The good news for the warehouse industry is that most of the executives in it know their businesses need to adapt to the changing marketplace. With a large and growing focus on e-commerce, the ability to get the job done as quickly and accurately as possible is what differentiates any company from its competitors. To that end, many now see the need to start investing more heavily in various types of logistics technology that increase workplace efficiency, including warehouse management systems software.

In fact, investments in WMS platforms and similar programs have exploded in the past few years, as companies increasingly recognize the need to shift their strategies for getting holistic views of their operations, according to the latest Annual Warehouse and Distribution Center Equipment Survey from Peerless Research Group. Today, only about 16 percent of logistics companies say they're going to wait and see how the economy moves forward before they invest in new technologies, down from about 1 in 5 just last year.

Where will that money go?
Thirty-five percent of companies are going forward with investment plans, up from 28 percent last year and just 19 percent in 2013, the poll found. And while nearly two-thirds say they're going to buy the latest materials handling equipment – with nearly 60 percent likewise saying they plan to buy forklifts – almost 3 in 5 say WMS is a priority. That's up from less than half a year ago and the highest share of companies with plans for WMS investments seen in the last four years.

"To see that kind of bump up in technology information systems plans is an important trend line that bears watching," said Judd Aschenbrand, director of research of Peerless Media's PRG.

How to implement the most effective WMS plans
Of course, much of the data companies cultivate from their normal operations via WMS platforms is only going to be as good as the devices that collect it. It's vital for logistics companies to make sure the devices they use to scan items into and out of inventory are as accurate as possible. That effort can start with an investment that updates them to the latest technologies, according to a Logistics Management interview with Cognex senior vice president and senior fellow Bill Silver. Over time, traditional laser scanners simply will not match the needs of logistics operations as they transition to new WMS.

Many warehouses seem prepared for all aspects of the new rounds of investment this year, and that's likely to drive the whole industry forward not just in 2017, but beyond, according to new analysis from Zion Market Research. While the global market for WMS platforms came to only about $1.37 billion last year, that number should grow to $3.04 billion by 2022. That amounts to a compound annual growth rate of a little more than 14 percent. This trend underscores the need to adapt as soon as possible.

Of course, any company working toward a new WMS investment should examine all their options and find the one that will work best not only with their expansion efforts but when integrating the data they've collected from years of effort with legacy systems. Being able to identify weaknesses in existing processes may be as important to a more efficient operation as any future plans.