TMS as a Platform: Gaining Visibility Across Modes, Partners, and Geographies

Having complete visibility over your own organization’s operations is one thing, but what happens when that visibility has to extend across multiple modes, trading partners, and geographies? That’s right – it can get pretty complicated and in some cases, seemingly out of reach.

When it comes to managing global transportation, having end-to-end visibility of orders, shipments, and other transactions (down to the item level) is a foundational requirement. In a recent episode of Talking Logistics, Adrian Gonzalez spoke with Ajesh Kapoor, Senior Director of TMS Products at GT Nexus about the key challenges companies face in managing global transportation.

They also discussed how cloud-based solutions help companies overcome those challenges by facilitating trading partner communication and collaboration, and by expanding the role of transportation management systems from an application to a control platform.

They opened the conversation by talking about what Ajesh and his team are hearing from customers regarding global transportation management, what challenges they’re facing, and what their objectives are.

A couple of things are going on in the market today. Traditional transportation management (TM) solutions have been a functional application because that’s how customers have seen the market. At the same time, the economy was in a downturn for a long time and this put more pressure on cost reduction, which is still an objective of most supply chain initiatives. But people are also starting to look at enterprise/complex supply chains and trying to use that to enhance the end-customer experience. The TM solutions offered on the market provide cost reduction in silos, but customers today with distributed and complex supply chains want to gain a global view of their supply chains. They want to become more responsive and agile in how they respond to fluctuations in demand, catastrophes, and other issues. That’s where things are headed right now.

Next, Adrian and Ajesh focused on how cloud-based solutions (or network-based solutions, as Adrian likes to call them) are enabling new approaches to managing global transportation, with Ajesh sharing his perspectives on the difference between a transportation management application and a transportation management platform.

It’s one of those things where the network provides the value, and managing transportation requires a fairly large network. Carriers are part of the supply chain, but the whole process starts with suppliers and goes into freight forwarders, 3PLs, the banks where the payments are processed, warehouses, and other third-parties. From a partner perspective, there’s this much larger group that you’re trying to bring together – plus a number of internal and external applications to integrate. The application approach to transportation management leaves out the fact that transportation data fundamentally stays the same when you go across the different regions and verticals. Exactly how transportation is managed, and how you use that data and bring it in, all changes, but inherently the data doesn’t change that much.

The application is basically the functionality and the platform is underneath that, it is inherently connected to a visibility application, feeding it data sometimes, getting information from it sometimes. The basic idea is that if you have multiple ERP instances that are feeding data directly into multiple applications on a point-to-point integration basis, you are trying to make the data common and route it through a single platform, [which you can think of as] a control layer. Different applications are feeding into it and working off of this data, and partners are working off of this data too, but the data/information always goes back into the platform. By bringing it all back into the platform, you can actually link different parts of the supply chain and provide a comprehensive view of what’s going on from a transportation perspective across your supply chain. That’s literally the idea of separating the platform from the application side.

Ajesh also shared some examples of how leading companies are approaching global transportation management. Watch the short clip below where Ajesh discusses how HP and P&G are successfully managing large, complex supply chain networks.

“HP is one of the early adopters of using transportation management as a platform to create global control towers, and also taking a community/collaborative approach,” explained Ajesh. “HP came to this point by going through various TM implementations. They tried to do it internally, and then realized that a cloud network model was the answer.” For related commentary, see HP’s New Style of IT: The Social Supply Chain.

Watch the rest of Adrian’s interview with Ajesh for more details on how shippers are gaining visibility across multiple modes, trading partners, and geographies. After watching, please post a comment and tell us what you think. How is your organization tackling this pressing issue?

Note: GT Nexus is a Talking Logistics sponsor