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In our last article, we gave you the down-low on the past, present, and future of TMS so that you can be more resilient in the face of big change. This is part two, where we’re using the Rule of Three to dive deeper into the most important things you need to consider when automating your transportation processes.

Here’s a breakdown of how to successfully implement automation:

  1. Use the right technology (aka a modern TMS)
  2. Rethink your processes
  3. Change your people’s mindset


1. Use the right technology (aka a modern TMS)

Logistics has become a game of exceptions. Exceptions mean expecting that things aren’t going to go according to plan. And when they don’t, there are lots of people involved and different systems keeping track of what’s happening.

As such, your TMS should be built on an architecture that can support this high volume of events you’re managing on a daily basis when you need to enact Plan B (or C or D). No lag time while the system loads. No spinning icon while information is retrieved.

You need a TMS that has the kind of superpowers that impress IT people.

Classic TMS platforms are typically able to support about 10 to 50 transactions per shipment: creating the shipment, updating it, sending it to the carrier, getting some status updates. A modern TMS is able to process up to 2,000 events per shipment in real time, including GPS updates, API calls, user actions, and so on.

On a yearly basis, that works out to more than 300 million events. You might be thinking that most of these events aren’t really important. You also might be wondering if you really have to integrate these into your TMS. The answer is yes. If you want to make the right decisions, you need to see the complete picture. Context is everything.

But if your TMS isn't designed or capable of showing this context in real time, your logistics teams will be very, very frustrated. The performance of your system will be degraded, making it really slow to use and difficult to operate. Ever seen a slug successfully cross a busy road? Time is definitely not on its side. Don’t be the slug. Wear a shell, at the very least.

A lot of people in the logistics field complain that they’re struggling to integrate or manage all of the daily exceptions in their classic TMS environment. And let’s face it, if you’re firefighting, which is often the case these days, then the last thing you need is to have to wait for 5 to 10 or (god forbid) 15 seconds for a screen to load, or check a different system to find additional information about the shipment status. It’s actually a workplace hazard: many fists have punched computer screens due to watching animated wheels spin while under extreme pressure.

And that's exactly why one very large ERP system (and we won't mention the name, but it's 3 letters long and starts with an S) is experiencing performance issues when integrating with this new type of 'streaming data'.


2. Rethink your processes

You need to revise the ‘we’ve been doing this for years’ approach. There are a lot of things that don’t change with time: pencils, paper clips, baseball. Those things don’t need to change. They have a function and serve a purpose and that’s that.

But in logistics, change is the name of the game. And it’s a game that moves a heck of a lot faster than baseball. You need to keep abreast of these changes and have the most current tools and systems in place to be able to respond quickly enough.


Example 1: Workflow automation

Transportation flows are becoming more complex. Simple FTL shipments are no longer the status quo. Nowadays, there’s a mix of shipments and you need a way to define varying workflows for different scenarios.

Here’s an example of how we do that in our TMS:

Let’s say that you have a new customer and you want to be 100% sure that all the shipments are assigned correctly. In this case, you might want to create a different workflow for this specific customer. Within this workflow you can make it so that one of the transportation planners has to confirm first. This is done by creating an additional step whereby you ask input from someone from the transportation team.

You can also choose to have a carrier accept or reject the shipment. Or you can ask for specific workflows when certain documentation is required. You can make it so the bill of lading needs to be uploaded x days before a particular date. And this can be uploaded by the carrier or by someone internally.

You can also add execution monitoring, so let’s say that a document is missing and you want to automatically create an incident. This event can then be escalated if needed. When you get to the invoice stage, if an invoice doesn’t match you just alert the person to solve the mismatch.

So this workflow management can be used for all your other different transportation flows. You can use the consolidation flows to consolidate all your deliveries into one shipment. It can also be used for your multimodal flows if you have multiple legs. Each leg can have as many as 8 different flows.

Naturally, there are different requirements for an ocean leg than a road leg. And then you have the parcel flows which is typically just low touch, automating everything without having to give any input.

But the whole idea of these workflows is that you have just one system. You automate up to 80% of the transportation process and only ask input from people when it’s needed.


Example 2: Dynamic Time Slot Booking

This example works on two levels.

On the planning side, a bunch of shipments need to be picked up and our dynamic auto assign algorithm lets the system decide that these shipments need to be picked up tomorrow morning. It will then automatically find a corresponding slot at the warehouse, schedule that slot, and inform the carrier. If a certain shipment doesn’t match a given slot, someone can manually assign a shipment to a specific slot or even the carrier can do this.

On the execution side, when nothing is going to go according to plan - trucks are going to be late, there are cancellations - by combining this real-time visibility information with time slot booking you can really make this whole process smarter.


For example, if you have a driver scheduled for 9am but the ETA shows they’re only going to arrive at 10am, then it doesn’t make sense to save the 9am slot for them. You can switch this slot with another driver who has arrived early so that they can already start loading.

This is a beneficial win-win situation for everyone. The driver who was going to be late doesn’t have to wait until the end of the day or the next day to load and the driver who arrived early doesn’t have to wait. To top it off, the warehouse is more efficient because it’s not losing a time slot while waiting for a truck that’s not going to arrive on time.

So, last but not least. We promised you 3 changes, let’s get to number 3 then.


3. Change your people’s mindset

Reframe the pervasive idea that machines replace people. People need to chill out: robots are not taking over and rendering us obsolete. Supply chains are still run by people and that’s going to be the case going forward.

It’s time for logistics people to really move from being data clerks to transportation operators. And when you have a TMS that is event-driven, and that automates all the flows up to 80%, then people just have to manage the exceptions that come their way, and this is really important, but it also requires a shift in perception.

A customer service director told us recently that if his team isn’t firefighting, they feel they’re not doing their job correctly. They’re programmed to pick up the phone, email and contact customers. And as much as we all like human interaction, this isn’t the kind of personal touch that’s needed in the future. Instead of doing this kind of firefighting, the mindset should shift towards how to avoid incidents becoming big crises.


Bottom line: Three times a charm isn’t the optimal way of working in logistics because it’s too big a margin for error. A modern TMS ensures you get things right the first time around.

For more information about how our TMS platform could work for your transportation management, please book a call with us and we’ll be happy to work together to figure out what works best for your unique situation.

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