At company holiday parties, you can’t avoid talking business, so I took the opportunity this year to socialize a transportation management system (TMS) question among our implementation team – many of whom have 20, 30, or even more than 40 TMS implementations under their belt across all the major vendors in existence. The question was “What makes a successful TMS project?”
There were the expected answers about the quality of the solution, goals of the client, environment and fit. But the most surprising and repeated answer was the quality of the super user. The folks I talked to agreed that while good project teams and software can get nearly any TMS project live, it’s the quality and skills of the super user that determines the project’s long-term success.
Who is a super user?
A super user (or users) is a generic term vendors give to a specific class of user (a “power user” is another common name). It’s an individual who is internal and who becomes the most familiar with the software and how it’s used specific to the organization’s needs. Long after the consultants have gone away and the project team has shut down, it’s the super user who lives on. A large portion of their day includes using the TMS software, as well as being the internal go-to resource for issues.
During my holiday party conversations, we swapped stories of how some great super users were able to bring on-line complex pool distribution with limited budget, or other less-successful stories in which the TMS “faded” after the multi-million dollar project team left and the super users couldn’t even maintain basic rate data. TMS “fade” happens when a system can’t keep up with changing business needs and delivers substandard results; and while a modern TMS and new design significantly help, a lot of the success is still in the hands of your super user.
What makes a good super user?
There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to defining a good super user. They come in all shapes, sizes, and education levels; they are white collar or blue collar; and their age can vary. They generally aren’t programmers or developers, but having an understanding of IT is important and they need to have a familiarity with using software in general. In older TMS systems, super users were most often the engineering type, but with a modern TMS that has changed. Now, typical logistics folks can become the super user and take on tasks that could only be done by those with engineering skills in the past.
One common attribute of a good super user is a really keen understanding of transportation as it relates to their company. Understanding how your company moves freight and the details of why it does what it does is important. For example, why do shipments have to ship the way they do, and when can they change? A super user has knowledge that can’t be put in a book or easily defined in a best practice. They are skillful at taking that internal knowledge and finding a way to get it into the TMS, and make that TMS sing. Then, as the business changes, they are able to change the TMS to reflect new needs.
How do I know if I have a good super user?
The project team that installed your TMS generally knows how good your super users are and, if asked, will tell you the needed skill sets for your particular business. Also, if you think your TMS is starting to experience fade, then talk to your vendor and find out if what you are doing is uncommon or unrealistic for your TMS. If it is, then get a new TMS. But if not, look at changing roles and get a better super user in place.
There is a skill and an art form that a good super brings to the process of transportation execution. Your TMS is a tool, but that tool needs users – and together they determine the overall results. While the typical factors of quality, fit, environment, etc. will continue to play important roles in the success of your TMS, the quality of your super user is often overlooked as a key part of the equation.
JP Wiggins is Co-Founder & Vice President of Logistics at 3Gtms, where he manages channels and partnerships for the company. He was most recently at SAP where he was the solution principal focusing on SAP’s transportation, warehouse and event management offerings in North America and previously directed industry marketing for the company’s transportation and logistics business unit. Before SAP, he was senior vice president and general manager for Descartes Systems Group’s supply chain, transportation and logistics applications business, and also had been vice president of product management for the company. Previously, JP was co-founder and senior vice president of logistics for Global Logistics Technologies (G-Log); co-founder and vice president of product management at dx/dt; and vice president of logistics at Weseley Software. He holds degrees in transportation & logistics and marketing from The Ohio State University.