Preparation is key: How a WMS helps warehouses manage natural disasters
This month, we reached the peak of hurricane season 2019 – a fairly active one, with Dorian threatening the east coast in early September, and activity predicted to pick up over the next few weeks.
The logistics nightmares such storms can cause are a good reminder that your supply chain needs to be ready for emergencies. Executives, managers, and supervisors spend significant amounts of time developing contingencies and priorities to help their business face these events. The preparations and policies take up volumes of paper, and there are significant challenges to be identified and overcome. But among the most pressing: how do I ensure business keeps moving even when transportation isn’t – and even if my physical location is severely damaged?
Let’s take a look at two important aspects of preparation for the warehouse: what to do with your data or your warehouse management system in the event your location is damaged or destroyed, and how to prioritize the fulfillment operations if you are serving an affected area.
Recovering after a disaster
When planning for a disruption associated with a force majeure event, your choice of business-critical applications must come into play. No question: the safety, welfare, and health of you and your labor force must come first. But once you have a plan in place to ensure your team’s well-being, you need to think about how you’ll recover and begin operations as close to the point in time when it is safe as possible.
On premise instances of your business-critical applications can make the resumption of activity more difficult. If your data and applications reside in the area affected, your ability to recover can be compromised: power surges or unexpected outages, flooding and damage to delicate equipment can all negatively affect your ability to restart operations. Secondary concerns around uploading and using back-up data or processing cued or waiting orders will quickly reveal themselves when your technology and applications are restored.
One solution is to choose cloud providers – hardened data centers with reliable fail-overs and geographically dispersed and redundant instances are common and expected by reputable providers. Best-of-breed backup schedules and tested processes to restore your access are not common, but should be sought when you choose a provider in the cloud for your business-critical systems.
One of the key benefits of the cloud model is the de-coupling of the applications used from being physically located, supported and installed in a specific facility. That design, and improvements to hosting models and technology stacks, reap savings and increased up-time for users. Shifting the support, the redundancy and the disaster recovery to a specialized team and application allows companies to recover faster from the natural conditions that can negatively affect operations.
Keep your business rolling – even when conditions aren’t favorable
The cloud is invaluable when relaunching your processes post-disaster. But what if the obstacle is impeding transportation between your business and your customers?
I recently worked with a regional distributor where fully 40% of their routes could not be delivered because of inclement weather. They were faced with the choice of stopping the processing of orders or processing orders and holding outbound shipments. Stakeholders within the team had differing opinions on the response:
- The financial team wanted the orders processed to support invoicing and revenue recognition according to forecast;
- The operations team wanted orders processed and held to manage the follow-on overtime that would result from not addressing demand;
- The logistics team wanted orders held, as equipment and schedules could resume when the destinations restored operations.
The issue was space to stage outbound orders that were palletized, and to ensure route/stop integrity for stored pallets.
The company decided to process the orders and have since completely caught up. However, this revealed a significant opportunity for reviewing their priorities and policies, and offered a great chance to evaluate their cloud-hosted system in its support. The Distribution Center and each of its normal customers’ schedules were shared and in sync for normal operations, but neither the hub nor the spoke had developed the communication protocols to support pent up demand.
As part of the solution with SnapFulfil, each were able to prioritize orders and products within their scheduled demand – even after an order had been processed and staged – to ensure that the proper items ended up delivered at the most effective time to support restoring operations. Additionally, a quick change to the SnapFulfil rules engines supported proper route/stop management of the stored pallets accurately, and with complete visibility.
The time is now
Handling disaster preparation with your facility is difficult, but you shouldn’t put it off. It is simply good practice to consider responses, to develop priorities and processes, and to codify them into policies. A primary step is to work with your cloud provider to understand their capabilities, and to use those to your advantage in establishing your policy. Returning to normal operations may be a multiple step process, but what commitments can your cloud application providers help with?