Smart Answers

What's Up With Warehousing?


I am lecturing a group of 20 entrepreneurial students, and one of the segments is supposed to be on "integrated warehousing." Where can I get easy-to-understand information on this topic and how it relates to entrepreneurs? —B.L., Johannesburg, South Africa

"Integrated warehousing" refers to everything that goes into a warehouse operation, including inventory control, order forecasting, and order management. The two components of integrated warehousing are supply chain planning and supply chain execution.

In order to achieve acceptable productivity levels, large corporations are increasingly implementing integrated warehousing or outsourcing their warehouse operations to specialized third-party logistics firms. But it's unusual for smaller firms managing their own inventory to use similarly sophisticated techniques, says Bill Harrison, president of Demand Management, a software firm that specializes in supply chain management for small and midsize firms.

"The average small warehouse operation doesn't have a clue about forecasting, replenishment, order fulfillment, slotting, or any of what is done in integrated warehousing," Harrison says. But he suggests that many can use computer modeling to show which parts will be needed most frequently, and then to use that information to make sure their bins are positioned and stocked appropriately. "That gives a small company the ability to fill orders faster and get better productivity levels from their workers," says Harrison.

Trade associations and industry groups, such as the International Warehouse Logistics Assn., or the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals, provide research and information about this topic that you and your students may find useful. A list of global trade groups is available at Industrial Data and Information's Web site.

Many private consulting firms publish newsletters and white papers on the latest techniques and trends in integrated warehousing, says Mark Oakes, engagement manager for Virginia's Philpott Manufacturing Extension Partnership. UPS Supply Chain Solutions may be a resource for you as well.

From an academic standpoint, the Georgia Institute of Technology has a supply chain and logistics institute that both Oakes and Harrison recommend as a resource for information and teaching tools.
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Klein is a Los Angeles-based writer who covers entrepreneurship and small-business issues.

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