Practical Benefits of a Warehouse Execution System

August 11, 2022 - Emily Newton

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Efficient warehouse management has become much more challenging over the past few years, due to changing market conditions and new supply chain disruptions. Software like a warehouse execution system (WES) can help facilitate good warehouse management.

In practice, the technology makes it easier for managers to coordinate labor and equipment dynamically in response to changing warehouse conditions. 

These are the key benefits of a WES, plus how the technology is likely to evolve over the next few years.

What Is a Warehouse Execution System?

A warehouse execution system (WES) is a software platform that helps to manage, optimize and schedule physical work processes in a warehouse — including tasks like picking, packaging, shipping and inventory management. 

The modern WES is a hybrid solution that combines the functionality of two key warehouse management solutions — the warehouse control system (WCS) and the warehouse management system (WMS). These two systems are both important to effective warehouse management but have traditionally filled two distinct roles when it comes to supporting managers and executive staff.

Warehouse Control and Warehouse Management

Warehouse management systems are solutions that help businesses manage broad, high-level warehouse processes — like labor and stock management. These systems enable managers to more effectively keep track of the big picture of warehouse operations, making it easier to avoid stockouts and communicate with warehouse stakeholders about long-term business goals. 

Implementation of a WMS can help streamline supply chain operations, improve customer service and optimize warehouse space utilization. Like other warehouse software, the WMS is primarily adopted when warehouses want to save time and increase warehouse productivity.

Warehouse control systems, as their name suggests, directly control warehouse systems (or provide managers with specific, real-time information on these systems). 

In practice, they manage the flow of physical goods, like cartons, items and pallets, as they travel along or through automated warehouse equipment — generally, conveyor belts, sorters, carousels and de-casing lines. By providing a real-time window into warehouse operations, they can also help managers identify process bottlenecks, inefficiencies and errors that may be slowing down fulfillment.

These systems are closer to the ground level of warehouse operations, and ensure that the warehouse’s automated technology functions smoothly. Benefits of a WCS include streamlined collaboration between human workers and automated systems, improved visibility into automated warehouse systems and greater storage efficiency.

WES vs WMS and WCS

A warehouse execution system provides a kind of middle-ground between a WMS and WCS — both a big-picture view of warehouse operations and direct insight into the function of warehouse automation and operations.

The WES provides a kind of digital twin of the warehouse for managers,  

Some warehouses first adopt WES software by adding WMS features to existing WCS solutions. Other warehouses may find that adopting a WES solution becomes necessary after investing in modern automation solutions, as a WMS may not include features that can help managers track the function of automated warehouse equipment.

 Most warehouse execution systems help streamline operations like shipping management, picking management and inventory management. 

While WMS software is often still foundational for many warehouses’ inventory control and shipping workflows, WES solutions are increasingly important for warehouse orchestration. 

For example, a WES may use data on warehouse inventory and resource availability to drive automation, triggering certain workflows or sequences in response to changing inventory levels.

WES Limitations and the Changing Role of Execution Systems

Typically, but not always, a WES does not help managers handle certain big-picture tasks, like reporting, transportation management and picking wave management. Many WES systems also aren’t built to integrate with important business management systems — like an ERP or supply chain management tool — by default. 

Often, a WES may be combined with a WMS to provide additional visibility into warehouse processes that a WMS may not keep track of by default.

As warehouse software has become more sophisticated, the lines between these three categories have grown less distinct. Many modern WCS platforms include features that were previously only available in a WMS, and the reverse is true for modern WMS systems. 

As WES systems have become more advanced, they’ve also begun to integrate more and more features from both WMS and WCS software.

Benefits of a Warehouse Execution System

Like a WMS, the WES provides warehouse management and executive staff with information on warehouse processes that they can use to make more informed decisions or more effectively communicate with stakeholders.

And like a WCS, the WES also helps to organize resources and automated systems, making important warehouse management tasks much easier. 

The specific function of a WES can vary from business to business, but most warehouses that adopt the technology will see a few of the same core benefits.

1. Improved Management of Automated Picking Systems

Over the past few years, picking methods that offer an alternative to conventional list-based systems have become more popular. Pick-to-light systems, for example, which use light bars to direct pickers to specific SKUs, allow warehouses to eliminate picking lists and accelerate training for new pickers. 

Managing these systems can be challenging, however, and integration with existing warehouse systems is often necessary. A warehouse execution system can provide a pick-to-light system with the information it needs to function properly, ensuring that it helps to streamline picking operations.

Warehouse execution systems can also help warehouses more effectively integrate technology like mobile picking scanners, 

2. Greater Warehouse Visibility

It’s not unusual for warehouse operations to be somewhat opaque to managers without the right technology in place. A WES can help to improve warehouse visibility in several ways — including through receiving management, inventory management and mobile scanner integration. 

Information from mobile scanners, for example, can be automatically captured by the WES, providing managers with real-time updates on inventory counts as workers conduct inventory.

3. Improved Productivity and Throughput

WES features like travel optimization, mobile applications and integration with picking systems can help to streamline many different warehouse processes, providing productivity and throughput improvements throughout the facility.

A business’s WES can also help to coordinate automated systems and human workers, ensuring that both pickers and automated warehouse equipment work with — rather than against — each other.

The Future of Warehouse Management Software

The needs of warehouse managers are shifting quickly. As automation becomes more essential for effective warehouse management, WES solutions are both evolving and becoming a more common investment.

Over the next few years, WES solutions are likely to come with more features and integrations that help them bridge gaps in existing warehouse management technology stacks. 

It may become more common for a WES to offer integrations with business-level technology like an ERP, for example, helping to connect warehouse automation with high-level management solutions. 

WES solutions may also be designed to take full advantage of networked, internet-connected warehouse solutions, like IoT pick-to-light systems and networked autonomous robotics.

How a WES Can Transform Warehouse Management

The right technology can make warehouse management easier, more accurate and more efficient. Warehouse execution systems provide features common to both warehouse control and warehouse management systems. 

In practice, WES software can both streamline warehouse processes and provide managers with the information they need to make informed decisions.

As WES systems become more sophisticated, they’re likely to incorporate additional functionality from WMS and WCS, helping businesses to keep better track of warehouse operations with fewer solutions.

Revolutionized is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commision. Learn more here.


Emily Newton

Emily Newton is a technology and industrial journalist and the Editor in Chief of Revolutionized. She manages the sites publishing schedule, SEO optimization and content strategy. Emily enjoys writing and researching articles about how technology is changing every industry. When she isn't working, Emily enjoys playing video games or curling up with a good book.

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