Ten Questions to Ask When Considering a New TMS
You can’t pick up a logistics magazine or go to a transportation news website without finding a variety of articles on transportation management systems (TMS) and the differences in design. After all, many of these articles are written by TMS vendors who can provide accurate information about their unique systems, as well as, the systems of their competitors. What these articles do not offer are nuanced questions to consider, questions that will help you suss out what your business needs.
Listen, considering your first TMS or switching TMS providers is not a quick and easy task. And the truth is, it shouldn’t be. It’s an important decision that will reverberate in your business for years to come (if you plan right).
If you’re considering a big project like implementing a new TMS, you’re probably working to solve operational, financial, or visibility inefficiencies. And it’s more than likely these problems need to be corrected now. The issue is that most organizations in this position are taking a rather shortsighted approach, neglecting the consideration of future needs in order to fix something in the present.
Here’s the truth–taking a look at the issues you might face in the future is one of the most important things to consider as you start looking at transportation management systems. In that light, I’ve come up with ten questions that will help you make an informed and forward thinking decision.
How long did the issues you are experiencing today exist before you began looking for solutions?
This is your number one consideration because the answer to this question will offer you insight into how comfortable you are with making changes. You want to know this ahead of time, so you can gauge the level of change required of a variety of systems.
How many departments are included in your preliminary research?
I can’t stress this point enough–a new TMS is going to affect every aspect of your organization. TMS implementation isn’t easy, and you will need the support of everyone on your team.
Are your customers, vendors, partners, or providers planning any tech changes in the next few years?
Customer requirements can change overnight. If your customers will be changing systems, you want to know as that might change some of your specific needs. In addition, the TMS not only affects customers, it also has an effect on external parties as well, and often these parties require you to communicate within their parameters.
How often do the TMS providers you are considering update their own back-end systems?
Understanding the core underlying tech stack of the provider is often overlooked but is extremely important. Make sure you ask this question so you have an idea of what this will look like in your business. You’ll want to know how these providers view technology in general, too. Are they updating to the latest APIs, blockchain technology, or are they barely keeping up? Are their integrations easy, or will they create added costs for you?
Do you plan to implement new technologies yourself, or will you have to rely on a TMS provider?
Not everyone wants to or has the ability to implement new technologies. If you must rely on the TMS provider, do you know the cost or implementation timeline? Will the provider allow third party integrations? If so, are hidden costs involved? Some TMS providers claim they support all integrations but then pass those costs through to external parties. In today’s world of open API and Shipper of Choice, you should consider this.
Can your team change current processes or workflows?
Replication of your existing system isn’t what you want or need; however, it’s human nature to change as little as possible. You’ll want to consider the range and depth of overall changes in both processes and workflows. That’s why it’s vital to have all members of your team involved and on board.
Are members of your team on the same page?
Genuine feedback is critical to successful implementation. Team members may see technology as a threat to their positions.
Is your organization “premises” or “cloud” based?
Where does your technology exist? You’ll want a TMS that complements your technology stack rather than sits in opposition to it.
Do you need a TMS vendor or a technology partner?
If you’re looking for both, it’s important that your vendor understands this. A good partner is willing to discuss tech strategies that do not include their array of products. Being upfront about your needs will eliminate miscommunication and unnecessary sales pitches. Remember, you are not going to partner with software. You will partner with people who are the team behind the system!
Once you have answered these questions and have some idea of how to proceed, you’ll want to know exactly what the implementation process will look like. If you choose the correct vendor (and you will if you truly think about and answer the above questions honestly), you will be partnering with them for the long haul. Remember that you do have immediate needs that must be addressed first, but you do not want to attempt too much at once. A phased approach will offer you and all stakeholders the time to learn and correct changes as you work continually to improve your system.
Change in logistics is accelerating as if it weren’t fast enough before. A TMS is only a part of this change. The questions you ask and the thought processes you engage as you begin to consider this decision must be broad and wide-ranging while including a variety of viewpoints from people in your organization. Choosing a TMS is a big decision, and it’s important to have a solid strategy with the underlying knowledge that this technology will become part of all aspects of your operation.