Warehouse employee using handheld technology implemented to improve warehouse operations.

Zebra’s Warehouse Maturity Model: 5 Stages to Improving Operations

Every business in the manufacturing and warehousing industries today faces a number of challenges. Customer expectations for faster order turnaround are rising. Meanwhile, delays related to supply chain disruptions are ongoing. Warehouses are storing more SKUs than ever yet running out of physical space. Moreover, labor markets are always tightening due to increasing labor costs. For most companies, improving warehouse operations through modernization is at least part of the answer to these challenges.

With the right technology solutions, you can automate your processes, get better visibility into inventory, and streamline workflows. As a result, you can boost accuracy, reduce errors, and improve warehouse efficiency in practically every aspect of your warehouse management process.

But that doesn’t mean there’s one set of hardware or software solutions that fits every warehouse work environment. Rather, every task is at a different point in the modernization journey. So, each organization needs a plan that is tailored to where they are today. It must put solutions in place where they make the most significant effect without disrupting operations. 

That’s the goal of Warehouse Maturity Model by Zebra Technologies.

Zebra’s Warehouse Maturity Model is a five-stage approach that breaks modernization down into manageable phases. It helps warehouse leaders improve their processes based on the state of their operations today.

We’ve created a series of articles to guide you through this approach. Each article introduces one phase of the modernization journey. Below, we provide information on Stage 1. In addition to that, see the bottom of this page for links to the articles that cover Stages 2 through 4.

Stage 1 of Warehouse Maturity Model: Gain Basic Control of Business Operations

Any well-conceived building project begins with the foundation. You may have your eye on the finishing touches even as your blueprint is being drafted. However, it pays to focus on the basics when you’re getting started.

The same is true when you’re setting out to create a sustainable and scalable warehouse management system. If you take too many shortcuts before a solid foundation is in place, other parts of your operation will likely fail.

Maximize Visibility of Your Foundational Operations

Stage 1 of Zebra’s Warehouse Maturity Model focuses on gaining control of the essential workflows that define your basic activities. That means taking a careful look at all your processes to glean meaningful insights:

  • Discover where siloed workflows are affecting performance and wasting valuable time and resources.
  • Determine if slow, error-prone processes are affecting the ability to efficiently meet KPIs.
  • Identify where outdated technology may be leading to inaccuracy or compounding inefficiencies, lowering the quality of your operations.
  • Consider if you have the tools you need for effective inventory management.
  • Analyze device security to discover where your business may be exposed to unnecessary risks.
  • Evaluate the tools and processes you used to track, manage, and update devices.

The strategy you execute because of this initial focus on the basics may not be super flashy. Nonetheless, it will lay the foundation for future modernization. Warehouse processes are highly interdependent. Therefore, failing to address the basics first could undermine your ROI when you eventually do implement innovative new technology.

As an example, consider the effect of something as simple as a workflow that is impacted by inaccurate barcode scanning. Maybe the scanner struggles with damaged barcode labels on products, cases, or pellets. Or perhaps it doesn’t have the range needed to scan consistently at a distance.

Deploying a time-saving automation solution downstream of the slow, defective manual scanner won’t make much impact on your overall operation. Your staff will still need to manually scan and rescan items. Thus, this will lead to a bottleneck that reduces efficiency before packages even reach the new technology.

Involve Your Stakeholders

One of the keys to Stage 1 of the Warehouse Maturity Model is to bring multiple stakeholders to the table. You allow them to collaborate on your modernization planning. There are some basics your group should consider, such as:

  • Identify where different workflows might benefit from various technologies. Are outdated tools impacting efficiency?
  • Look into how enhanced mobility might impact different areas of your operation. Will linking employees to data while they’re on the go improve productivity?
  • Evaluate existing data capture tools. Are they efficient?
  • Determine how many different devices and operating systems your workers need to master. Will consolidation make training and operations easier?
  • Evaluate the tools and processes your IT team uses to manage devices. Do you need to implement mobile device management (MDM) tools?
  • Look at every device as a potential security risk. How exposed is your business?

Identify the Right Steps Forward

It’s tempting to measure the maturity of a warehouse by looking at its usage of innovative technologies. Modernizing basic data capture, analysis, and distribution workflows often makes the biggest improvement on picking, packing, receiving, and other warehouse operations.

Therefore, it may turn out that Stage 1 of your Warehouse Maturity journey begins simply by modernizing your devices. It may require you to upgrade your handheld barcode scanners to improve data capture rates.

Alternatively, you could deploy mobile computers and printers to reduce the number of steps employees must take. Or, you may implement a Mobile Device Management system that lessens the workload on your IT team and facilitates security update deployment.

Starting small with the basics can deliver long-lasting effects, no matter how big your warehouse operation is. It’s an approach that usually requires minimal up-front investment. Nonetheless, it often delivers immediate ROI. Lastly, it will set you up with a strong foundation when you’re ready for the next stage of the Warehouse Maturity Model.

Improve Warehouse Operations with Zebra’s Warehouse Maturity Model

Learn more about Zebra’s Warehouse Maturity Model: