Manhattan Momentum Connect 2021: TMS In The Spotlight

It’s been almost twenty years since Manhattan Associates (a Talking Logistics sponsor) entered the Transportation Management Systems (TMS) market via its acquisition of in 2002. Although the company has continued to innovate its TMS capabilities in the years since, TMS has remained mostly in the shadows of Manhattan’s Warehouse Management System (WMS) and Omni-Channel Fulfillment solutions — like a little brother obscured by his bigger siblings. 

Well, yesterday, TMS stepped out of the shadows and into the spotlight at Manhattan’s Momentum Connect 2021 conference.

During his opening keynote presentation, Manhattan CEO Eddie Capel introduced Manhattan Active® Transportation Management, which the company describes as “a cloud-native solution [that] is the industry’s first self-configuring and self-tuning system and a quantum leap forward in optimization speed, with up to 80% faster solve times.” Brian Kinsella, Senior Vice President of Product Management, also focused considerably on the new TMS in his portion of the presentation.

Why all of this attention? 

As Manhattan states in a press release, “With today’s introduction of Manhattan Active® Transportation Management to the Manhattan Active Supply Chain suite, the company has unified distribution, transportation, labor and automation within a single, cloud-native application built on Manhattan Active technology.”

This has been a multi-year journey for Manhattan, a journey that began in 2017 when the company introduced its new Manhattan Active technology platform and Manhattan Active Omni solution. Last year, it added Manhattan Active WMS and Manhattan Active Allocation to the platform, which left one big missing piece: TMS. Yesterday’s announcement added that piece to the puzzle for Manhattan.

It’s important to note that Manhattan Active Transportation Management is not an upgrade to its previous TMS solution. It is a completely new solution, built from the ground up using the microservices architecture that underpins Manhattan’s Active technology platform. 

Today, virtually all TMS solutions and deployments are in the cloud. However, the way these solutions are architected for cloud deployment has changed significantly over the past 20 years. Without going into all of the details of “monolithic” vs. “microservices” architectures, it’s sufficient to say that a microservices architecture offers a variety of benefits related to scalability and how new functionality is added and updated, including the ability for users to create their own unique functionality to extend the capabilities of the application.

Reaching the Promised Land of Synchronized WMS & TMS?

With TMS now part of the Manhattan Active platform, Manhattan promises a unified approach to supply chain execution. Here is how Brian Kinsella put it in the press release:

“For years, our customers have expressed their desire to move away from running WMS and TMS independently and instead optimize and manage their inbound and outbound flow processes as a whole…Rather than integrating [separate] applications, Manhattan Active Supply Chain is a holistic collection of supply chain execution microservices, providing Manhattan and our customers with a comprehensive set of capabilities to compose end-to-end solutions. And because all of the microservices are versionless, our customers benefit from our growing list of unified use cases over time.” 

It’s true that even though Manhattan and others in the market have offered TMS and WMS applications for many years, and they have all talked about the promised land of synchronized warehouse management and transportation management processes, none have really been able to fully reach that promised land — at least not in an easy, comprehensive, and scalable way. A key reason is that TMS and WMS applications have often been developed on different platforms, and in many cases, one or more of the applications were acquired from other software vendors. So, integrating these applications has always been easier said than done.

Will transforming WMS and TMS from separate applications into a collection of microservices on a common platform enable more intelligent and synchronized inbound and outbound processes? Manhattan walked through several use cases yesterday, involving real-time freight visibility, appointment scheduling, labor planning and scheduling, and inventory and order management. But we won’t really know the answer to this question until at least next year, when I hope we will hear from customers using both Manhattan Active WMS and Manhattan Active TMS to finally reach this promised land.

Highlights of Manhattan Active Transportation Management

Although the “unified” value proposition is the company’s primary go-to-market strategy, Manhattan plans to offer Manhattan Active Transportation Management as a standalone solution too. In addition to its microservices architecture and associated scalability and extensibility benefits, there are some notable enhancements to this new solution, especially with regards to optimization.

Optimization is no longer optional for most shippers; it’s woven into the DNA of transportation management. Thanks to advancements in optimization technology and almost limitless computing power, TMS solutions today can perform multi-mode/multi-leg optimizations much faster than in the past. In Manhattan’s case, the company claims to have the fastest multi-modal engine in the industry. By utilizing in-memory caching and other technologies, its engine can reportedly analyze 18 million feasibility options per second, reducing some solves from 15 minutes to 3 minutes.

The optimization engine also has self-tuning capabilities. As I’ve written in the past, a TMS is like a car – you have to perform regular tune-ups to align its setup to current market realities and constraints or else its performance will start to degrade. Historically, this has been a manual and time-consuming effort, which is why many companies fail to keep their TMS well tuned. Manhattan Active Transportation Management employs self-tuning capabilities that leverage real-time operational data to automatically and continuously adjust optimization parameters.

Other highlights include:

Enhanced Ecosystem Connectivity: Manhattan has extended its network of ecosystem partners and how they interface with the TMS. This ecosystem includes Real-time Freight Visibility, Digital Freight Brokers (including new partner Loadsmart), Carrier Connectivity Networks, and Real-time Weather & Traffic solutions. Manhattan also now provides its own pre-built carrier network that shippers can access to simplify the carrier onboarding process.

Enhanced User Experience: Part of the “unified control” value proposition is an enhanced and consistent user experience across the Manhattan Active platform. In the case of TMS, the user interface has become much easier to configure based on user roles and preferences. It is also much more graphical in nature, provides a consistent look and feel across different platforms (e.g., desktop and mobile), and includes features often found in consumer applications, such as drag-and-drop capabilities and in-app messaging and notifications.

Final Thoughts

It is an ideal time for Manhattan to introduce this new TMS. If you read the headlines in the newspapers and listen to the earnings calls of major retailers and manufacturers, managing costs and capacity in the current transportation market (across all modes) is more challenging than ever. In addition, over the past decade, customer experience has become a competitive differentiator for almost all companies — with delivery excellence a key component of it.

Simply put, there are many trends and factors that are redefining the rules for success in transportation management. Therefore, the answer to “Why use a TMS?” is a simple one: it has become a must-have application to meet the service and cost expectations of your customers (as well as to navigate through a very dynamic and constrained transportation environment) in the most cost-effective, efficient, and scalable way possible.

Answering the question “Which TMS is the right one for our company?” is a bit more complicated. There are many factors to consider when evaluating and selecting a TMS. But Manhattan is certainly making a strong case that it should be included in that evaluation process, especially if breaking down the silos between TMS and WMS is a key objective.