, cloud and IoT are definitely three technologies that will expand in the warehouse. And that, combined with the WMS, will really help to improve the productivity of supply chain execution.
It will really help improve logistics execution in real time and the productivity of operation, predict more and more accurately the necessary resources that the company needs. And combining these technologies together will help lower the cost as well as the carbon footprint of our supply chain.
So yes, definitely, these are technologies that we need to embed in our solution. Reflex is already available on Public Cloud; these cloud platforms have technologies like AI, and we can really leverage them. So yes, we believe that cloud platforms such as Google will really help too.
One would assume a good WMS system can have environmental benefits too.
Definitely, our vision is really that with our solution, we need to help companies deliver that customer promise in terms of delivery and quality of services while lowering the costs and the carbon footprint.
For us, it’s really our value proposition and our vision of what we need to do for companies. And to do so there are two axes; you can optimize the processes in the warehouse and optimize the spaces in the warehouse.
But it’s also why we have developed Reflex WMS for factories and Reflex in-store logistics. It’s because we believe that companies need to leverage the stock wherever they have in the company to be closer to the end customer, shorten delivery times while lowering carbon footprint
For example, you see that there are more and more omnichannel services that are provided by stores. So we need to have a real-time view, real-time visibility of stock in all the stores, but also in the factories, at 3PLs /logistics services providers, at your manufacturers, really within your ecosystem, to be able to say, Okay, we have your urgent orders, what is the best way to deliver them from which location? Is it from the stuff from the store, the central distribution, or from even the 3PL?
So we need to have real-time visibility of the stock everywhere. And that’s why we have expanded our portfolio to lower the carbon footprint while delivering the customer promise.
Besides your plans to grow and open branches in more countries, what are Hardis Groups’ other major plans for the near future?
We are doubling our investment in terms of R&D. So first, as I said before, because we have this portfolio of supply chain execution solutions with the WMS in-store and factory. But we are also developing some solutions on top of this, but we cannot really announce it now.
I would also say that in terms of implementation capabilities, our strategy is to open new subsidiaries. So we will open new subsidiaries in the years to come in Europe.
But we are also looking at acquisitions in North America. And our strategies are to develop a network of system integrators. So we really have the two sides to develop our own capabilities with our own teams and our own subsidiaries.
And we also want to leverage a network of system integrators. So today, for example, we are working with IBM and we’ve signed a strategic partnership with ITOrizon – a supply chain consulting company based in the US and in India. We’ve done many projects with them in the US and now we’re working on projects in India and China with them.
We want to continue to have new partners in Europe in other countries, some of which should be announced by the end of this year.
Also, in order to boost the development of the Reflex skills in the market, we launched Reflex academy – an e-learning platform in which customers, partners and teams can really be trained on Reflex. Many different modules are online in English; it’s accessible from anywhere in the world.
We are investing a lot in this platform to provide e-learning modules that cover the processes that are in Reflex, as it will facilitate the training of consultants and people using Reflex.