Guest Commentary: Is Your TMS Pulling Its Weight?

Can you name all eight of Santa’s reindeer (nine, if you count Rudolf)? I did an unscientific survey of those around me and found most could only name Rudolf plus three others. Everybody seemed to remember Dancer and Prancer but most couldn’t come up with Comet and Vixen. It’s a good thing Santa remembers them all because it takes at least eight reindeer to get him off the roof and around the world in just one night. Maybe he could get started with three or four, but could he successfully complete his journey without cutting some corners?

Like Santa’s reindeer-powered conveyance, your Transportation Department has options available to get the job done. But, are you using all of the options available to do the best job possible? If you have a TMS, you’re likely using it to manage rates, select carriers, tender shipments, and to track shipments up to the point of delivery. If you’ve accomplished this much with a TMS, congratulations, you’re doing more than about 65% of all shippers.

Below are eight (one for each of Santa’s reindeer) ways you could use a TMS to improve efficiency and process, and like Ebenezer Scrooge, squeeze every last penny of cost out of your process.

1. You probably started your TMS project to manage shipping costs for your high-value freight, inbound or outbound. Drive savings across your enterprise by using your TMS to manage your transportation network, domestic and international, inbound and outbound.

2. Traditionally, shippers look to their TMS for load and route building and overlook the optimization of their entire network. Some cost saving techniques available include shipment consolidations, eliminating empty backhauls, cross-dock opportunities, zone skipping, simultaneous planning inbound and outbound shipments, what-if analysis and modeling, and managing the carbon footprint.

3. With constantly changing markets and rates, procuring and maintaining the best possible rates can be a nightmare. Your TMS can solicit spot quotes or long term bids from carriers, help you evaluate the bids, select the right carriers and convert them into contracts. It can also reach out to public load boards or to web-based services (ex. Parcel contracts) to find the best available rates.

4. If your shipments cross water or borders, you have additional data to track and documents to create, plus denied party screening and contract management to consider. Your TMS will collect the necessary information to create the import and export documents and then submit them electronically to the appropriate government agencies.

5. Every interaction within your transportation management process creates a data trail. You need visibility to this data from origin to destination. While shipment status and cost are important, don’t lose site of the decision support capabilities that your TMS offers. Perform transportation modeling, optimal carrier selection, performance management, in-transit partner collaboration, and delivery confirmation, just to mention a few. Add analytics to the process and improve your efficiency and customer satisfaction.

6. How do you manage carrier invoices? If you’re outsourcing Freight Audit & Payment, have you integrated your freight pay partner with your TMS so they have access to the most current rates and carrier information? Have you considered managing the process in-house? You can use your TMS to match pay invoices, audit, allocate and manage accruals.

7. When you have a damaged freight claim, is the claims management process integrated with the TMS to collect the data and manage the claim properly to ensure this process does not slip through the cracks?

8. Your TMS is accessible by mobile devices so you can stay in touch when you’re away from the office. Track your shipments, communicate with your carriers, confirm deliveries and continuously monitor important metrics.

In the spirit of the season, and with apologies to Clement Clarke Moore, I offer you this adaptation of the first five paragraphs of “T’was the Night Before Christmas”.

T’was the month before the Christmas season, when all through the warehouse
The forklifts were stirring, the trailers here and about.
The shipments were all queuing for their destinations with care,
In hopes that late deliveries soon would be rare.

The orders were placed all complete and double checked,
While visions of on-time pick-ups were updated and set;
And the Warehouse Manager in her sports coat, and I in my coveralls (for some reason),
Had just settled in for a long shipping season;

When out in the lot there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my office to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The sun on the lot full of shiny fifty-three foot trailers
Gave a sparkle of efficiency to the brand new eighteen wheelers,
When, what on my computer screen should appear,
But a browser and buttons, then I knew not to despair,
With a user interface, so easy and fast,
I knew in a moment it must be a TMS.

More rapid than eagles over the Internet it came,
As I clicked and selected, I called the features by name:
“Now, Optimize! Now, Rate! Now, Tender! Now, Audit and Settle!
On, Documents! On Tracking! On, Analytics and Reporting !
To the DC, to the retailer! To the start of a long haul!
Now ship away! Ship away! Ship away all!”

Peter Yost is the Director of Business Development at MercuryGate International. He has 30 years of experience in technology sales & marketing, including 10 years in the logistics industry. He is responsible for MercuryGate’s domestic and international partner ecosystem that is expanding the company’s reach into Europe, Asia and South America. Peter has a BBA in Marketing and Information Technology from Georgia Southern University.