TMS Features: 14 Any Transportation Management System Needs

“How can we do better?” With all the issues facing the global supply chain these days, a lot of people are asking that important question.
So today we’re providing a round-up of the best features to look for in a transportation management system (TMS) software platform. We’ll provide a brief overview of what a TMS is. Then we’ll dive into the key features that will help all of us reach our key performance indicators (KPIs). Here are fourteen TMS features any company needs:
  1. Optimized load planning and routing
  2. Electronic load tendering
  3. Dispatch and tracking
  4. Driver management, IFTA, and ELD integrations
  5. Integrated equipment management and maintenance schedules
  6. Cloud-hosted services
  7. Centralized interface for all freight modes
  8. Predictive analytics
  9. Warehouse management software (WMS) integration
  10. Cold chain management
  11. Blockchain integrations
  12. Downloadable datasets
  13. Visibility tools
  14. Digitized document administration tools

Defining Transportation Management Systems (TMS)

A transportation management system (TMS) is a piece of software used in the supply chain industry. People use the data a TMS provides in a number of ways: Evaluating orders. Tracking shipments. Selecting ideal transportation solutions. In short, a TMS helps match freight with the best carrier. Beyond that, TMS platforms are also designed to integrate and aggregate data from other software systems. This includes data from procurement, shipping, warehousing, and document digitization software. In that sense, a TMS is the backbone of any supply chain company’s tech stack. But what else can a TMS do? Let’s investigate!

1. Optimized Load Planning and Routing

Every TMS needs great load planning and route optimization tools. These are the types of features that put TMS platforms on the map to begin with. Make sure yours has all the bells and whistles you need. Then make sure your people find the interface clean and easy to use.  

2. Electronic Load Tendering

One primary function of a TMS is to provide electronic load tendering tools. This tool matches and communicates about shipments of freight with potential carriers. A TMS user can evaluate the best method and compare carrier options. In essence, this tool helps you determine what will give you the most bang for your buck.

3. Dispatch and Tracking

A TMS feature for anyone dealing with drivers directly is dispatch and tracking tools. Put another way, dispatch and tracking is the bread and butter for managing relationships and specific shipments with carriers and drivers. These features put the basic information of who and where in front of your operations team. Who’s carrying the load? And where’s it going?
As such, dispatch and tracking features accumulate the raw data that allows you to monitor performance. These tools essentially make the whole industry turn. In short, this is how you ensure the goods get delivered on time.

4. Driver Management, IFTA, and ELD Integrations

Most drivers just like to drive. They tend to be creatures of habit. There are a few parts of the job description I know a lot of drivers find to be burdensome. Interstate fuel tax agreement (IFTA) reporting is one of them. Another is electronic logging device (ELD) reporting. TMS platforms that integrate with a driver’s vehicle to automatically collect this data streamline the day-to-day grind. Everyone can appreciate that. This data can be transmitted through an Internet of Things (IoT) bolt-on device. That said, more original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are including the connectivity devices in their new trucks. It’s possible to monitor driving habits too. The eye in the sky don’t lie! That may irk some old-school drivers. But it works both ways. Truck tracking and driver management can also protect a driver from liability in the event of an accident. TMS features that track a driver and their habits can help guide that individual toward optimized driving behavior.

5. Integrated Equipment Management and Maintenance Schedules

Similar to driver tracking, good TMS platforms will have vehicle management tools. These tools keep track of every vehicle’s maintenance schedules. Routine oil changes. Tune-ups. Tires. These are vital to monitor. But I have a hard enough time keeping the oil changed on time in my own car! So just imagine what it takes to keep an entire fleet of trucks running at full capacity.

6. Cloud-Hosted Services

Cloud-based software is a must, in my opinion. There are many benefits for going with a cloud-based, software as a service (SaaS) TMS platform. For starters, you’ll be able to update and upgrade in real time. Beyond that, a cloud-based system makes it easier to create a digital twin. That’s a virtual representation of your physical supply chain. Along with digitized documents, digital twins are a step toward improved supply chain visibility.
Another soft benefit of cloud-based TMS systems is remote work. Remote work allows for flexible schedules. And flexible schedules tend to make employees happier.

7. Centralized Interface for All Freight Modes

A user experience (UX) feature I recommend is to find a TMS platform with one interface that manages multiple transportation modes. Full truckload. Parcel. LTL. Rail. Ocean freight. Air freight. Inbound. Outbound. Regardless, find one system.
This is a matter of efficiency. The modes can and should be separated and sectioned out cleanly. But the fewer systems and websites that shippers, 3PLs, brokers, and carriers need to learn and visit, the better.

8. Predictive Analytics defines predictive analytics as “the use of data, statistical algorithms, and machine learning techniques to identify the likelihood of future outcomes based on historical data.” Predictive analytics seeks to move beyond the assumption that the past will repeat itself. To do that, predictive analytics uses big data to make better assessments of what will happen in the future. This data comes from IoT devices, your internal systems, and external sources. The result? Improved, more informed operations.  

9. Warehouse Management Software (WMS) Integration

Where are you in the supply chain? Do you interact with warehouses? If so, it may make sense to look for a TMS platform with warehouse management software (WMS) integration. This is another tool that can help with visibility.
WMS tools help track inventory levels, as you’d expect. Also, they use analytics to achieve accurate forecasts for demand. In addition, WMS integrations can predict spikes in shipment volumes.
Those features are great. But something as simple as a dock scheduling feature can also make everyone’s life easier. A WMS integration with real-time tracking helps not just the warehouse, but carriers as well. Clean yard management is just good for everyone.

10. Cold Chain Management

A lot of freight travels in refrigerated trucks and containers. Ensuring that the temperature of a shipment is kept within the required specification is vital. Thus, the cold chain is one of my favorite use cases of supply chain visibility. Why? Well, even a slight thawing might spoil a shipment of frozen goods.
The health and well-being of consumers is on the line when it comes to the cold chain. Therefore, if you ever transport refrigerated freight, look for a TMS with visibility features that help track temperatures.

11. Blockchain Integration

Up next is blockchain. The use case for blockchain within the supply chain is intriguing for a number of reasons. The basic premise of blockchain is that data points are locked into the information chain of ones and zeros. Think of a bill of lading on steroids. Indeed, some blockchain-backed documents could carry a certain contractual weight. So data could move quickly and securely. In addition, the idea of using a universal cryptocurrency may streamline transactions as well. Therefore, you may want to find a TMS that has plans for integrated blockchain.

12. Downloadable Datasets (to Present on Those KPIs)

Unless you’re on the board of directors, chances are good that you’ll need to draft a report at some point. It’s nice when your TMS allows you to download your shipping data into an Excel spreadsheet. And it’s even better when your TMS allows you to download your shipping data as charts and graphs. Here’s an important reminder: No one likes a boring slide deck! Creating dynamic visual presentations should always be on the list of your key performance indicators (KPIs).

13. Visibility Tools

First of all, visibility might be the word of the year in supply chain circles. Indeed, people around the world are coming to recognize that the supply chain is literally a series of links. And we’ve seen what happens when a weak link in the supply chain can’t handle the load. Yes, the ball gets dropped and disruptions happen. Now just about every supply chain expert is touting visibility as the best way forward.
That said, it’s one thing to talk about visibility. Everyone can nod during the heady, early days of a logical concept. As groups actually try to enact visibility, however, there are sure to be hiccups.
Make sure your TMS isn’t one of those hiccups!
Ask your TMS partner about this up front. Find one that has clear integrations that provide at least the potential for safe data-sharing and visibility.

14. Digitized Document Administration Tools

All TMS platforms need document digitization integration features. Obviously, the supply chain industry pushes a lot of paper. Load documents. Invoices. Payroll. Settlements. Audits. These things all consume a lot of paper and time.
The administration process of the supply chain produces reams of paperwork. But the industry wisely has evolved toward digitized freight. All TMS platforms should integrate with a digitized document software provider. For an example of leading digitized document software, look into Vector.

In Closing

At the top of this article, I asked what I believe is an important question: “How do we get better?” A TMS with the right features will help.
The supply chain industry has challenges ahead of us regardless. But one thing is clear in my opinion: A paperless supply chain is the next step to a better supply chain.
  This post was written by Brian Deines. Brian believes that every day is a referendum on a brand’s relevance, and he’s excited to bring that kind of thinking to the world of modern manufacturing and logistics. He deploys a full-stack of business development, sales, and marketing tools built through years of work in the logistics, packaging, and tier-1 part supply industries serving a customer base comprised of Fortune 1000 OEMs.
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