Middleware has been pitched as an overarching solution within the warehouse for some time, but the reality is somewhat different. As an add-on to an ERP system it does offer some improvements but return on investment is low when compared to the wide-ranging solutions a WMS system can provide.

So, what can’t middleware do to help your facility and what are the common issues that need to be overcome? We go into more detail below.

The shortfalls of ERP compatibility

Despite ERP systems proving the backbone for many warehouse facilities, the limitations of the software mean it lacks the functionality to facilitate the smooth running of many areas. This is a rule that applies to organisations of almost every size. Whether the requirements entail rapid through put for high quantity despatches, or even for small companies without half as much infrastructure, it soon becomes apparent that there are limitations to the level of support an ERP system can provide.

In many cases this leads to businesses searching for an alternative solution which tends to be either a warehouse management system (WMS) running concurrently on a different platform, or by attempting to use a middleware product. Middleware is seen as a cheaper alternative to investing in a WMS but many find that this is quickly reflected in the low level of performance they receive due to its extremely limited functionality.

Limited control

What should be understood before making a financial commitment in middleware is that although it is promoted as a warehouse management tool, the scope of its performance is far less impressive compared to a WMS. The design of a WMS enables staff and management to maximise efficiency within the warehouse due to the live nature of the system which works in tandem with processes as they are being undertaken.

When middleware is in use the ERP system remains the dominant platform in control of procedures across the facility. Where a WMS can be updated immediately and reflect those changes on the system, the ERP doesn’t offer the same detail. Rather, the goods being dealt with on the floor have to be manually recorded before being passed onto another member of staff to enter it into the system. This information only becomes ‘live’ once it has been entered, which means the system is never able to accurately reflect stock levels in their present state, which then impacts on storage management.

Middleware only provides half the answer

Even when using middleware with an ERP system there is a limit to the amount of real-time information that can be captured. Rather than providing an intelligent solution that can highlight and correct any errors, its limited functionality means staff are left to update the system themselves without the system being able to offer much assistance. While it does improve the interaction between staff on the floor and the system, middleware will only be suitable in a very limited number of situations.

While the introduction of middleware can offer some improvements the reality of what it can provide only tends to come to light after being purchased. This can then lead to it being modified in order for it meet requirements, which is often costly and time consuming. Another problem this creates is the ability to upgrade the customised version in the future, which while possible, will require another heavy financial investment. What warehouses are then left with is a software solution that costs more but performs way below the level of a WMS.

There are other issues that middleware’s reliance on an ERP system struggles to cope with, such as the long time delays that can last anywhere between half-a-minute and a minute, while the response time of a WMS can be as little as a second. And if the ERP system goes down for any reason, this will also mean the entire facility is down, middleware or not.