10 reasons to bring a consultant with you on your warehouse automation journey

  • May 08, 2023
Young adult Caucasian female warehouse engineer worker, mature adult woman manager walk, discuss talk in factory warehouse.

Yet globally, only 20-30% of warehouses and distribution centers have any means of automation. You can expect the rapid growth to continue.
Warehouse automation has rapidly grown around the world over the past few years.

Despite headwinds from Amazon’s pullback in its warehouse expansion efforts and tighter spending by many corporate buyers, longer-term annual growth across the warehouse automation industry is anticipated to be 10-15% through 2030.

What’s driving the growth of warehouse automation?

A critical driver is the great societal shift toward ecommerce, which dramatically increased the number of warehousing jobs needed to fulfill consumer demand. This has amplified competition for labor across all sectors of warehousing and distribution. As a result, many distribution-intensive companies, especially those in competitive industries, struggle to absorb or pass on the costs of attracting, hiring, training and retaining labor. In these cases, automating warehouses and distribution centers becomes a business imperative, which leads to questions such as:

  • What type of warehouse automation should I seek?
  • Where can I realize the most significant benefit from warehouse automation?
  • Can I justify automation, or should I seek more traditional equipment and mechanization?
  • Who should I work with to determine appropriate solutions for my unique needs?
  • How do I manage risks as I start down the path toward automating my warehouses?

To address these questions, your best approach — more often than not — is to partner with an experienced consultant and trusted advisor who’ll manage your best interests from start to finish throughout your warehouse automation journey. Here are ten reasons why.

1. Unbiased objectivity

An experienced warehouse automation consultant can provide unbiased guidance toward automation solutions that fit your unique needs. A consultant will:

  • Translate business plans for your distribution facilities into quantitative volumetric requirements
  • Learn to understand your preferences, constraints and priorities when evaluating technologies
  • Look across the broad landscape for available technologies that fit your needs without bias or incentive toward any specific technology or supplier

2. Broad knowledge and experience

Solution providers are limited in their capability to offer unbiased or experienced opinions and advice regarding technologies beyond their scope of supply. The right consultants will have knowledge and experience evaluating, selecting and implementing a variety of warehouse technologies, and they’ll be able to share the many lessons learned.

3. Data-driven evaluation

The right consulting team will couple its broad industry knowledge and experience with a data-driven evaluation of your:

  • Current and future volumetric requirements
  • Functional area process and system requirements (and constraints)
  • Product handling types and characteristics
  • Reserve and forward inventory storage requirements
  • Customer service requirements
  • Current and future labor requirements

4. Analysis of alternative technologies

With so many technologies to consider, particularly when not limited by the technologies offered by a single supplier or integrator, multiple solutions may fit your needs. But which technologies are the best for your business? A consultant will narrow the list of applicable technologies and lead the trade-off analysis of each alternative to determine the right technology for your unique needs before evaluating and selecting from a pool of suppliers.

5. Bias toward the business case

Ultimately, a financial commitment to a point solution or an integrated mix of automation should be backed by solid business case justification. It should compare the total cost of ownership (TCO) against quantitative and qualitative benefits. A consultant will lead that analysis on your behalf and make sure it includes input and criteria from the critical stakeholders in your decision-making process.

6. Competitive supplier selection

The intent is to marry the right technologies with the right suppliers at a reasonable cost.
A consultant can lead the selection process of suppliers and integrators on your behalf.

  • Qualify and prioritize the bidder’s list
  • Scope, develop and issue requests for proposal (RFPs)
  • Facilitate the bidder response process and the submittal of proposals
  • Evaluate bidder responses with your team using a weighted, balanced scorecard approach

7. Contract negotiations

Once a supplier is selected (or prioritized), reaching a mutually beneficial agreement is imperative. A consultant can lead or support the negotiation of commercial terms and conditions to make sure both parties understand the scope of supply, services, timing, ongoing support and financial commitment.

8. Implementation planning and detailed requirements analysis

You may still have a way to go on your warehouse automation journey after you have contracted with a solution provider or integrator. The next step is to develop a detailed implementation and resource plan and detail the process, system and equipment requirements associated with your planned automation initiative. Experienced consultants will help you develop the implementation and resource plan required to implement the automation successfully. They can also facilitate the workshop discussions necessary to define future process requirements, warehouse management and control systems requirements and the engineering and integration requirements for the equipment.

9. Program management

A warehouse automation initiative goes beyond the installation of the equipment. Success requires a coordinated, cross-functional effort of multiple internal and external resources. For example, a consultant can lead the overall program across multiple interdependent workstreams and be responsible for the necessary changes in people, processes, systems, equipment and building. A consultant will use time-tested program governance methods and tools to manage schedules, resources, budgets, changes, risks, results and the communication process along the journey.

10. Risk mitigation

The most significant value of a consultant along the warehouse automation path is in minimizing and mitigating your risks. Along the journey, a consultant will keep your best interests in mind when specifying your distribution requirements, evaluating alternative technologies, selecting and negotiating with suppliers, planning the implementation and managing the overall program to ensure success.

— By Tom Tiede

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