Internet of Things on Your TMS

Q: The Internet of Things has been discussed in detail in the supply chain world. Does this have an impact in transportation?

A: The Internet of Things (IoT) is the physical network of vehicles, buildings, devices, and other items that are increasingly connected. I also consider people, as well as legacy applications like ERP and WMS, part of the IoT. Transportation Management Systems (TMS) represent applications that control freight movements.

TMS has been around for a few decades and has always been cross-company platforms, exchanging information with your carriers, vendors, and customers. If you think about it, your TMS is the natural rallying location for supply chain IoT data, not only for analysis but to also improve daily decisions, if done properly.

Q: What players in the supply chain network would contribute?

A: Everybody has data to share: vendors, distributors, cross-docks, carriers, warehouses, retailers, and 3PLs. The trick is, they all have varying levels of technology, from rigid ERPs with fixed communications, to open web service. Sometimes there are standards that help, but often there are not—the key is to meet them where they are. I can’t stress how important it is to be able to take data in any format, quickly and easily. Nobody wants integration projects, so data exchange has to be so simple that integration takes just a few hours to turn on.

Much of a TMS project is figuring out how to get data from everyone, and building what you can’t get. You start with basic data transfers and work toward automating. For a TMS using the IoT, you have to be able to take information from all methods such as:

  • Manual: voice, email, text
  • Self-service portals
  • Classic EDI and API integration
  • Web services

For every business, what’s important to you is unique. This is where you need to impart your own company’s secret sauce, and design a solution that is unique to your own success. Your TMS needs to be able to accept and use this information, and be flexible.

Q: What impact will IoT have in transportation and the broader supply chain?

A: There are real cost savings and service improvement benefits from IoT data. Look at the varied data that is out there: current status, location, warehouse stage, transit times, costs, temperature, delivery information, POD documentation, and more. Note, I’m not talking big data. I’m talking about bringing in information to assist in the thousands of daily real-time decisions a TMS needs to make.

Better data access allows automation of functions, and provides better operations and visibility while capturing data for historical analytics. The data helps you dynamically make better real-time decisions such as which carrier goes to which customers, best level of service for this order, using additional modes like pool distribution, and better responding to disruptions.

Getting to the details and dynamically using them in your daily routing is how to improve service and save money. That makes your TMS the perfect place to start making sense of the IoT—giving you the ability to make smarter decisions faster.

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