How to Successfully Implement a Transportation Management System

The cost saving and service improvement benefits of a transportation management system (TMS) are well documented. None of those benefits are achievable or sustainable, however, unless you get the implementation right. What are the key ingredients to a successful TMS implementation? What are some of the common mistakes companies make? Has software-as-a-service (SaaS) made TMS implementations easier or harder? Those are some of the questions I posed to Geoff Milsom, Senior Director at enVista, in a recent episode of Talking Logistics.

The beginning of a successful TMS implementation

Most people think of implementation as the next step after companies select and contract for a TMS, but in a recent guest commentary for Talking Logistics, Geoff suggests that a successful TMS implementation actually begins before a solution is even selected. I began our discussion, therefore, by asking Geoff what he meant by that.

Geoff explains, “When a customer says they need a TMS, the first question we ask them is: Why? Have they come up with the six or eight business drivers that drive critical requirements, that have been approved and signed off by the key stakeholders in supply chain and IT before they go down the selection path? This is usually a three to six month process and may be part of a larger corporate strategy or transformation process that it has to plug into. Understanding those issues is critical to implementation success.”

The TMS selection process

Once you have agreement on objectives, the next step is to match those objectives with prospective vendors. What’s the best way to do that? Geoff says you still have to do the requirements document and set priorities, but it’s important to get the right people involved. He recommends including those you interact with in daily operations such as manufacturing, warehousing, distribution, procurement, and finance.

Geoff also recommends you involve IT, even if you’re looking at a software-as-a-service (SaaS) application. “The reason is that TMS is one of the most highly integrated applications in an organization because it touches every node in the supply chain,” he says. “You’re typically integrating to hundreds of suppliers and carriers and dozens of applications. You need IT for that, so they need a seat at the table.”

In regards to the requirements document, Geoff says it’s important to include the expected future-state process flows on paper so the vendors understand the scripted workflow demonstration objectives. He also recommends companies provide vendors with future-state integration flows so they understand the full scope of the project.

“And equally important with features and functions is cultural alignment,” continues Geoff. “How well do the vendors communicate with you? Do they understand the business case and what questions are they asking you? Are they truly interested in partnering with you for success?”

The implementation process

There are certain “must-haves” for a successful implementation according to Geoff. This starts with a steering committee that oversees the project, resolves key issues and makes decisions at critical points in the implementation. You need strong project management — either one person or two, representing the business and IT — with the authority to direct resources and make day-to-day decisions. And you need an implementation plan that lays out resource requirements and tasks, schedules, timeframes and an expected go-live date.

Geoff says the most critical resource, and often the most difficult one to identify, train and retain, is the “super user.” This person might come from the transportation department, process management or IT, depending on the organization. They must know everything about the system so they can adapt it to the changing requirements of the business. For this reason, they should be full-time on the project during implementation and half to full time afterwards.

Since SaaS TMS deployments have become predominant over recent years, I asked Geoff if this has made implementations harder or easier? He notes, “From an overall perspective, I think it has made it faster and cheaper, but it’s changed some of the problems. For example, often when IT hears it will be a SaaS deployment, they think they can wash their hands of it, but you need them more than ever for all of the integrations as we discussed earlier. It also allows a less technically proficient super user who can focus on problem-solving rather than managing a database.”

Of course, no matter how well you plan and how good your people are, things always can and do go wrong to derail the project. I asked Geoff what the most common stumbling blocks are and what advice he has for companies looking to do a TMS implementation. Watch the full video for his responses to those questions and more, then post a question or comment and keep the conversation going!