Indigo’s Chief Technology Officer, Carl Green, shares his vision for Indigo’s software development as the company enters its fifth decade as a WMS (warehouse management software) solution provider.
We asked Carl to outline what he thought were the key new developments that existing Indigo WMS users, plus the wider industry, should be on the lookout for. In this interview, he also explains how Indigo’s software development approach is evolving, to take advantage of some of the latest innovations.
What new warehouse technology can users expect in 2020?
#1 Drones are rapidly becoming established as a key technology for industrial applications. Their affordable entry cost means they are especially suited to midrange businesses, who find some of the other forms of automation cost prohibitive. In the warehouse, thanks to Internet of Things connectivity, they can be implemented to automate and optimise mundane tasks, like stock auditing and physical inventory checks.
During 2020 and into the coming decade, we expect drones to be widely used to support existing warehouse operatives undertaking repetitive activities. Compared with other forms of automation like AGVs, drones do not require an existing warehouse to be specially adapted, because they can physically navigate the warehouse without being on the floor. They can significantly increase process accuracy and have a degree of self awareness, which is an important health and safety consideration.
Indigo’s goal for 2020 is to be actively working with customers to prove the benefits of using drones that are fully integrated with Indigo WMS in their warehouses. We are already working on feasibility studies with UK based technology partners and our aim is to launch a solution that can be used globally. As with most IoT applications, drones allow actions to be processed in a very repeatable way. For instance, when using a drone for stock counts, the process can achieve a much higher degree of accuracy, whereas with manual workers, the accuracy would deteriorate over time as they become tired and bored. Drones help to remove the degrees of error that are inevitable in low level monotonous jobs and this means people can be reallocated to do more effective things instead.
How is Indigo helping to simplify more complex supply chains?
The fact that supply chains are getting longer and more complex is not news, but what is new, is the opportunity that #2 serverless computing and a serverless WMS solution architecture, presents to manage that complexity more easily. For instance, in order for manufacturers to remain as competitive as possible, they need to be able to integrate with different suppliers rapidly, adding organisations into their supply chain ecosystems swiftly to benefit from cost and delivery savings.
Using a serverless architecture means new suppliers can be onboarded very quickly, without compromising on visibility or traceability levels which are also essential to maintain. The ease with which this can now take place means users can shorten their go-to-market timeframes, allowing them more time to focus on core business responsibilities, improving service levels and achieving operational savings.
Serverless computing also enables scalability on demand, which is essential for coping with peaks and troughs in demand. Social media events, promotions like Black Friday and seasonality, can create situations when warehouses need to increase their resources quickly, or potentially scale down after a busy period. Indigo’s future software architecture will allow them to do that very easily.
Linked to serverless computing is the idea of #3 Function As A Service (FaaS). This is a new way of offering software applications as very specific functions, rather than a monolithic software application. It is a bit like the idea of renting a car for the day from a car club whenever you need your own transport, rather than leasing a car over a fixed term. Or staying in a hotel for the night. In adopting this ‘building blocks’ approach to WMS development, Indigo will be able to make small changes to customise the functionality of solutions very quickly, without it affecting the wider system. FaaS will enable our customers to benefit from highly bespoke software design capabilities, without the costs and timeframes associated with traditional custom development.
How will future warehouse operations employ data analytics?
#4 Big data analytics has been a trend for some time, but thanks to serverless computing offerings and the public cloud, it will become more widely available to mid-range companies. By making our Indigo WMS solutions available to public cloud users and compatible with Amazon, Microsoft or Google offerings, our customers will have the ability to leverage big data analytics on a wider scale. In terms of the benefits this brings, there are two aspects to consider. Firstly, there is the potential to benchmark company performance with others in the industry and secondly, it is possible to use data trends generated within the company to improve business processes. For instance, being able to monitor routes taken by operatives around the warehouse, it is possible to see how they might be wasting time and to then suggest route optimisation improvements.
How are you satisfying the long term needs of retailers and e-commerce specialists?
We are enabling Indigo WMS to support integrated #5 wave pick processing, with modules live in early 2020. This method of picking is very efficient because it allows warehouse management to very carefully control order processing according to set criteria. It is especially useful for high volume environments and warehouses where operations need fine tuning to improve customer satisfaction levels. For instance, short interval ‘waves’ can be created for next day deliveries, all orders placed by a certain customer group, or all orders valued over £100 for an e-commerce retailer. In addition to being able to group orders according to set criteria, users can have full traceability during the processing of the wave, at each end of the process. Linked to this is the capability to support complex configurations for OEM manufacturers, e.g. in the automotive industries. All these new features are coming in 2020.
Is Indigo adopting agile methodologies for software development?
Agility is something we’ve been talking about for some time, usually in context of our customers becoming more #6 agile when it comes to anticipating and responding to their customers’ needs. Indigo is embracing the agile project management approach too, within our own development teams, by adopting an agile delivery mechanism as a company. This shift towards agile and ‘DevOps’ will enable us to onboard new technologies and processes more rapidly, with a view to being able to launch new software products at a faster rate. Our emphasis will move away from traditional waterfall project management and moving towards iterative software developments and the availability of MVP (minimum viable product). This means customers can begin using our solutions sooner and also have the advantage of being involved with further enhancing them directly too. It is effectively a win-win for all of us.
How will these new technologies improve Indigo customers’ warehouse operations?
From experience, when SMEs and midrange companies implement new technology to improve their warehouse operations, the benefits tend to be noticed more quickly than with larger organisations. They tend to have fewer resources available and small improvements will make a big difference in a short timeframe, whereas in larger warehouses, they are less obvious because they tend to have more resources in the first place. Indigo will continue to take a very collaborative approach when working with customers, looking in each case at how technology can help to solve their problems. We want to have a long term partnership with companies, listening carefully to what their issues are and delivering cost effective products that meet their real needs.
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