If you’re a warehouse operations manager, Alex Ramirez feels your pain.
A longtime supply chain technology executive, Ramirez has borne witness to a flurry of automation activity, as companies develop new software and hardware products aimed at helping clients speed up manual processes and manage spiraling e-commerce demands and consumer expectations.
As beneficial as these solutions may be, they have also created headaches for warehouse operations managers charged with overseeing multiple systems, often with different rules and interfaces. “The proliferation, the cacophony has created in the warehouse the need for orchestration,” he said.
So in 2018, Ramirez and his colleague Reas Macken decided to co-found a startup, CognitOps, that would ease the burden on managers while driving efficiencies for customers.
“Our vision is to automate warehouse management and help people make better decisions,” said Ramirez, whose previous experience includes serving as CEO of Reddwerks, a warehouse execution software company that was eventually acquired by Dematic.
Just as an operating system controls the functioning on a computer, he elaborated, warehouses need an operating system to unify an increasingly complex and fragmented supply chain environment.
A brain in the cloud
In keeping with the founders’ desire for streamlined processes, CognitOps doesn’t require integration. The cloud-based application simply plugs into existing systems, controlling everything that exists inside a warehouse — “anything that exchanges ones and zeros,” as Ramirez puts it.
Par for the course in supply chain tech, the company’s software not only collects data but also transforms the information into insights and recommendations, helping managers understand what is happening holistically and in real time: e.g., what orders need to be released and how to balance labor and best position inventory.
“Think of CognitOps as the brain currently sitting in the cloud,” Ramirez said.
That vision, and the team behind it, sold investors who participated in a $3 million seed round CognitOps announced on June 16. Chicago Ventures led the round, with Schematic Ventures, CEAS Investments and Churton Ventures participating.
The team will use the funding to build out the next wave of product, Ramirez said, extending a metaphor: “We built a brain for the building. Now it’s time for the arms and legs.” The new solution (code name “Execute”) will expand into the actual decision-making process, automatically taking action on recommendations through workflows, voice solutions and even robotics.
One example of how CognitOps benefits customers — so far, the team is only releasing the name of one customer, Sephora, the health and beauty conglomerate — is very much of the moment. The startup has enabled the ability to track labor moves, allowing operators to manage contact tracing during the coronavirus pandemic.
“So when we give recommendations on where to move people,” Ramirez said, “we’re keeping track of who they come in contact with,” in the event there is an incident and contact tracing is required.
When Execute comes online, CognitOps will be able to go one step further and direct the work in a way that takes into account work density or congestion in, say, a pick aisle, eventually reducing the need for contact tracing.
Warehouse operators today lack precision staffing, Ramirez explained, and often improperly staff their buildings. CognitOps aims to rightsize the number of people, and ensure their physical distribution in the building minimizes the opportunity for infection.
In addition to the new funding, CognitOps has added a chief revenue officer in Roger Counihan, the brother of Schematic Ventures partner Julian Counihan. Roger joins CognitOps from Fortna Inc, where he was vice president of sales.
CognitOps currently employs 11 people and plans to double its headcount in 2020.