When it comes to the deployment of transportation-management technology, it's all about the user experience, says Brad Stewart, president and co-founder of Rockfarm.
SCB: When it comes to transportation-management systems [TMS], how do you see the impact of the user experience taking shape?
Stewart: We see the technology starting to come together with order-management systems [OMS] and enterprise resource planning [ERP]. It’s about the ease of passing data back and forth so that it streamlines processes, eliminates touch points and enhances the user experience.
SCB: Are there any remaining issues about the integration of all these different solutions?
Stewart: No, we see it pretty well intertwined now and integrated. Many of the leading TMS systems are able to pull data out and map it into your ERP and OMS.
SCB: Going forward, it sounds like you don't see any particular challenges in TMS systems integrating with different platforms like warehouse management and order management.
Stewart: We feel it's settled, because we do it for our clients today. It’s game on in terms of being able to integrate data points within all your systems, and connect them from a data-platform perspective.
SCB: For all the talk about the importance and the value of a modern TMS system, a relatively small number of companies actually have them. Why do you think that is?
Stewart: There's a cost consideration, and the change aspect in terms of adding new technologies. The mid-size market is probably in a better place in terms of adapting a TMS, whereas the Fortune 1000 companies have a much bigger struggle because they might have multiple ERPs and legacy processes in place, which inhibit the ability of TMS technology to be integrated. As for smaller companies, they look at the technology and say, how much is that going to cost me? They haven't quite defined the ROI value that you would get from a TMS technology platform.
SCB: What about the issue of companies that acquire the technology, but they don't avail themselves of its full capabilities — they don't turn on all the features that would be of benefit to them. Is that still a problem?
Stewart: I would say it is. There’s so much pressure on us now from the shipper side, from e-commerce all the way through to customer expectations. It becomes easy not to fully integrate it. But if you integrate all the data points that you need to execute the process internally and eliminate touch points, you're in a much better place with technology today.
SCB: Still, shippers have to prioritize their IT spend. How do you deal with those that say, this is what my company is telling me I can or can't do right now?
Stewart: That’s a great point. There’s always this big dollar figure out there in terms of TMS technology. But today, there are so many platforms that allow users to adapt to TMS platforms at a very low cost of entry. To get ROI value from day one is critical.
SCB: Solutions really have to hit the ground running now, don’t they?
Stewart: Absolutely. And one of the things we start off with is understanding the current process, and how that will evolve to a future state with a TMS platform.
SCB: What about smaller carriers? Is there a particular challenge for them in an increasingly technology-driven industry?
Stewart: The biggest challenge for them is figuring out whether they’re aligned to the best technology for their future. Smaller carriers might or might not want to grow. But they still need the technology to illustrate the ease of engagement to find a load, whether it's a backhaul or a head haul. Carriers want to minimize costs to get to that next load. So technology alignment is probably their biggest challenge.
SCB: Is there a challenge in bringing drivers on board with these new systems?
Stewart: We're seeing a trend to bring more relevant information to the driver. It's not just about, I have a load over in Atlanta you can go pick up. It's more about adding the backside pieces to the driver component. You get quick-pay options, you can do the books for them, tell them where their next truck stop is, and track their hours of service. If you can integrate that all into one platform, that becomes more beneficial for the driver.
SCB: What do you see as the leading shipper trend today that would drive better customer experience?
Stewart: Setting the customer expectation within the order lifecycle. You see it in the retail market. You must deliver within a certain range of time. If you don't set that up front, there's a good chance of failure down the road, whether in your carrier, network, transit times, or even your own production schedules. That can eliminate the mystery of where’s my product.
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