Transportation Management System Inquiry

transportation-management-system-inquiryA group member in one of the CIO groups I belong to in LinkedIn posted an inquiry on the good and bad experiences with transport company software solutions.  The inquiry stated the following, “I am currently looking into replacing the main systems platform for a reasonably sized trucking and courier company and would be interested to hear from others who had experience in doing this, the software they selected and any issues they had along the way.”

I responded with the following as I wanted more details on the issue.

“I’m not clear on what you are referring to regarding the main systems platform. Based on your business, a main system can be one of or all of the following:

If you can offer some details on what system(s) are under review I can provide some feedback.”

The member responded with details of their transportation management system (TMS) requirements.  The requirements were fairly comprehensive. However, they were not unusual.  I based my post on the assumption that a packaged solution was preferable over custom system development.  Though I don’t have specific exposure to TMS systems, I offered the following logical approach that can be adapted to any system selection process.  I hope this approach offers some assistance to those conducting new mission critical system due diligence.

  • Will there be terminal/facility user access required for the expected TMS system? If yes, look for TMS systems that offer named users as opposed to concurrent users because the cost per named user is significantly less than per concurrent user.
  • Based on the comprehensive requirements, the underlining database is critical. To consolidate systems, I’m making the assumption that the ERP database is enterprise level (i.e. Oracle, MS SQL, etc…). Therefore, I would leverage current database licensing. However, the existing database servers should be reviewed to determine if they can handle the additional load of a TMS as I expect a fair amount of daily transactional volume.  Affecting other system(s) users will cause an “out cry!”
  • What is the WAN connectivity? Ensure the chosen or existing WAN connectivity is supported by the proposing TMS(s). Concurrently, the “client” servers will need to be robust. Speed is always a prerequisite for an IT system. However, customer faced systems are especially sensitive to performance.
  • There are a variety of available TMS systems. To offer selected systems would be difficult as I don’t have inside information on the organization’s budget, culture, infrastructure, IT resources and vendor relationships. With that said, based on the operational exposure the new TMS system will have, I would partner with a vendor that offers a “turn key” solution as a system like this requires a partner and not a vendor to successfully rollout a system of this magnitude. I’m sure we all know the distinction between a partner and a vendor. Working with independent vendors for aspects of the overall implementation could increase the risk of disconnects between the pieces resulting in strained project management control, cost overruns and missed milestone deadlines.  In addition, choosing a partner will help drive costs down as you can leverage economy of scales contracting with a single provider.
  • Lastly, when reviewing potential partners, I would absolutely request a conference room pilot (CRP) before signing the contract. Sales demos are generic and typically look good at a high level. However, each organization has their unique requirements that uncover holes in a native system that could be a show stopper or necessitate costly modifications to address. Custom programming or modifications could make installing service packs or upgrading very challenging and costly. Also, CRPs usually are chargeable events. Negotiate the cost of the CRP to be credited towards the overall project if you decide to move forward with the provider. If at the end of the CRP it is determined that the system is not meeting expectations, the sunk costs of a CRP are far less painful than a failed TMS project!