Pallets on shelves in a warehouse.
Photo: Chuttersnap via Unsplash

Warehouse software tackles the supply chain crisis

Protocol Enterprise

Hello and welcome to Protocol Enterprise! Today: how warehouse operators in the middle of a supply chain crisis are turning to enterprise software, AWS moves a security event out of Texas, and which enterprise tech companies received new funding in the past week.

Spin up

Security alerts are theoretically useful for operations teams, but they’re starting to become overwhelming, according to new research from Orca Security. Among IT professionals surveyed, 59% said they receive more than 500 cloud security alerts a day, and 55% acknowledged that they know they’re missing critical alerts on a regular basis.

Now where did I put that …

The pandemic had a ripple effect on the supply chain: Demand for packaged goods soared while supply was constrained by factory shutdowns, shipping costs quadrupled, hundreds of thousands of containers were stranded and in warehouses, vacancy rates dipped below 4% while rents rose.

In response, enterprises are racing to use warehouse management systems and emerging technologies like AI, machine learning and robotics to modernize their warehouses. But to solve warehouses’ most pressing problems, from lack of space and labor shortages to market gaps and outdated software, enterprises will need to drastically change the way they view and operate their warehouses.

Warehouse management systems were designed to help enterprises manage operational challenges, but there are still limitations.

  • Low adoption in certain markets and geographies means there’s a learning curve before companies start to reap the benefits of their warehouse systems, and cloud infrastructure challenges and integration issues come along with any major IT project.
  • For small to midsize enterprises, for example, warehouse systems tend to be fairly lightweight and have less functionality, said Dwight Klappich, VP analyst at Gartner.
  • Even in markets and geographies where warehouse managers have adopted new software, it’s not their core area of expertise.
  • “In some cases, even though there's interest, there's considerations and constraints that prevent a customer — whether it's legal, regulatory or others — from going and migrating to cloud,” said Rizwan Butt, product management director at Blue Yonder.

When selecting a warehouse management system, companies need to decide between large full-suite vendors and companies that live and breathe the problem.

  • On the lower end of the market, it's common for enterprises to just select a service that fits with their already existing ERP system. “What we would normally say is that if you have a commitment to a suite — Microsoft, Oracle, SAP S/4HANA — there's a good reason for you to at least short list your suite vendor’s [service] if they have one,” said Klappich.
  • But the downside of relying on a vendor with a broad suite of services is that while it may have enough functionality for most customers, that’s not enough for companies with more complex warehouses, Klappich said.
  • That’s where supply-chain-specific vendors like Blue Yonder come into play. These vendors often service the customers with the most complex supply chains. “That's why they tend to have deeper functionality: That's what they do — they live and breathe this 24 by seven.”
  • For small to medium-sized enterprises, vendor selection requires a different calculus because leading solutions like SAP and Blue Yonder are too cost prohibitive. That gap has left room for companies like ShipHero, which helps companies outsource their warehouse operations.
  • For some companies, the answer to the best-in-breed versus suite vendor question is that sometimes you need both. As an example, a global food and beverage company that Klappich works with uses a three-tiered vendor strategy.

Regardless of which warehouse system customers use, the real challenge is using that technology to tackle the unsolved problems of storage and labor.

  • To address storage issues, companies can look to AI and machine learning to move inventory out faster so it doesn’t take up extra space. SAP, for example, uses data to speed up the flow of inventory by moving high-volume production to locations that are easier to pick.
  • Robotics and automation are also key components of operating warehouses effectively when fewer workers are available than needed. “We’ve got to automate because there's a people shortage, whether it's driving a truck or working a warehouse or driving a forklift,” said SAP’s MacClaren.
  • Other technologies that could make warehouses faster and more resilient, such as the Internet of Things and computer vision, may be further off but still hold promise.
  • Blue Yonder, for one, has been eyeing use cases for IoT in areas such as yard management to tell a worker exactly what products are on a forklift or truck as it drives by, for example. Panasonic’s acquisition of Blue Yonder last September gives the company a competitive advantage in this area too.

SAP and Blue Yonder are confident that emerging technologies can solve warehouses’ challenges. The supply chain crisis is far from over, so warehouses that don’t adopt sophisticated management technologies might find themselves falling behind.

— Aisha Counts (email | twitter)

A MESSAGE FROM UPWORK

Seeking to triple its employee base, Whisk, a fully remote team, sought diverse talent from a wide variety of regions through Upwork, a work marketplace that connects businesses with independent professionals and agencies around the globe.

Learn more

AWS moves security event from Texas to Boston

AWS has canceled its re:Inforce conference in Texas for the third straight year, but the event is shipping up to Boston this time instead.

The conference, which focuses on cloud security, compliance, identity and privacy, is now set for July 26-27 in Boston, where AWS held the 2019 inaugural gathering.

There was no word from AWS on whether Texas’ political and cultural wars were a factor in its decision to bypass the state, which is increasingly becoming a hub for new tech jobs even while its policies seemingly run contrary to the values of tech companies. Amazon is among critics assailing Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s February directive requiring the state’s Department of Family and Protective Services to investigate certain gender-affirming treatments for transgender youth as alleged “child abuse.”

The directive has been temporarily blocked pending a court review. Texas’ policy against vaccine mandates, its ban against most abortions and a battle over critical race theory also have been hot-button issues for the state.

AWS had planned to hold re:Inforce in Houston in 2020 and 2021 as well. After calling off the 2020 conference altogether due to the coronavirus pandemic, AWS canceled last year’s in-person event — citing an elevated COVID-19 threat level — and held a free, virtual version instead.

— Donna Goodison (email | twitter)

Financial corner

Ramp was valued at $8.1 billion after raising $750 million for its expense reporting software.

Staffbase hit a $1.1 billion valuation after raising $115 million for its internal communications platform.

SentinelOne bought Attivo for $616.5 million to increase its capabilities in AI-powered threat detection.

CommerceIQ was valued at over $1 billion after raising $115 million to automate ecommerce operations.

Glia reached a $1 billion valuation for its AI-based CRM after raising $45 million.

Akeneo raised $135 million for its product information management solutions.

— Aisha Counts


Around the enterprise

The Biden administration issued a warning that despite the relative lack of cyberattacks against U.S. businesses launched in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine so far, new intelligence points to a coming wave of attempts.

Thoma Bravo bought Anaplan for $10.7 billion in a leveraged buyout as SaaS stocks continue to swoon coming off their pandemic highs.

Weeks after Nvidia was hacked by a ransomware group, Microsoft said it was looking into the possible breach of its own systems by the same group.

Could AI allow us to chat with our pets? The Wall Street Journal took a fascinating look at AI-powered research into animal sounds and communication.

A MESSAGE FROM UPWORK

Whisk isn’t alone in unlocking the global marketplace to find the right types of employees to support its business goals. More than three-quarters of U.S. companies have used remote freelancers, according to research from Upwork, and more than a quarter of businesses plan to go fully remote in the next five years.

Learn more

Thanks for reading — see you tomorrow!

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