Having spent many years in business development and sales, I’ve spoken to many supply chain and logistics executives from a range of industries. More and more organizations these days see how their competitors are digitally transforming and they don’t want to be left behind. Everyone wants to be leading their industry, but leading an industry requires taking risks and thinking differently about technology strategy.
I’ve seen businesses make choices that they’ve come to regret. In fact, according to Gartner, 73% of tech purchasers who have bought but not yet implemented their products/solutions indicated high regret. Acquiring the best transportation management system for your company’s present and long-term success requires a certain amount of due diligence and change in perspective.
1. Create a cross-functional team
Moving too fast puts you at risk for making costly mistakes – like not doing a tech audit to understand your systems landscape and company’s greater technology strategy. Build a cross-functional team. The degree of visibility, flexibility, and actionability you have in your supply chain impacts all functions and areas of the business. I’ve seen it happen regularly during discovery where teams come to the table looking for a transportation management solution, and then reveal gaps and inefficiencies within order management or omnichannel flows.
Understanding your organization’s full complexity and putting it all on the table allows the provider to do a better job of explaining, consulting, and recommending the best possible solution for your specific needs.
2. Be flexible in your definition of a “top TMS”
Picture it: you’re walking through a tradeshow. To your left are banners promoting the best TMS, to your right are…more banners claiming to be the TMS that can do it all. No doubt each solution has its strengths and weaknesses, but no two systems are exactly alike. And no matter how advanced and capable a particular transport management system is, it won’t necessarily meet the specific needs of your company. So how do you weed through the noise?
I’ve seen many organizations rely too heavily on analyst quadrants. While these are certainly informative and help narrow the pool, they may also be a bit too limiting. Not only are quadrants a small cross-section of all the available solutions out there, focusing solely on top players constricts your options even more. You might find yourself buying the wrong solution because you didn’t look outside that box. Each analyst has their own standards and differentiators; broaden your scope for exposure to diverse perspectives.
Most logistics solutions will also profess to take care of everything. I recommend creating a checklist and drafting a list of questions to ask vendors to help spot critical gaps. Some TMSs can track an ocean container, some can’t. Some offer integrated parcel management, some don’t. Not all solutions support every mode.
3. Be thorough and honest in discovery
The early stages of discovery can be a lot like a first date. People tend to play their cards close to the chest, steering clear of topics like complexity, timeline, or who else is competing. Even with an NDA, people prefer to maintain confidentiality or don’t necessarily want to admit how messy things are behind the scenes.
Much like in dating, there’s also the very real fear that a vendor will drop them because of their complexity – to which, in dating and in software partnering, I would advise: They weren’t right for you. You deserve better, and it’s worth finding someone who will embrace your situation in all its glorious convolution. To go one step further, you should be strategically screening for software providers best able to manage your flavor of complexity – who can truly take on the challenges your situation calls for.
The more a provider knows, the more they can help. When discussing timeline and vision, is there a compelling event that’s driving the initiative? Do you need the TMS implemented by a certain date? Is the TMS intended for the whole company or just a specific line of business or mode of transportation? The process is as much about people as it as about software.
4. Consider your future needs
Companies often put off dealing with certain complexities, like omnichannel, for instance. When inefficiencies become too big and unmanageable, your TMS may not be a good fit. Rather than continuously accrue and patchwork disparate systems, work to secure a future proof solution.
Visualize possible futures; think about volume and mode shifts. For omnichannel businesses, consider what geographies you plan to grow and which may shrink. Factors often vary by industry: Logistics service providersmight consider service portfolio expansion to attract new clients. For an LSP then, a future-oriented technology strategy would include a highly flexible, configurable, and scalable platform to accommodate diverse flows, such as return flows. Manufacturers, on the other hand, may focus on resiliency and better orchestrating across their service providers. Their future-proof approach would include greater business network support and supply chain visibility across multi-tier suppliers and warehouses.
The most successful organizations don’t just “modernize” by upgrading standalone systems but treat digital transformation holistically, with initiatives that promote continuous progress and evolution.
5. Embrace complexity
Many companies are juggling an extraordinary amount of complexity. Diverse product portfolios, order flows, multiple sales channels, service providers, systems, modes, geographic scope – truly, the list goes on and on. Yet, many companies still see TMS as a managed solution or a transport-isolated system. This mindset perpetuates critical gaps in visibility, communication, and activities across supply chain execution. To avoid regret, embrace complexity. Rather than focusing too narrowly on transport management functionswhich solve immediate pain points, also prioritize the degree of customizable options alongside geographic and mode scope which enable scalability and business growth. Prioritize how a solution connects to your greater systems landscape and whether it provides cohesion and end-to-end visibility for more strategic action. If you operate across multiple warehouses, multiple ERPs, multiple WMSs – use that to your advantage! It means you have greater options to negotiate rates, routes, and service level options to always deliver the best service at the best costs. With technology that embraces complexity, you gain agility and intelligent decision-making. You become future-proof in the sense that your technology accommodates the natural ebbs and flows of your business.
Will Chang is an Account Executive at MPO.