It’s no surprise that there’s a growing interest in transportation management solutions. Transportation is at the heart of supply chain operations, and as more companies expand their products and services to conquer new markets, the more they run up against the limitations of their legacy systems.
While there’s a broad array of Transportation Management Systems (TMS) options on the market, according to Gartner’s Model for Holistic Multimodal Transportation Management Systems: Core Capabilities, few vendors “have solutions that can successfully and cost-effectively support all levels of transportation complexity.”
At its core, today’s transportation management solution must at least be holistic and multi-modal. But what does that really mean, and how can you better assess your level of transportation complexity and whether a given solution will adequately support it?
What Defines Supply Chain Complexity Today?
Simple, domestic solutions may subsist on mostly manual TMS capabilities. But as companies broaden their market reach, become international, and begin building extensive enterprise partnerships, their processes become more intricate. Efficient and cost-effective management requires more sophisticated, typically automated, cloud-based technology.
Global operations are therefore defined by Gartner as having the highest levels of complexity. International flows must support multi-leg and multi-mode shipments, as well as multiple languages, currencies, and types of documentation. A TMS for global logistics must support broader carrier selection and rate management. “In addition,” the Gartner report explains, “the importance of integration or convergence with other supply chain functions increases with higher levels of complexity, to maximize the required level of efficiency.”
Given the new and advancing needs of global, networked supply chains, a holistic and multimodal system is a core necessity. A modern TMS should be able to converge supply chain functions to orchestrate and optimize complex product flows and offer everything from heavy weight air transportation to parcel and courier options for international fulfillment.
Key Differentiators Driving TMS Strength
Though a range of Transportation Management Systems qualify as “holistic” and “multi-modal,” these titles can often be deceiving. Supply chain suites are often touted as holistic because they claim to converge supply chain functions. However, as previously discussed, when suites are the products of mergers and acquisitions, they tend to be fragmented in problematic ways and don’t offer supply chain orchestration on a unified front.
Additionally, a system with a couple of modes can ostensibly qualify as ‘multi’ modal, and even those that offer a more attractive sweep of options are usually limited in some way, if not also a product of mergers and acquisitions.
Here are the key distinctions to make to secure a strong, holistic and multimodal TMS:
Natively Unified Platform
A truly holistic transportation management solution can only exist on a natively unified platform. Capabilities that are natively designed to communicate with each other minimize silos and offer far greater contextual insight and network-wide visibility.
This allows businesses to leverage their networked supply chain by spanning across it and sync previously isolated operations, such as customer and order management, transportation management, supplier and purchase management, and returns management. Doing so integrates inbound and outbound streams to create one smooth and holistic end-to-end flow. Businesses can then streamline multi-channel orchestration and split or merge orders of all types – as needed – to optimize every leg of every shipment.
International businesses increasingly ship across all regions and modes. Because most transportation management solutions are mode-centric or limited, multi-modal options suffer the same issue as non-native suites. Practitioners or vendors accrue new systems to handle or provide new modes or carrier types, thereby amassing a fragmented architecture. To optimize flows, they must then struggle to tie disparate legs and modes together to paint a complete picture. This is a time waster and leaves business prone to unnecessary errors.
A natively multi-modal TMS is unique in that it does not favor any particular mode. Order-centric TMSs in particular are in a league of their own, as they isolate and optimize individual shipments. In this way, businesses dynamically assign the carriers and modes needed to deliver on the exact service level requirements as cost-effectively as possible. Additionally, businesses can add modes as they grow without ever needing to purchase or implement a new system.