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The supply chain never sleeps. At all hours of the day and night, shipments are moving, data is being produced and exchanged and external factors that can impact your operations can arise. However, today’s advanced technology systems now give you the visibility and capabilities necessary to control your supply chain more effectively than ever before.
What if you wake up one morning to find out that there is a blizzard in the northeast, and you have 100 times-sensitive shipments heading into Boston that day? What do you do? For organizations with a traditional or out-of-date transportation management system (TMS), your ability to respond is limited. Fortunately, the days of TMS that only allow you to create a shipment and track it are gone.
The next generation of TMS now allows organizations to harness data from multiple sources and apply it to deliver a real, sustainable impact on your logistics and supply chain operations. Gathering data and monitoring shipments is only the beginning. Some systems can even predict the future and alert shippers of potential disruptions, such as severe weather, and allow you to proactively take steps to address those disruptions in order to maintain smooth operations and high levels of customer service.
What a Next-Gen TMS Looks Like
As the supply chain has evolved, so too has the TMS technology that allows shippers to access and leverage data, including the ability to combine internet data with logistics data. A true “TMS 2.0” can incorporate a graphical view of shipments and active dashboards of key performance indicators (KPIs), including active shipments, on-time arrivals/departures, carrier performance and DOE fuel index. Additionally, information from the web, including weather and traffic alerts, should also be integrated with shipment data to give organizations a 360 degree view of their transportation network at all times.
This “control tower” type of approach to transportation management gives shippers a singular, all-encompassing, real-time view of their supply chain. Being a cloud application, this type of TMS provides organizations with a data center application at a significantly lower cost of ownership.
Software and Data: More Powerful When Combined
In this next-generation TMS, software and data are finally being combined to better access and utilize important supply chain data. For example, not all carriers have the technology to transmit pickup, delivery or in-transit events to a TMS, but that information might be on the carrier’s website.
" With today’s TMS 2.0 systems, shippers can now use predictive analytics to make better and more informed decisions"
In that case, a TMS featuring software robots–a type of “web crawler” similar to what Google uses to constantly scour the internet for relevant data–can be programmed to collect status information from websites and update your system or your customer’s system. The robot can automatically go to a carrier’s website, insert an ID number, and gather the latest shipment information.
Since the supply chain never sleeps, neither are these robots. They are working 24/7, constantly searching the internet for logistics transportation and data–something that is just not possible from a human employee.
Consider this: an online distributor of consumer packaged goods (CPG) or electronic products may receive hundreds or even thousands of emails each day with orders from their customers. When customers place an order for an item such as a book, piece of clothing or Fitbit, there are often human beings responsible for opening up each individual email, reading the message and then manually inputting that information into a system. This is a tedious, time-consuming manual process that is subject to human error. However, with today’s systems, software robots can do that tedious work for us. They are not only scouring the internet looking at carrier sites and gathering status information, but they are also doing the menial operations work that take up so much of an employee’s precious time.
Using software robots to handle to track shipments and provide status updates allows your other employees to focus on more pressing tasks, such as taking care of problem shipments. This can be extremely beneficial for companies lacking the budget to scale during busy shipment seasons. The advent of software robots gives transportation department additional bench strength to track and trace shipments when more hands on the keyboard are needed or when your system is not fully integrated with your trading partners.
The Future of Predictive Analytics
Where tracking a shipment in real-time was once the next frontier of supply chain management, with today’s TMS 2.0 systems, shippers can now use predictive analytics to make better and more informed decisions. Predictive analytics can give you a global view, telling you where your active shipments are, and providing key stats about who your best and worst carriers are. Shippers want to find out if a shipment is going to be late before it actually happens. They want to see if those 100 shipments are going to be delayed because of that snowstorm in Boston and proactively adjust.
Additionally, business intelligence (BI) tools have taken many large steps over the past few years. In past years, reports for shippers would take quite a bit of time to pull, and the end result would look much like an Excel spreadsheet report. With new TMS, there are available databases specifically for shippers to access where they can customize their own reports. These “self-service” type of reports are much more engaging, and can drill down into specific shipments, regions and areas by accessing data warehouses full of this information via a cloud-based TMS. By exposing shippers to more data quickly and easily, we are giving them the tools to help their shipment process. This also allows for a rapid turnaround of reports–shippers don't have to file a request and wait for an IT organization to create the report, wasting valuable time.
It’s also important to remember that shippers that are diving into the next generation of TMS solutions can trust their 3PL provider to leverage its inherent technical and industry expertise to help leverage all of these new capabilities and data possibilities. As software and data are finally being combined, TMS providers can help deliver a next-gen experience that will take your supply chain operations to the next level and beyond. These logistics providers have the experienced personnel to support your business and keep your shipments out of that impending blizzard.