Manufacturing & Logistics IT spoke with a number of leading analysts and vendors within the transportation management systems space about current trends and possible future innovations within this critically important industry sector.
Speedy and accurate delivery of goods both within the business and consumer world is the lifeblood of modern commerce. And as customer demands become ever more challenging, technology and the operational behaviour of shippers and carriers also need to develop and adapt. So, what specifically are some of the current technology sweet spots that are facilitating an efficient transportation regime?
Maria Toft Madsen - country manager Northern Europe, TIMOCOM, cites telematics as a key area of development, and talks about how this type of solution has been further developed by the vendor community in the recent past. “In 2014 TIMOCOM was the first to launch a solution bringing together different telematics providers in one map to avoid the time-consuming skipping between telematics providers’ interfaces instead of having just one solution/map to track HGVs and goods,” she says. “The demand of the goods owners and forwarders to track and analyse HGVs/goods has become a vital part of the whole visibility and collaboration topic.
A decade ago, you would have had to access different telematics systems to find out anything, if you even had that possibility. A more likely scenario was that you had to call the forwarder, relying on him or her taking the call or answering your email. And the forwarder had to overview as many different telematics systems as there were telematics providers. Today, TIMOCOM cooperates with 256 telematics providers to give customers the much-needed possibility of tracking and analysing their transports in just one system via our Smart App Tracking.
In terms of key drivers for these developments, Toft Madsen considers that the logistics in the B2C marketplace and private consumers’ demands and expectations colour the B2B logistics. “All involved want to track and trace an order as easily as one can when buying online goods as a private consumer,” she says. “And the B2C behaviour impacts the expectations to B2B logistics and transport: faster, transparent, sustainable, fair trade, last-mile-logistics and delivered directly to the door. Our demand and expectations as end-consumers decide the path the vendor community and their carriers have to follow and thus change their ways of business thinking.”
Toft Madsen adds that the benefit improvements for users are given when different system or service providers work together in order to assure the best usability and efficiency for customers. “Hence, one system that combines these different services, applications etc. and makes them accessible without having to switch poses a clear benefit and functions as a ‘one-stop-shop’,” she says.
Like Toft Madsen, Jean-Dominique Bonnet, intelligent mobility principal consultant, Frost & Sullivan, also highlights the value and flexibility of telematics. “Telematics is invaluable in securing a strong communication link between the truck and the owner company of the truck,” he explains. “There can be many types of data exchanged, but it can often involve simply providing visibility of the location of the truck at any given time. It can also be linked to monitoring different parameters on the truck. For example, it could relate to safety, using data from an on-board camera to monitor either the road or driver behaviour. These types of systems can also be used detect whether a door has been opened on the truck or trailer for security and safety reasons. They can even be used to gather and share date with the carrier related to the health of the engine. Carriers can know whether the engine is being well-operated and is in good condition through the monitoring of temperature, pressure and so on. In this way, they can better anticipate when a truck is likely to breakdown and therefore schedule maintenance before this happens. After all, an unscheduled breakdown can be very costly and inconvenient for everyone concerned. So, a telematics system can be a major benefit for both the carrier and the driver of the truck. Indeed, everything is designed to make the life of a driver easier.”
Bonnet adds that another benefit of telematics is that the truck’s route can be quickly changed based on, for example, a traffic issue. In so doing, it might also be determined that a load could be picked up that wasn’t originally scheduled for that particular vehicle. So, Bonnet believes dynamic re-routing offers a number of major benefits.
Bonnet thinks many developments within the TMS space are largely driven by competitiveness. “The transportation industry is still going through a considerable level of consolidation, often resulting in larger and larger transportation companies dominating the market,” he says. “And, although scaling up in terms of capacity can have its advantages for a company it can also increase complexity. I think all this automation provides the means to bring a greater level of uniformity. If the company is largely made up of various other companies that it has required, then they may not all share the same methodologies. So, automation can bring better uniformity of methods, which has to be a good thing.”
The rise of AI
Chris Devault, manager of software selection, Panorama Consulting, observes that as well as the rise of autonomous vehicles and drones being used for deliveries, AI and workflow automation is increasingly being deployed to help companies anticipate and fulfil orders more accurately. For example, he explains that this technology can help companies to optimise how they schedule windows of time so they have the right trucks available when required. “We used to talk about AI and Big Data when these were just terms that really scratched the surface and actual deployment was minimal,” he says. “Now, vendors are building in this type of functionality and users are applying it in the workspace. Through having the ability to deploy and implement these applications in the cloud, companies can deploy these solutions within a very short timeframe and in many cases start to receive a return on investment faster than traditional applications, while also being able to adopt best practices more easily and effectively.”
Devault adds that materials requirement planning integrated with advanced planning & scheduling capabilities can give companies the ability to optimise production, while also helping them ensure that a priority order can be fast-tracked more easily without having a negative effect on the rest of the production plan and supply chain. He explains that all of this can be done via portals, EDI and unique integrations between customers and vendors.
Bryan Ball, vice president and group director, Aberdeen Group, observes that along with the growth of telematics and better connectivity between the carrier company and its drivers, the marketplace is now seeing a notable rise in the deployment of self-driving trucks. “Much like self-driving cars, we are going to see this more and more, but, as in the case of more conventional transportation, it still requires telematics to work effectively and safely,” he says.
Like Devault, Ball also homed in on AI as being one of the major game-changers within the TMS space. “I recently attended a National Retail Federation (NRF) conference in New York and spoke with a number of leading vendors including JDA (now BlueYonder) and Manhattan Associates. And it’s clear that alongside the more traditional TMS functionality, AI is starting to become more established within the vendor community and be more widely deployed by users. And there are now applications available whereby people can very quickly access the right type of data in order form them to be able to predict demand patterns quicker and more accurately. There are some relatively new vendors out there now that can allow users to access real-time data from transportation management networks that they probably couldn’t see before. Of course, not everyone needs to operate in real time or near real time, but in many cases speed is of the essence, so the sooner you know the facts the sooner you can react.”
Ball adds that rather than wait for EDI transmissions to come in and update nightly or even twice a day, shippers increasingly don’t want to wait for these updates. “They want that data right now and have a way of going out and checking information across multiple networks to get the data they need more quickly,” he says. “Getting the information a day or two in advance may not sound like a lot but if you find yourself holding more stock and hedging your inventory while you wait for order and delivery information you can quickly appreciate the benefit of accessing this information quicker. And if you can reduce your inventory levels there can be a major financial benefit to be had, particularly if you’re talking about thousands or even hundreds of thousands of products – even millions of products – that could be substantially reduced in volume in the warehouse or DC.”
Ed Spotts, manager, Panorama Consulting, observes that much of the TMS-related functionality that has been utilised by many of the larger companies for some time is now working its way down to smaller companies. These more SME-level companies have much the same transportation and supply chain issues, just on a smaller scale,” he says. Spotts also considers that one of the things often overlooked within the TMS space is the maintenance and safety of the truck itself. He explains that planned activity whereby a truck is taken out of service periodically for maintenance is often done using a separate application from the systems used by the drivers, who may therefore expect a truck to be ready for a delivery when it is actually being overhauled. Similarly, the type of system used for maintenance and overhaul may not be integrated with the planning and scheduling system used for production on the shopfloor. Therefore, Spotts maintains that there is often a need for a greater level of integration and communication over these separate systems in order for production and transportation to have a clearer picture of their respective schedules and thereby work more efficiently and collaboratively as a whole.
John Griffith, business development manager, BEC Systems Integration, sees one of the major current trends as the move towards greater convergence of different technologies within one device (including transportation-related functionality): e.g. everything from phone, GPS/GPRS, Push-to-Talk capability in a single device. Griffith adds that one of the main drivers for this development is changing end-user requirements, re operations and the need for greater efficiencies and cost savings in leaner economic times – ‘blue-skies’ thinking on the part of vendors and their R&D activities.
Catherine Donaldson, sales and marketing director, Data Interchange, comments that taking legacy monolithic applications and moving them to the cloud can be a considerable undertaking in terms of cost and effort. However, this is the direction she sees the market moving. “What it means for vendors such as Data Interchange is the need to embrace a major cultural change in terms of our own work practices,” she says. “We have brought in a new leadership team to drive change within the business to help us to modernise and adapt to changing demands around digital processes such as the Internet of Things. EDI is not going anywhere soon, and customers’ needs are changing, so we need an even more scalable platform in place to meet these expectations and to continue to expand as a business.”
Electronic vehicle impact
According to Donaldson, one of main drivers for change within the world of EDI can be seen within the automotive sector. “Automotive suppliers and their transportation and logistics partners are currently having to re-organise themselves in the advent of more automotive companies moving away from the internal combustion engine in favour of electronic vehicles,” she explains. “Indeed, the distribution networks within this sector are going to look completely different within the next 10 years. To put this into context within the world of EDI, we partnered with a notable logistics company last year to deliver an EDI solution because it observed that a lot was changing within the German OEM world, and knew it didn't have the skills within EDI to deal with this. So, the automotive sector and its supply chain partners are having to deal with a considerable level of disruption, with major implications for the global economy. Getting this right with EDI can make all the difference in ensuring supply chains are fit for purpose and in so doing ensure the enduring success of all parties concerned.”
Mark Vos, business development manager, TMS, Manhattan Associates, makes the point that the demands on TMS are changing rapidly, in large part due to evolving consumer demands and expectations, legislative and regulatory updates and technological advances. But what does all this mean in practicality? “In short, it means that these systems are becoming more sophisticated, more intricate and increasingly important to the success of the brands operating them,” says Vos. “For example, let us consider the rise in the numbers of store types, which most large grocery retailers have adopted over the last decade or so. Whereas a couple of years ago the large supermarkets tended to locate themselves in cities or on the edge of suburban shopping parks, the majority of consumers can now expect to find a ‘branded’ convenience store not far from their own doorstep.”
Bonnet makes the point that through being able to better optimise routes, companies can not only compete better but also improve fuel efficiency. He also makes the point that automation can help to improve the quality of service the company provides to customers because it makes it more reliable. It can also offer customers better all-round transparency and visibility. “For example, instead of saying goods will be delivered at 9pm the carrier can allow customers to monitor exactly where that shipment is at any point in time and inform them of any delays,” he says.
Bonnet makes the point that in some territories in the US and beyond there are mandatory weight stations to ensure a truck’s load falls within a certain weight ratio when on the highway. “These stations can seem rather antiquated in that the truck is driven on a scale to be weighed,” he says. “However, there are now systems that allow trucks to be pre-certified. This can save a lot of time and therefore money.”
In terms of loading and unloading, Bonnet explains that companies can now benefit from ready-to-hand technology to provide all the invoicing and documentation to prove a load has been delivered. “This is so much faster and more accurate than having to wait for people to sign documentation manually,” he says. “Now, this can all be done with an electronic device. The information can be gathered and issued automatically to all relevant parties. All this automation makes every-day loading, transportation and delivery tasks so much simpler and faster, as well as making them less prone to errors.”
At the beginning or end of a trip the driver is expected to inspect the truck. In the past this used to involve a long list of check boxes on a piece of paper. Now, with the use of electronic devices, Bonnet explains that drivers can simply take pictures to prove the truck’s tyres are in a good condition, for example. In terms of other emerging trends, Bonnet observes that digital electronic brokerage with more automated matching of vehicle availability with shipper demand is becoming more popular and will continue to do so.
Vos believes one of the primary reasons driving this new approach is the changing expectations of shoppers. “The way we shop today has changed significantly over the last decade with larger orders often being conducted online, while smaller, local stores are increasingly used to pick up items that have been ‘forgotten’ as part of the larger shop, or alternatively used to purchase fresh produce on a more frequent basis,” he says. “Furthermore, with many of these new, smaller ‘convenience-orientated’ stores located near transport hubs like train/tube stations and/or motorway junctions, many shoppers now often decide what to eat for dinner on a daily basis, only picking up the ingredients needed for that specific evening meal, rather than making the traditional, larger weekly shop.”
Vos adds that this transition has unsurprisingly had a considerable impact on retailers’ supply chains, with knock-on effects trickling down to how and when deliveries are made. “Consider this: first, the size of these new stores often means limited stock can be held, so smaller more efficient and fit-for-purpose deliveries need to be made more frequently, in order to meet the ever-present challenge of customer expectations and excellent in-store experiences.
Secondly, the locations of these smaller stores (convenient as they might be for local shoppers), are often less than convenient for the drivers that need to make the more frequent deliveries. And often more restrictive residential or high-street locations come with regulatory constraints, such as specific time windows for deliveries,” he says.
A single source of truth
Carolyn Hunt, senior segment manager (shipper segment), Alpega TMS, points out that speaking to its customers, Alpega TMS sees the need for easing the communication between the entire logistics ecosystem. “It’s hard to believe, but some shippers and carriers still communicate with each other by fax,” she exclaims. Adding that one of their biggest pain points and reasons for opting for an end-to-end TMS like Alpega’s is gaining visibility – both during planning and once the shipment is on the road. “Having communication flows all in one place, so that everybody has a single source of truth, is critical,” she says. “And with our solution being in the cloud, it’s easier than ever to synchronise the flow of information across all parties involved.”
Hunt adds that the supply chain function being seen as a value centre rather than a cost centre is driving a lot of product development on our end. “Thinking about how Alpega TMS can help our clients improve processes and reduce costs across their business, not just in the silo of logistics, is critical in prioritising our solution’s development,” she says. “Everything from helping our clients improve the experience for their customers, through to creating better visibility through proactive alerts on real-time shipment statuses, maximising warehouse efficiency through easy self-serve warehouse slot bookings and reducing safety stock levels due to better planning. It all adds up to a lot of value across the whole business for shippers. Even their finance and purchasing departments benefit from freight cost management and easier freight tendering.”
Ken Fleming, president, Logistyx Technologies, makes the point that it is well-known parcel volumes are increasing steadily around the globe, with delivery (and returns) increasingly important to the overall customer experience and brand perceptions. “At the same time, the consumerisation of the business purchasing process – with ecommerce replacing physical catalogues and order forms – has had a knock-on effect on the shipping process,” he adds. “Shipments have become smaller and more fragmented, leading to a greater reliance on parcel carriers, and the development of TMS specifically for parcel shippers.”
Fleming also considers that while advancements such as 3D printing in manufacturing are blurring the lines between freight and parcel shipping, the transportation modes, delivery service requirements and pricing are usually different. “Parcel shipping is typically used by retailers or businesses that operate toward the end of the supply chain,” he adds. “These companies often ship to separate geographic locations, and accurate time of delivery is a top priority. While the shipment itself might be physically easier to handle, stringent delivery times can make parcel shipping a complex venture. A TMS for parcel shipping adds value (and can help to reduce costs, protecting profitability) by providing rigorous control over – and visibility into – each delivery movement from the warehouse to the final destination, ensuring on-time delivery is achieved.”
Despite the impressive functionality in most parcel shipping technology solutions, Fleming believes that critical to a shipper’s success is how well the technology integrates with both the carriers’ systems as well as the ERP, WMS, OMS and/or e-commerce systems. “Integrating the TMS for parcel shipping technology with business-critical systems to leverage business intelligence is challenging, but vital to maximise ROI and savings,” he says. “The creation, distribution and management of data are at the core of achieving cost-effective parcel shipping. The right business intelligence platform within a TMS for parcel shipping understands how factors such as distance, speed to delivery density and package size affect spend within the landscape. For example, Logistyx was able to advise one customer that it was wasting $2 million/month paying for ‘urgent’ expedited delivery when the regular service level of another carrier could provide delivery within the same time frame at no extra cost.”
Fleming then turns his attention to web-based transportation management eco-systems able to ease the communication and data path for shippers, end customers and carriers. “The right TMS for parcel shipping – such as Logistyx – will have a Control Tower that sends early warning signs to alert the shipper when a delivery is delayed or off-course, allowing them to communicate rapidly and proactively with their customers,” he explains. “They can then offer alternatives to the customer, for example, giving them the option to pick the product up from a nearby store. Proactive communication with the customer ahead of an unwelcome event not only improves customer service but can also engender brand loyalty.”
Fleming adds that a TMS for parcel shipping can even make it possible for organisations to provide customers with the ability to track and trace shipments through their own, rather than the carrier’s website, providing the personalised, proactive buying experience customers are seeking. “This helps to reduce inbound calls about shipment status to customer service and at the same time can also increase customers’ browsing behaviour while on the website, potentially leading to additional purchases,” he points out.
In terms of some of the main drivers for these types of developments, Fleming points to how the ‘Amazon effect’ has led to consumers wanting all their orders to be delivered faster, and with more control over when and where their delivery is made – and with visibility throughout the process via tracking updates, etc. He adds that this trend is now spreading over to B2B markets too. “Manufacturers are under pressure to reduce the cost of providing next or same-day delivery in order to stay competitive and to have visibility over the entire journey of their shipments,” he says. “And these issues are not limited to the biggest brands. The emergence of the cloud has made sophisticated transportation management and automation technologies and tools available to mid-sized and small shippers, and not just the preserve of the largest shippers and manufacturers.”
Visibility and planning
David Krebs, executive vice president: VDC Research, considers that with transportation management it is always going to come down to visibility and planning. “The ROI of transportation management solutions has been strong driving adoption of solutions to enhance visibility, improve route planning and provide more accurate communication with customers on delivery status,” he says. “Taken together these solutions also go a long way in addressing one of the fundamental issues in transportation/delivery and that is the cost of the last mile of delivery. According to recent research we conducted among transportation management computing solution decision makers (Source: VDC Mobility Decision Market Survey among Transportation Organisations), the leading factors supported this with ‘increasing visibility’, ‘reducing delivery cost’ and ‘improving workforce productivity’ the top three drivers.
Krebs believes that, ultimately, this is a balancing act between delivering better services to customers – which is a combination of various factors including accuracy in commitments and better visibility and engagement with customers – and taking cost out of the delivery process. “While organisations will always be looking for opportunities to take cost out of the delivery process – in 2019 spending on transportation, inventory carrying and other delivery expenses reached its highest level since 2014 (accounting for 8% of US GDP),” he explains. “However, beyond competing on price alone, transportation organisations are differentiating around intelligence and analytics. Specific areas or disciplines where this will show up include improved demand forecasting capabilities, improved inventory handling/management capabilities, better anticipation of future workloads and being able to staff appropriately.”
Krebs also sees the competitive landscape changing, led largely by this disruption as Amazon and other e-commerce giants enter fulfilment services. “Amazon now counts logistics and transportation service organisations as competitors,” he says. “Leading transportation solution organisations are investing in their AI and machine learning capabilities to offer customers opportunities to improve service levels, elevating their competitive profile.”
Growth in adoption
Bart De Muynck, VP analyst, Gartner Research, comments that the rate of TMS adoption continues to grow considerably. “One of the main reasons for this is companies want to have automated systems that also link to other applications where they can connect easier to their customers as well as to the carriers – and at the same time optimise their transportation activities, which they often can’t be manually,” he says. “When I started in transportation transport 25 years ago you could still do things manually because a lot of the time you had days to plan a truck. Orders would come in days ahead of time. Now, however, we often have much shorter order times and delivery lead times. This is particularly difficult to do manually if you handle high-volume goods.” De Muynck adds that the technology has evolved considerably over this period too. “For example, in the TMS world the cloud has really increased adoption rates,” he says. “A couple of decades ago a TMS was really only within the reach of larger companies because these systems were complex, expensive and could be hard to implement. Also, you needed a lot of resources to run them. Now, you have TMS that are easily deployed and can often start running the same day. I always refer to this as the democratisation of TMS, meaning it has become almost within the grasp of any company.”
According to De Muynck, a key benefit of TMS is their ability to create networks. “It used to be a single enterprise solution where you optimise within your own company and then send something via EDI to a carrier,” he explains. “Now, the TMS is more of a network solution where you’re trying to connect all of your carriers on the network to improve collaboration and to get more access to capacity. Slowly but surely, we’re also starting to see solutions that use it to have shippers collaborate. We’re seeing some vendors with some really impressive systems – MixMove in Europe, for example, offers a cloud platform for logistics optimisation. It works with multiple companies, mixing their products to increase the load percentage of the trucks, thereby helping to eliminate empty miles. There’s a company in the US called SemiCab, who instead of setting out to increase load percentage focus instead mostly on reducing empty lanes. But again, it’s about collaboration. And because so many companies are now in the cloud it’s easy to get this type of visibility.”
De Muynck adds that there’s also an environmental benefit in that if you reduce the number of miles you do and reduce the number of trucks you need then you’re reducing the amount of CO2 you produce. He makes the point that there is a growth in the use of alternative fuel vehicles too, which will also have a more positive environmental impact.
Real-time transportation visibility
According to De Muynck, another important development is what Gartner calls real-time transportation visibility. “Many companies have a TMS that is used largely for planning and execution, but they can still have trouble understanding where a truck is - especially if it's not their own truck,” he says. “Is it stuck somewhere in traffic, is it stuck somewhere at a loading or unloading dock because it's being detained? They want to give that information to customers because customers increasingly have an Amazon-type mindset whereby if they order a book online they can track where it is. Yet, they might have a £10 million load of specialty pharmaceuticals on a truck and have no clue where that truck is. So, visibility over the past few years has become much more important. A lot of trucks now have telematics devices or drivers have a smartphone with an app so they can be tracked, the data can be aggregated and we can start to make predictions on top of that data in terms of when we think to goods will be delivered.”
Another point De Muynck makes concerns how people get access to freight. “Many companies still use dedicated carriers and still go through traditional brokers,” he explains. “However, about four years ago we started to see more are more digital transportation networks, digital freight brokers or digital marketplaces emerge. They started in North America with companies such as Convoy and Uber Freight and are now becoming more established in Europe as well with companies such as FretLink. They are more regional; some companies are more focused on France and the Benelux countries while others have more of a footprint in the German region. It’s early days, but we are seeing more and more shippers adopting those newer models as well to get quick access to capacity. If I call a broker, it might take a few hours before they confirm a carrier to me. However, if I go on to one of these networks I expect a confirmation to happen within a very short timeframe, seconds or minutes. It's a little similar to Kayak or Expedia – you have information on all the different airlines and can immediately look at capacity, prices and book your flight.”
Donaldson makes the point that EDI solutions regularly integrate with other mission-critical systems such as ERP. However, she observes that more and more integration platform-as-a-service vendors want to secure greater recognition from some of the leading analysts organisations by bolstering their EDI capabilities. “In order to set out to achieve this, some of these vendors offer a managed service to customers and try to establish a value-added network a very quickly,” she says. “However, they may then realise they don’t have the right infrastructure, in-house expertise nor the funds to really make a success of this. They therefore look to partner with a specialist EDI company such as Data Interchange. So, we have become an extension of their organisation in order for them to achieve greater EDI-related status within analyst rankings. This is one example where we’ve seen some good growth opportunities for EDI to become a critical component within other vendors’ portfolio, and that's really starting to drive a lot of change in the way people view EDI. More companies now realise the importance of EDI while appreciating that they can't just develop an API and think you can do all the EDI stuff – it’s a lot more sophisticated than that.”
Fleming reflects that manufacturers are newer to the e-commerce fulfilment game than retailers. “In general, they’re more likely to insist on things like direct integrations between their TMS and their other internal systems,” he says. “This has inspired some TMS solutions to create either public API or pre-configured integrations to leading technology partners such as Manhattan, JDA, SAP and Oracle. As well as reducing the risk of human error, having a wider selection of useful integrations within their chosen TMS is helping to make shippers more responsive to changes in customer behaviour or market requirements. When your shipping technology is integrated to other systems of record you can rapidly pivot and embrace those changes and adopt new partners and technologies if necessary. It’s a way of future-proofing your organisation against additional changes to come.”
Fleming adds that the ability to use Business Intelligence (BI) within a TMS to access analytics from the TMS and through all its integrations with other systems of record is a huge, game-changing benefit for shippers. “In addition to being able to fine-tune their parcel delivery and order fulfilment execution, it gives shippers the ability to go beyond execution,” he says. “They can take a critical look at their supply chains using BI insights, identify any problem sources and find the best way to address them based on the data. For example the BI within your TMS should be able to help you choose the right carrier mix for your business by providing an accurate and precise Business Intelligence dataset that enables you to project and assess the financial impact of new carrier pricing conditions. It can also give you insights about carrier performance which is vital when negotiating carrier contracts.
Overall, this should help you to drive improvements in carrier performance over time. And the knock-on effects of this include rising customer satisfaction, cost savings and faster invoice reconciliation with carriers.”
Hunt explains that most of Alpega TMS’s large customers have multiple systems already in place, which can become quite complex for the operations staff to handle. “One of the key trends we are seeing in this area are more open APIs, allowing each of these systems to interact with each other,” she adds. “Interfacing directly from system to system takes a lot of the guesswork out of day-to-day operations. The newest innovation in this area is interfacing beyond the four walls of the shipper - from company to company – so that shippers, carriers, and 3PL systems are all working in synchrony. That’s an area where using a cloud-based TMS is extremely powerful, as it sits at the hub between all parties and systems.”
Real-time visibility and status updates
Hunt considers that another big development is automatically updated information. “We are seeing a move away from manual status updates, or EDI interfaces to upload new status information, to the use of modern technology for real-time visibility and status updates,” she points out. “For example, tracking vehicles in real-time with the status information being sent to the TMS, enabling you to manage exceptions as soon as they happen – or making the slot schedule visible to all carriers in real-time and allowing them to manage slot booking, amendments and cancellations.”
Vos considers that because of changes taking place in the transportation industry, TMS planners can invariably find themselves faced with more logistical and regulatory challenges to contend with, adding more variables to the already multiple levels of planning already required. “To mitigate this, it is essential that TMS and Warehouse Management Systems (WMS) are interoperable and align at all times,” he says. “This can ensure the seamless, ongoing delivery of capabilities that can meet the insatiable appetite and demands of today’s shoppers. With a scientific, data-driven approach, TMS planners can gain a holistic view of what stock is required to be delivered where and continue to continuously optimise the network to make it as cost efficient and environmentally sustainable as possible. Thanks to smart, purpose-built algorithms, TMS planners can now focus on managing the exceptions within their networks, rather than spending their days on more mundane functionality and planning issues. With the increasing reliance on new, ever-changing technologies (at both a societal and business level), and continually evolving consumer expectations, the scope and speed of change facing TMS planners is only set to increase. However, fear not, help is at hand.”
Griffith explains that the use of a voice-directed solution can minimise the downtime productive employees have to carry out non-productive operation such as ‘job write up’. He adds that processes can also be streamlined to ensure that they are compliant.
Whether specifically with regard to EDI or wider afield, Donaldson believes there are many compelling benefits to be had when moving solutions to the cloud. “With cloud you tend to pay for what you consume, whereas if you buy some new on-premise package to run on your platform on you might run it at, say, 30% capacity for two or three years – that doesn’t make a lot of sense from an ROI perspective,” she says. “So, if you’re planning to do a hardware refresh or IT infrastructure change, then moving many or all of your software solutions – including EDI – to the cloud could make a lot of sense.”
Another benefit in Donaldson’s view is that cloud platforms are generally built with security in mind. “So, if you think about things such as physical protocols around access to information you can't just waltz into one the data centre and start interrogating information,” she explains. “In the case of on-premises systems, some companies’ data might be on a server in their cellar, which might be prone to flooding with no physical controls in place to prevent this. If you move to the cloud, you're going to improve your security by the virtue of having it in a fully managed data centre.”
Donaldson adds that data sovereignty is an important aspect for some customers; however, this isn’t so critical within EDI because the data moves between regions. “There will be industries who care where their data resides and cloud solution providers can allow users to become very multi-regional very easily because if you have a number of key customers and suppliers with supply chains in Eastern Europe or APAC, for example, you will be using interlinked data centres with high-speed interconnections in place to allow data locality. So, if time is of the essence – which with EDI it almost always is – then data locality becomes really important, and cloud is an effective enabler of that.”
In terms of mobile device requirements for transportation/delivery operations, Krebs maintains that the most important selection criteria include overall quality/reliability, price, and security and battery life. “The use of mobile devices to support transportation operations has become so prevalent – especially on the heels of recent regulation – that organisations rely on these solutions to connect with drivers, draw information (such as location; driver performance; etc.) and communicate with customers as needed,” he says. “If the devices fail or do not operate as expected, disruption to the entire workflow can occur leading to increases in operational costs and potential erosion of customer service and loyalty. One trend, however, that we have also noticed is that transportation organisations mobile solutions still tend to be fairly basic and organisations are not fully utilising the performance capabilities of modern mobile devices.”
With regard to Brexit and the eventual agreement governing cross-border trade between the UK and EU, Fleming explains that Logistyx Technologies has identified a number of areas that are relevant to TMS and other supply chain solutions. “For example, the UK’s exit from the EU means countries will receive new country codes for shipping, creating an immediate challenge,” he points out. “Shipping software that doesn’t include the new codes can lead to misrouted parcels, causing delays, losses and spoilage of time-sensitive or perishable goods. Manufacturers and distributors will also need to determine cross-border tax calculations and adjust costs on ecommerce orders before transactions occur to ensure customers aren’t surprised by additional fees and taxes upon receipt of goods.
They will also need to be able to track shipments and alert customers in advance about unexpected delays, for example because of customs hold-ups. While the UK data protection act closely mirrored GDPR, Brexit could still have an impact on data privacy when it comes to cross-border shipping. Under GDPR, Member State companies may freely transfer personal information between Britain and the rest of the EU, but it remains a grey area whether they will still be able to do this post-Brexit without any additional legal mechanism. Most shipping software only provides line items to destinations outside the EU – failure to fully update software will mean the UK is still considered a domestic destination, leading to problems including increased time at customs, congestion at freeports, and potential issues with duty payments.”
Have changes in transportation legislation – either locally or globally – influenced the development of TMS over the past year or so? Hunt explains that drivers in Europe are subject to some of the strictest regulations in the world in terms of hours of service. So, when they finally get out of a traffic jam, they may need to take a mandatory break, which means further delays and uncertainty in planning. She adds that under current European law, any driver operating a 12 ton or higher vehicle is limited to driving no more than 9 hours per day, 56 in a week, and 90 over a two-week period. There is also a daily 11-hour rest period mandated. And traffic jams are getting worse, but time spent stuck in traffic at a standstill doesn’t count as rest. “Visibility, linked with better planning and on-site management, including flexible slot bookings, can help to minimise the impact of traffic jams on production,” says Hunt. “Shippers want customised notifications of delays so they can manage them. If you know what’s coming, you can better manage it. And near-real time data helps you stay flexible and reactive.”
Griffith makes the point that the introduction of ‘Earned Recognition’ by the DVSA within the truck industry has meant that operators have had to change the way they operate in order to be compliant.
Are there any remaining security & confidentiality concerns within the world of TMS? Hunt makes the point that the cloud has become industry standard. However, she does occasionally come across businesses unsure about its general safety standards. “Rest assured, we take security extremely seriously,” says Hunt. “We have both organisational and technical controls that we apply to establish a resilient and secure service offering. Alpega’s information security policy safeguards the confidentiality, integrity and availability of all information processed by Alpega according to the ISO/IEC 27001:2013 international security standard. This allows Alpega to evolve and improve the way information security management is performed in line with the expectations of our customers and other relevant parties.”
Krebs observes that security remains a critical concern with any digital/mobile solution initiatives. “According to our research both ‘security concerns’ and ‘hard to estimate ROI’ ranked as the leading adoption challenges,” he explains. “Especially with the migration to Android for many of these solutions, organisations have been hesitant about the stability of this platform. However, mobile OEMs and their SW partners have invested significantly in developing more robust Android solutions, addressing many concerns to the point that Android security is considered on par with alternative platforms.”
The road ahead
What might be the next key developments to look out for over the next year or two? Toft Madsen explains that TIMOCOM recently published a white paper with the consulting company Roland Berger highlighting what TIMOCOM sees as a driving force in logistics in the years to come: FreightTech. FreightTech is divided into three areas:
- Integration – includes the use of cloud computing and digital ecosystems such as logistics platforms or blockchain ledgers to connect market participants and standardise processes.
- Automation – includes both static and mobile systems such as 3D printing and autonomous vehicles and simplifies adherence to various regulations.
- Intelligence – includes Big-Data processing and analysis for calculating optimal delivery and distribution planning, artificial intelligence and machine learning for predicting deviations from the plan, and sensors and connectivity for tracking and sorting goods in order to provide real-time visualisation within the supply chain.
“FreightTech will influence and change the entire value-added chain,” says Toft Madsen. “Logistics companies can profit from the implementation of innovative freight technologies on a large scale – if they adjust their business models accordingly.”
Donaldson makes the point that there are concerns about cloud in terms of data sovereignty, but says cloud is shaping the way we think about technology in terms of more than just infrastructure. “What some companies don't realise regarding cloud is it's not just about moving your infrastructure to a data centre, it’s about how you consume technologies to your business advantage,” she says.
Griffith believes voice-directed solutions will be used extensively in complex maintenance operations in the truck, rail and heavy plant sectors, while Hunt believes Big Data will be the next big thing in the TMS sphere. “Our focus is on real-time analytics and decision intelligence solutions, boosting communication by sharing common information across all parties in the supply chain,” she says. “We are extending the use of advanced analytics, artificial intelligence and machine learning within our TMS. One example of this is in Exception Management – identifying exceptions in the transport network or even predicting potential exceptions. Our analytics team is also working hard to develop supply and demand matching between our freight exchange business and our TMS and making excellent progress. We firmly believe that collaboration will play an increasingly important role going forward and data will be the key.”
Vos maintains that advances in TMS technology are bringing with them a more scientific approach to these increasingly invaluable back-end transportation networks. “Ultimately, this means that retailers can rest safe in the knowledge that they have a TMS network in place that is not only fit for purpose and future-proof, but will allow them to continue to focus on delivering the best customer and in-store experiences possible,” he says.