The world we live in becomes more globalized every day, and just like people, the goods that we use are constantly on the move. Each time goods made in foreign country land in a consumer’s hands, that product spent time crisscrossing borders, passing through customs, and traveling by land, air, and sea to reach its destination.
With all these moving parts, the field of logistics – the intricate coordination of all the people, equipment, and materials involved in manufacturing and delivering goods – has become overwhelmingly reliant on advanced technological systems.
In the past, a single facility could track the influx and outflow of materials and goods with a sharp supervisor, an inventory sheet, and some detailed planning. Nowadays, in the age of drop-shipping, online retail, and international supply chains, most mid-sized companies couldn’t survive without more sophisticated solutions.
How Transport Management Systems Streamline Logistics
These days, companies place their trust in transport management systems, logistics platforms that are programmed to calculate the most cost-effective way to coordinate the transit of goods.
These systems take into account a company’s production and storage capacities, their delivery vehicles, and their cost margins to make sure that a company’s goods are delivered on time and within budget.
With the right transport management system, companies with thousands of sub-contractors, warehouses, and delivery routes can visualize where their goods are moving and when they’ll reach their intended destination. The powerful computing these programs offer will also allow businesses to identify weaknesses in their supply chain and adapt when something goes wrong.
As with any complex system, if something can go wrong with transportation logistics, it’s best to anticipate that it will go wrong. The beauty of using a transport management system is that the software can calculate the best way to make up for lost time due to unexpected slowdowns caused by closed roads, lost shipments, or almost any other issue.
Essential Features in Transportation Management Software
Transportation management systems are essential tools for goods manufacturers, distributors, and retail companies, all of which need to move products between their respective supply chains to do business successfully. Having lost or delayed shipments means these companies will be operating inefficiently, losing money, and potentially losing lucrative contracts as well.
Having a logistics program that is reliable and effective can mean the difference between a small, quickly resolved supply chain interruption versus having a slight delay snowball into a cascade of late shipments, unhappy clients and business partners, and a massive hit to a company’s reputation and profits.
To be effective tools for complex logistics operations, transportation management systems need to include, among other factors:
- Visibility of moving parts to facilitate shipment/product tracking.
- Information lookup to show shipment documentation.
- Data analytics to assess transport efficiency and optimize future performance.
- Communication with delivery, warehouse, and management personnel.
- Logistical strategy to map the delivery routes that save time and money.
Of course, the needs of different companies will vary based on the size of their operation, the types of goods they are delivering, their customer base, and their budget. The surging market for these services has yielded a wealth of Software-as-a-Service companies that specialize in installing and managing these programs.
However, as “customizable” as some SaaS companies claim they can make their trademark platforms, to be as functional as possible, transport management systems need to feature high-level integration with existing systems in a company. In many cases, that can mean building a brand new TMS program from the ground up is the best option.
The Process of Transportation Software Development
If a company decides to invest in building its own TMS platform, that can quite an involved and expensive undertaking, especially if the company’s existing systems are not already optimized for data analysis and network connectivity. To prepare for developing the best TMS platform for that company’s daily needs, extensive research has to be conducted.
Based on the company’s existing supply chain, its delivery timelines, and business goals, a framework of the TMS features required can be mapped out, to give the software developers working on the project a baseline to work from.
From there, the actual software product can start to be designed. The process of transportation software development will involve, as needed, upgrading existing hardware, setting up a system network, designing interfaces with high usability, and incorporating optimization and data analytics software features.
Once detailed plans are made, they can be implemented, often working around existing equipment that a company already operates. A significant amount of logistics in the last decade has come “online,” but by building a TMS platform-specific to that company, the business will avoid having to rely on workarounds of pre-packaged programs that could potentially compromise efficiency, disaster response, and data security.
In the short-term, developing a completely custom TMS platform can be much more expensive than having a pre-designed platform installed, especially if widespread equipment and systems upgrades are needed for a large number of facilities. However, in the long run, developing an optimal, company-specific logistics platform can reap substantial savings and help the business hit milestones faster.
The Future of Transportation Software in Logistics
The accessibility, optimization, and efficiency that TMS platforms offer companies mean that these tools are going anywhere any time soon, and as the market for them continues to surge, supply chain management will become even more tied to these incredibly useful and profitable systems.
The increasing competitiveness within the field of companies developing these systems promises better, faster, and stronger systems in the future that will reap increased efficiency and reliability for the companies that use them. Additionally, as companies follow the trend of switching from on-premises to cloud-based models, logistics management will likely see rapid advancements in the coming years.
And, as more companies begin to adopt these systems, companies that rely on suppliers, vendors, and subcontractors can receive and analyze data from other companies in their next works. This will facilitate better logistics planning, more accurate optimizations, and better disaster and emergency management.
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