Guest Commentary: TMS – Customizable and in the Cloud

All software companies want to build products that are feature-rich, defect-free, and easy to maintain. Meanwhile, software users demand a rapid ROI, low-cost implementations, and customizable solutions. Users of transportation management systems are no different. They’ve long been searching for the ability to customize software to work the way they want it to work and look the way they want it to look. Traditionally, customization came at a steep cost. Some modern web-based systems have recently offered the lure of reduced operational cost but sacrificed on the ability to customize.

Could this be why fewer than 35 percent of companies have implemented an integrated TMS? Could it also be why most large 3PLs write and maintain their own TMS instead of buying a commercially available product? Clearly, this market is still waiting to be convinced that an affordable and customizable TMS is available. Let’s explore what it means to be customizable and if we can expect to find that solution in the cloud.

Type of TMS Customization

Customization of a software product can occur in a number of different application areas, such as the:

  • GUI front-end, including web “portals”
  • data fields and validation
  • business processes enabled by the software
  • integrations in and out of the system
  • documents printed by the system

In systems with average customization capability, users are offered some combination of configurations (feature options pre-determined by the software vendor) and customizations (custom code designed specifically for the customer). In more advanced systems, however, the software will also have features to create highly customized processes and GUIs but without custom coding. These advanced systems will typically include architecture components for workflow and business rules.

The TMS Dynamic Rules Engine Workbench

Maintaining a single code base allows a software company to provide wide-spread and timely delivery of new features and bug fixes to all its clients. However, no two clients are alike. In a highly-configurable TMS platform, advanced customizations are achieved via an administrative subsystem called a dynamic rules engine workbench. This workbench is where authorized users can tailor the TMS workflow processes to specific needs. The TMS GUI, the event engine, the integrations architecture, and the documents architecture are all controllable from the workbench. This allows an implementation team to quickly customize the TMS without the need for custom coding. Implementation times are dramatically reduced when compared to custom coding, and the business team is empowered to quickly change and test new processes with immediate feedback to evaluate results.

This approach is powerful but meant for use by advanced and fully trained administrative users. As a replacement for custom coding, it is clear that any processes implemented through the tool need to be properly designed, tested, and implemented in a controlled fashion.

In the hands of a competent Logistics Service Provider, the workbench helps to give the TMS platform many of the same advantages found in building and maintaining their own custom TMS and makes the question of make vs. buy an easy one to answer.

Great Power in the Cloud

The most advanced cloud-based transportation management systems on the market today can be fully customized as a Software as a Service or licensed traditionally and deployed behind your firewall. To borrow from the great American author, Stan Lee, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Whether you are a logistics service provider or manage your own freight, you can truly customize your TMS to match your business and do so in the cloud. What will you do with that kind of power?

Brian Armieri is the Chief Technology Officer at MercuryGate. Brian joined MercuryGate in 2002 and has 25 years of experience in leading-edge technology initiatives. He coordinates MercuryGate’s efforts on both day-to-day activities and longer-term research efforts, and helps to ensure quality and consistency across MercuryGate’s emerging products and technologies. Before his appointment as CTO, Brian served as President of Nexien Corp., a consulting group providing expertise, outsourcing, and training services based on Sun Microsystems’ Java2 Enterprise Edition platform. Brian’s long career as a consultant has given him experience in a wide range of industries including finance, insurance, healthcare, higher education, and government. Brian received a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Cornell University and a master’s degree in Computer Science from the New Jersey Institute of Technology.