by Thomas Wailgum

WIRELESS – Five Steps to a Successful Wireless Rollout

Feb 01, 20073 mins
IT Leadership

Do Your Homework

Before Dorfman Pacific project team members made any changes to warehouse operations and before they contacted any vendors, they researched everything about how the warehouse operated—how goods were received, replenished, picked, packed and shipped. They also examined the business processes that supported the operations in the warehouse distribution center. The project team then used that data to determine what the ROI on a new wireless warehouse would have to be to justify the expense. The team also hired a company to conduct a radio frequency study to see how the wireless signals would play in the facility and to determine in which areas of its 275,000-square-foot warehouse and in which job functions wireless technologies would work best and have the most ROI.

Sell the Project

Since Dorfman Pacific executives wanted to turn their warehouse operations “upside down,” gaining the support of the warehouse personnel was critical. It’s important to “sell the project to the warehouse employees and then have them take responsibility for designing processes and training as the project moves forward,” Dulle says.

The project team set up a series of sessions designed to obtain employee buy-in by discussing how things worked in the warehouse, where the employees saw problems and opportunities in the environment, and whether they had ideas for improving operations without adding headcount. Then, Dulle says, a second set of sessions was held where executives described to workers how a wireless warehouse would address the issues and opportunities. “These were open discussions where the employees could voice their concerns with not only the technology but how the processes would change,” Dulle says.

Make the Training Useful

The week before the go-live date in July 2005, Dulle says warehouse personnel inventoried the entire facility using the new wireless equipment (scanners and mobile devices) and warehouse management system. “This alone produced the biggest benefit,” he says, because “it gave the employees a significant amount of time on the equipment prior to processing customer orders” in a live environment. Everyone “got some intensive, hands on training,” Dulle says.

Determine How It Will Affect Your Customers

Dorfman Pacific has two dissimilar customer bases (Mom-and-Pop stores and big-box retailers), so it was crucial to understand how the wirelessly enabled distribution and logistics procedures would affect each base. Dulle says the company quickly learned that “the distribution process for a big-box chain store is different than that used for a Mom-and-Pop,” and that they had to readjust the warehouse application to account for the difference. That also meant pushing the go-live date from March to July.

Just Go for It

Both Dulle and CEO Douglass Highsmith say that even with a delay in the launch of the new warehouse systems and processes, they probably could have used more time to make sure everything was perfect. “But there comes a certain point and time when you’ve just got to go,” Dulle says. All the hard work they had done in advance—designing a robust, fast network, understanding the warehouse operations and preparing the workers for the new environment—gave him and others confidence that it would work.