Guest Commentary: Transportation Management Wasn’t Always This Easy

Today’s logistics departments have a lot of options for systems that help them plan and execute the shipments that drive their businesses. It wasn’t always this easy though. A brief look in the rearview mirror will help us appreciate how we got here and the direction we’re heading.

Every time I plug my $20, 16GB USB memory stick into my computer I recall my days marketing 856MB disk drives for $26,000. If you remember those days, then you’ll probably also remember 300 baud acoustic coupler modems, green screens and token ring networks. How about Hollerith cards, dot matrix printers and SCSI cables (pronounced “scuzzy,” my all-time favorite industry term)? Yes, we’ve come a long way!

Meanwhile, over in the transportation department, loads were being planned on blackboards, columnar paper and there was a lot of eraser dust on the floor. Rooms full of planners spent their days with telephone headsets talking to clients and carriers negotiating rates, scheduling pick-ups, tracking down the status of a load, and confirming deliveries. I remember my first time entering the “war room” of a large company’s transportation department and being amazed (and a little intimidated) at the frantic pace, intensity and volume of the voices in the room. The only technology I could see was the row of fax machines along the wall and some Xerox machines, which is what we used to call all photocopiers.

It didn’t take long for technology visionaries to spot an opportunity to automate all that chaos. The 1990’s brought a lot of innovation to the traffic department.

1990 – “Blue Screen” transportation systems were being adopted by the most progressive companies to try and control the process. These batch-oriented systems had very limited integration with the company’s accounting systems or with carrier systems.

1993 – Client/server technology evolved and transportation applications started to become more approachable. There was hope that someday the beast could be tamed.

1998 – The big break was the evolution of the Internet and browser-based applications around the turn of the century.

However, the problems were too big to be solved by a communication protocol and a Netscape browser (another blast from the past!). Interconnectivity, scalability and configurability were still big hurdles companies needed to clear. As recently as 2001, a transportation management system (TMS) was still only available to big companies that could afford the multi-million dollar price tag for the mainframe-based software, hardware, installation and support.

Good ideas have a way of persevering. Visionaries and entrepreneurs seized the opportunity to use the emerging technologies to make an affordable and full-featured TMS available to more companies. Now you can implement a software-as-a-service (SaaS) TMS that is highly configurable, multimodal, functional and affordable enough for even start-up companies to use. Today’s on-demand systems share real time information with internal systems and with the carriers moving freight door-to-door, all over the world. These systems take full advantage of mobile devices, take just weeks to implement and offer a complete view of the entire process.

Yesterday’s expensive DASD (Direct Access Storage Device) has given way to today’s cloud. The 300 bps analog connections to mainframes are now high-speed digital connections over the Internet. Green screens have been replaced with flat screens, and batch-oriented, locally-hosted transportation software has been replaced by highly-configurable, cloud-based, real time, and affordable transportation management systems.

We’ve come a long way!

Peter Yost is the Director of Business Development at MercuryGate International. He has 29 years of experience in technology sales & marketing, including 8 years in the logistics industry. Peter is responsible for MercuryGate’s market development and messaging, and he is responsible for the company’s domestic and international partner ecosystem that is expanding the company’s reach into Europe, Asia and South America. Peter has a BBA in Marketing and Information Technology from Georgia Southern University.