Logistics Manager Analysis; Master of one or jack of all trades?

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As supply chains evolve, doing one thing really well is no longer an option and road transport operators are facing increasing pressure to run their businesses more effectively. However, doing it all is no longer a challenge as Transport Management Solutions now offer more bang for your buck than ever before. Maria Highland looks at what’s on offer… 

Historically, Transport Management Systems (TMS) centralise core business functions such as freight procurement, transport execution and planning. “The sector has historically been dominated by tracking and telematics solutions and TMS has been associated with large companies with big budgets,” says Mandata Group chief executive, Chris Rigg.

“But that is changing at an incredible pace as transport operators look for scalable solutions that help them run more of their business processes,” continues Rigg. “Increasing operating costs, customer expectation, regulations and market competition mean that transport operators need to invest in software solutions that allow them to take more control of their businesses, driving increased visibility and productivity.”

The good news is that the benefits of TMS don’t just end on the road. They extend to the warehouse and beyond, stretching across the whole supply chain. Likewise, TMS have become more accessible and many providers now offer a choice of TMS solutions designed to cater to the needs of transport operators of all sizes and to suit all budgets.

On the road, TMS can optimise truck loads to enable maximum utilisation of transport and in the warehouse, TMS enable warehouse labour and operations to be planned around the arrival of transports, creating consistently high levels of throughput into and out of the warehouse to improve efficiency.

But before any of this can be achieved, first and foremost, “it all starts with proper planning,” says Transporeon. “Within the TMS you organise the in – and outbound transports. In combination with a slot management system, you then create the bridge to the warehouse.

“After the planning is done, it starts with real-time information in order to adjust and ensure the best possible utilisation of all resources. It is also important to align all the activities with the carriers,” says Transporeon. “Smooth operations on the shipper’s side can only be guaranteed if they are synchronised with all of the carrier’s activities.”

The key to this is to combine real-time visibility and execution, says Transporeon. “While dock scheduling solutions have been around for years, helping increase transparency while at the same time lowering waiting times, the true benefits can only be leveraged if the static planning is enhanced with real-time information about the estimated time of arrival of each truck, not just for a few of them.”

Smart algorithms can then help optimise yard operations and asset utilisation, reducing wait times and the amount of time trucks spend idle. As an added bonus, this also reduces costs as the chances of incurring demurrage costs is reduced, points out Transporeon.

Enriching your TMS with real-time visibility can help enhance not only transport operations, but create added value across the entire supply chain. For example, some vendors offer electronic proof of delivery (ePOD), enabled by real-time visibility, with on-screen signatures and upload of photographic evidence. “It’s an easier and more convenient way for drivers to interact with goods recipients, replacing delayed, slow, expensive, and error-prone paperwork. The process is offering revision-proof electronic signatures and photographic evidence allowing customers to pay bills promptly, improving cash flow and heavily speeding up the Freight Invoice Process,” explains Transporeon.

Combining forces: integrating your TMS with other software platforms

Introducing additional technology such as real-time visibility into your TMS has its benefits, but why end there? Integrating TMS with other software platforms such as WMS or ERP is quickly becoming the norm as vendors aim to cater to market demand for efficient and connected supply chains, which means striving towards a holistic overview of operations.

“The ability for operators to see one view of their operation has always been fundamental to the development of all the TMS solutions,” says Rigg, “ensuring integration between systems and processes leads to greater efficiency, visibility and control for haulage operators from order to execution and invoice.”

“TMS builds on this and collaboration will be a key theme moving forward,” continues Rigg. With next generation TMS solutions, “systems and processes are connected, and information flows seamlessly, reducing unnecessary duplication and reliance on manual/paper-based processes. Systems are accessed wherever and whenever you need and you’re able to collaborate closely with partners to manage customer expectations.”

Therefore, creating a holistic overview of operations is crucial to a successful supply chain, “which is why ERP and WMS integration are standard functionalities that every TMS provider is covering,” says Transporeon. “Ideally, a TMS can act as an integration layer on top of an arbitrary amount of state of the art and legacy IT systems.”

“Buying the right third-party components which can be added to the solution landscape by using seamless integration technology (APIs) is one of the most important ways in which supply chain operators are currently future-proofing their systems to ensure they can harness the latest technologies and applications, to stay ahead of the competition,” says BluJay Solutions senior solutions consultant, Ron Verhagen.

Integrating with other platforms is not the only perk of TMS these days, more advanced TMS are connecting businesses with customers and sub-contractors.

“Our customers have told us that they need to be able to work more effectively with their customers and subcontractors.  They also need help to win new work and to expand their own supply chains efficiently to get work done when they do not have capacity in their own fleet,” says Mandata Group CRO, Steve Spark

To address this market need, Mandata Group plans to integrate the job exchange functionality of Returnloads.net – a real-time load matching system. This will “allow Mandata TMS customers who want to find new suppliers will be able to publish loads quickly and easily on Returnloads.net. If they already subscribe to the platform to find new work, then they can easily bring the new work back into TMS to get the job done, while providing real time updates back to their customers through in Returnloads.net,” says Spark.

Mandata also launched the Subbie Portal last year, which gives “customers the ability to allocate loads to members of their existing supply chain who are not users of Mandata TMS themselves. Sub-contractors can provide real time job updates, ETA’s and POD’s straight back into Mandata TMS, removing the long-standing problem of a lack of visibility on loads once they get handed over to a sub-contractor,” explains Spark.

This enables hauliers to “work in a more integrated way with their existing supply chain network whilst expanding their network by finding new sub-contractor partners. We are basically giving our TMS customers the ability to create their own networks,” adds Rigg.

Switching up your system

When it comes to thinking about adopting a TMS solution, switching vendors or looking to enhance your existing TMS offering, it is not a “one-size fits all” scenario. There are various factors and options to consider.

Transporeon points out that while some carriers decide on multiple systems to cover their requirements, others try to get the most out of one system provided by one vendor. “We see a trend that more and more shippers want to just use one system; that’s why all the providers currently tried to provide as much functionality as possible either via extending their functionality or partnering with other providers to offer the whole suite,” says Transporeon.

Switching up your system usually starts with an evaluation process to gauge market acceptance and how the solution will perform. “This is quite important in order to set the right focus and get an understanding about key functionalities,” explains Transporeon. “Beside of the functions and features it’s vital to describe the level of support, guidance and consulting that is needed by a potential vendor and also the acceptance of a solution in the market.” This is one of the key factors for a successful implementation.

The carrier network must also be taken into consideration. “While there are a lot of vendors providing full TMS functionalities or only parts of it,” points out Transporeon, “some of them might not be giving enough attention to one highly important aspect of a TMS implementation: which is bringing the carriers on board.” Likewise, carrier connectivity and the size of the carrier network is another important aspect to consider – especially if you are considering a mix of systems, ensuring everything is seamlessly connected is crucial for successful operations.

Taking the plunge

Once a decision has been made, a migration or system integration comes next. Again, there is not a “one size fits all” approach when it comes to switching suppliers. Thus, it is beneficial to differentiate between out-of-the-box integrations, standardised API integration, and custom integrations, says Transporeon. “The chosen path depends upon the customer’s existing infrastructure & capabilities.”

Transporeon explains that “out-of-the-box integrations are ready for multi-tenant cloud-TMS solutions as well as selected single-tenant solutions (e.g. SAP via standard-plugin). This cuts down required time/resources significantly.”

Then, “standardised API integration is available for all customers who have an ERP/TMS infrastructure that can easily communicate with modern APIs (primarily REST, but also SOAP). Hence only requiring simple integration efforts.” Any “custom integrations for single-tenant ERP/TMS solutions depend on the respective customer-setup.”

It’s important to look also at the whole process from a broader perspective. “A successful TMS implementation is not just an IT project, but rather a change that affects a large part of the internal organisation as well as the external ecosystem, especially the carriers,” says Transporeon. “It is important to invest time to check and challenge what is exactly needed so you don’t migrate legacy issues into the new world.”

Likewise, many businesses with legacy IT-infrastructure and complex structures have processes that that go beyond transport management and will include freight procurement, warehouse-management, customer service and so on. To navigate this level of complexity, it is crucial to include all areas of expertise and needed resources within project teams.

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