Managing logistics can’t happen in a vacuum; you need visibility and awareness of internal and external partners, systems and resources. The problem is that integration and visibility are a big hurdle for most transportation management systems (TMS). According to the Transportation Planning and Execution Benchmark Study by American Shipper, for example, 61 percent of respondents said the biggest challenge of their TMS was system connectivity.
Rethinking Integrations and TMS
Building tight integrations between your TMS, internal systems and external partners leads to better visibility and collaboration throughout your supply chain. Rather than focusing on the day-to-day details of your operations, planners can be more strategic and creative with how they manage your logistics. It also gives your customers better insight into opportunities for efficiency and cost savings.
Solid and fast integrations were a tall order for TMS systems of the past, and integrations are still a big challenge for systems reliant on 15-year-old architecture. But modern TMS systems, built on an entirely reimagined architecture, are reshaping the industry’s expectations of timelines and cost.
Love and Marriage
Integration and visibility go hand-in-hand; you really can’t have one without the other. The ability of your TMS to integrate with other systems determines how much visibility you have into your entire transportation operation. For instance, a TMS with visibility-driven workflows can read and translate vastly different data types and put them into the same format from which you can take action. This includes SOAP and REST transactions, API, EDI, CSV, X12 and others. With this capability, your TMS can act like a transportation control tower and give you a single point that provides full visibility into the flow of data and the tools to act on the data.
By integrating with many systems, you can meet your customers where they’re at, rather than force them to do extra work to fill the gap of your TMS’ limitations. It’s also a far more cost-effective approach, as you have the ability to leverage what exists in your organization (your TMS), rather than rip and replace with another solution.
How to Spot a Better Integration Experience
Integrations are never easy; be wary of any vendor that makes them sound like snap. But today’s transportation management systems have made huge strides in their ability to integrate quickly. If you’re considering a new TMS, keep these key features in mind.
If your current TMS requires you to buy separate modules or use third-party tools and monitoring services, you’re paying a lot of extra money that you can avoid with a more modern TMS system. If it takes months to integrate your partners and customers, everyone is losing money in the process (except the TMS vendor!). Look for a TMS that uses one platform, which gets you faster integrations and simpler set-ups that can improve your reputation and bottom line.
Freedom from the vendor
The ability to configure and integrate the system on your own is another way to speed up integration timelines. For example, you should have the freedom to program new workflows and data transformations without the need for product programming. If you can integrate carriers and customers on your own schedule rather than wait for the vendor’s timing, that’s a huge advantage for drastically reducing costs (and makes for a better experience for your customers).
Updated security model
Database security is a big factor in the ease and speed of integration. Let’s say a truckload (TL) carrier is hauling movements for 20 customers on a TMS. An old-school security data model would mean 20 different integrations points – one for each customer instance. But a modern security model would provide one point and then know that a carrier has rights into all 20 different customers. Having a good security model makes for easier systems integrations; it’s an important part of understanding the capabilities of your TMS and should be a key focus in your vendor selection.
Make Integrations a Competitive Advantage
In an industry where so much appears commoditized, a TMS with visibility-driven workflows transforms the way you integrate with other systems and how you gather and translate intelligence. It’s a powerful tool that’s shareable with your customers and sets your services apart by increasing opportunities for new efficiencies; meeting each customer’s unique requirements; and improving your own profitability.
If your TMS is modern and built with an architecture that doesn’t depend on decades-old technology, the experience of on-boarding customers, carriers and trading partners should be faster (and less costly) than what TMS systems of the past could ever provide. The entire on-boarding experience should be well-defined, simple and rapidly executed. As a result, you save money and time with simpler and faster set-ups – and your customers do too.
Chuck Fuerst oversees all marketing efforts for 3Gtms, with a strong focus on buyer-centric programs that drive opportunity creation and pipeline development. His prior roles include director of product marketing and product management at Identifix and director of product strategy at HighJump. Chuck also served in various marketing leadership positions at Lawson Software (now Infor), McGladrey, and Datatrend Technologies.