There are more than 200 personnel management-, rostering- and shift-planning tools on the market. But in numerous digitalization workshops and interviews with customers, we learned that they still prefer spreadsheet-based (or even magnet board) tools when it comes to the intralogistics door-to-door processes. That’s true even for companies already using such tools in other areas of their enterprise. We tried to understand why and learned the three main reasons: Existing tools are "big", bulky, and inflexible; they are not made explicitly for warehouses; they are not integrated with the warehouse management system.

Existing Tools are not made for Warehouse Operations

Personnel management in fulfillment centers is very different from other scenarios. As described in The Warehouse is VUCA, the warehouse is volatile, with constant fluctuations and bullwhip effects. It’s unlike shop floors, health care, hotels, and other areas. In a warehouse, one has predefined shifts; that’s true. Nevertheless, you need to balance capacities all the time. Rotating people should be a matter of seconds or a minute at most. In reality, it is lengthy and tedious, especially for cases described in Planning Challenges.

Suppliers of "big suites" are not that interested

The big players in warehouse- and personnel management are not keen exactly on providing warehouse-specific solutions. Why? Because it is a niche. They would have to invest many resources to support all the volatile processes, especially to maintain upgradeability.

”We just need to customize our solution”

Usually, “customizing” is a code word for “you have to invest months and a lot of money to build individual processes”. Furthermore, it is no longer customizing when you need to change the principle processes in your systems. And that’s the case for warehouse operations: It’s more complex than other personnel planning scenarios.

Existing Tools are bulky and inflexible

Personnel management tools usually come in bigger suites, which are general-purpose, covering “everything”, from recruiting, time recording, personnel records, and absences to strategic and tactical planning. Their size makes them bulky and inflexible. They are more like "ERP systems for personnel management", and their goal is to have a correct status by the end of the day, week, or even month, e.g., for the payroll. They do not reflect all the short-term changes in the warehouse; they cannot provide a comprehensive overview in real-time. They are not made for putting the right people with the right skills in the right place at the right time as fast as possible; nor for keeping an overview of all those movements.

Existing tools are not well integrated with Warehouse Operations

It's not enough to have a personnel management tool in the warehouse. To cope with all the volatility, one needs a comprehensive integration: ERP, warehouse management systems, and material flow systems. Only this will give you the flexibility, knowledge, and speed to put the right people at the right place and time. Only this integration will provide workforce- and capacity recommendations, fact-based forecasts, and an AI-based learning approach.

The Missing Link

There is a massive gap between the comprehensive, bulky suites and the home-grown spreadsheet systems. Usually, data is manually transferred back and forth between the two, requiring lots of human intelligence and experience. In addition, the workflow is based on manual steps: The personnel-planning team sends emails with planning spreadsheets to the operations manager, who pass them on to the supervisors. If the latter discover sick leaves or other incidents, they send emails to the operations management or the personnel-planning team. Similar information is transferred around the warehouse several times a day.

So we learned that there is a missing link between the "big suites" and the spreadsheet solutions. We need something that handles the VUCA warehouse better by flexibly and quickly reacting to changes.