A Transportation Management System (TMS) is an element of supply chain management that is positioned between a company’s Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system and its shipping process. Ultimately, the system ensures that a company’s resources are invested in the best transportation process for its freight, one that offers the best combination of freight care, delivery time, and delivery cost. Supporting the system’s management function is a logistics resource, typically either (a) an in-house logistics department, (b) a Third Party Logistics provider (3PL) or (c) logistics software. How well the system works – and the style of management it offers – depends largely on the logistics resource.
Evaluating Logistics Resources
Most shippers prefer to have logistics performed in-house. Traditionally, this requires hiring experts – something that is common among large, high volume shippers that have a transportation fleet, but not among small to medium size shippers that don’t have a fleet. For these shippers, the traditional alternative to hiring experts is contracting with a 3PL provider – an arrangement whose value depended on the practices of the 3PL provider. For many companies, 3PL providers present three problems:
- They make the transportation management process seem distant
- Their load pairing strategies aren’t based on the broadest options
- Their highest level of transportation management can be unaffordable
In recent years, logistics software has provided shippers with an alternative to high level 3PL, one that is capable of managing the shipping process and discovering better shipping options as they arise. In addition to costing less than a 3PL provider that manages and innovates the shipping process (i.e. a customer adapter), the software lets shippers take control of their TMS by facilitating three functions that a good TMS should facilitate:
- Planning the shipping process. A TMS should plan the shipping process according to the shipper’s parameters, which include such things as LTL rates, delivery time and warehousing fees.
- Monitoring the shipping process. A TMS should monitor the shipping process in an administrative capacity, handling such things as transport alerts, customs clearance and invoicing.
- Measuring Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Without the consistent, accurate measurement of KPIs, a shipper can persist with shipping options that don’t offer the best value.
Logistics software can facilitate these functions, allowing shippers to have the logistics function in-house without investing a significant amount of capital to have it there.
Companies that ship products need an effective transportation management system, which means that they need a comprehensive logistics function. Traditionally, shippers have acquired this function by hiring in-house experts or contracting with a 3PL provider. Today, however, logistics software gives them the opportunity to have the logistics function in-house without paying a premium to have it there.
For small to midsize companies, hiring in-house experts can be cost prohibitive, and contracting with a 3PL provider can bring the feeling of being disconnected from the shipping process. Logistics software can resolve both issues by offering a complete logistical function on a Software as a Service (SaaS) model.