Implementing a TMS: Choosing and maintaining your transportation management system

  • July 06, 2021
A man standing in front of a row of parked semi-trucks outside a distribution warehouse, holding a digital tablet.

With the increasingly dynamic nature of transportation markets and the growing importance of digitization, a transportation management system (TMS) is an increasingly important tool. But many find living with their TMS is a “high maintenance” relationship. Users generally fall into two categories: They either love their TMS, or they hate it. But no matter in which group they are, they must continually modify their TMS to better procure transportation and handle ongoing dynamic changes.

This fact connects to two trends that have transformed the TMS space. The first is the migration of hosting to the cloud. Gradually, TMS implementations have become cloud-based by default. What that means — in general terms — is that these systems are a little less complicated to deploy and manage than they used to be. But just because something is in the cloud doesn’t mean it’s simple.

The other trend is by far the more relevant. Back in the early 1990s, a transportation management system worked in a not-very-well-integrated part of the workflow. You'd receive orders from the enterprise resource planning (ERP) system in a package thrown over the (digital) wall. You and the TMS followed those orders: consolidation, optimization, finding carriers, tendering loads and so on. Then, you'd electronically wrap it up and send your package back over the wall to the ERP. The TMS was virtually an entirely separate part of the workflow with no further connection or awareness of the rest of the process.

Setting siloed data free allows for better integration
Fortunately, helped by the advent of the cloud, transportation management no longer works like this. Today’s TMS is an active participant in a more dynamic and much less linear workflow than in years past. For example, there are places in that workflow where you may want to call out to a GPS device, find out where your load is and trigger a recovery workflow if that’s necessary. Or maybe you’d rather connect to a freight repository hosted on another server and not rely on contract data that was input into the TMS at some indeterminate point in the past.

Today’s leading TMSs better align with partner systems (such as ERP) and other subsystems and data sources. These elements are part of a holistic transaction-to-delivery ecosystem with access to near-real-time information from the entire dataspace in the best implementations.

Unfounded security concerns slow cloud-based integration and interoperability
In the earliest days of cloud computing, in the mid-to-late 1990s, there were genuine concerns about data security. These concerns, mainly dealing with complex issues of data governance, have long been dealt with. The Today data security must comply with much more exacting standards in the modern cloud. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability (HIPAA) Act rules and Department of Defense cybersecurity guidelines are two examples. Still, in some minds, the perception that cloud-hosted TMS implementations aren’t as secure as those hosted on-premises persists. Most cloud-hosted systems are generally better firewalled and protected than many conventional deployments.

A cloud-based, well-integrated TMS is always a work in progress
Managers and executives who aren’t transportation people tend to think of a TMS as a sort of transportation black box that you can buy and connect, thereby solving all your problems. The truth is, there are many interpretations of the TMS concept with a multitude of different features and capabilities. It’s not enough to reach out to some TMS providers to see which has the better-looking demo. It’s essential to have a solid grasp of the variables your organization needs to measure and the areas where you need the most assistance. Be sure the TMS you select is the one most suited to bring relief where you need it most.

And here’s something even more critical. Implementing a TMS so that it becomes an integral part of the holistic ecosystem you’ve envisioned doesn’t take care of itself. You’ll need to invest in the right kind of support by hiring and training staff or seeking a qualified service provider. You also need to recognize that changes in your business generally, and your transportation operations specifically, will require your TMS to periodically evolve. That’s if you expect your TMS to continue delivering the same value in year three as it did on day one.

— By Roy Ananny

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