New Kids in Town: 3PLs Move Into the TMS Market
If you want to manage transportation in-house, you contract with a software vendor for a transportation management system (TMS). If you want to outsource, you ask a third-party logistics (3PL) provider to handle transportation for you. Those have been the basic options for years.
Today, though, shippers enjoy another choice: some 3PLs have gone to market with TMS solutions of their own. Shippers who deploy such a TMS might also engage the 3PL for other services, including some that involve transportation. Or they might purchase the software solution à la carte.
“Working with a 3PL doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing process,” says George Abernathy, executive vice president and chief operating officer at Transplace, a Dallas-based 3PL whose offerings include the Transplace Transportation Management System.
Transplace first developed its TMS for internal use, replacing an old mainframe system. The company then started to offer the software as a hosted solution— or Software-as-a-Service (SaaS)— as a way to maintain relationships with clients who were shifting logistics functions to in-house staff.
The next logical step was to seek a wider market. “We made the TMS available to shippers who had not used us as a 3PL before,” Abernathy says.
SaaS is an increasingly popular software delivery model, and many traditional IT companies offer that option as well. Most software vendors offer their TMS solutions in two formats: license-and-install, and SaaS, according to Transportation Management Report 2011, published by New York-based Capgemini Consulting.
From a technical perspective, it doesn’t matter whether a shipper gets a TMS from a traditional software company or from a 3PL, says Roy Ananny, senior manager, transportation practice at Atlanta-based supply chain consulting firm Chainalytics.
But getting a TMS from a 3PL offers flexibility. “Shippers who have outsourced to Transplace as a 3PL have moved to a more software-as-a-service relationship, and back again to a more outsourced relationship,” Abernathy says. Conversely, some shippers who come to Transplace for the TMS alone later decide to let the 3PL manage some or all of their transportation.
For most Transplace TMS customers, using the system is similar to using a TMS hosted by any software vendor. Not so for shippers who use Managed TMS, a SaaS solution from Eden Prairie, Minn.-based 3PL C.H. Robinson. Under C.H. Robinson’s model, the shipper and 3PL collaborate on transportation management.
C.H. Robinson launched Managed TMS in 1998 for shippers that wanted to outsource day-to-day transportation, but also wanted technology in-house to support carrier management and other strategic functions, says Jordan Kass, executive director of TMC, the C.H. Robinson division that provides Managed TMS.
“Shippers are realizing it’s difficult to be strategic when they’re also expected to run the tactical business,” Kass says.
Under the Managed TMS model, “power users” employed by C.H. Robinson, stationed at the shipper’s site or at one of the 3PL’s regional “control towers,” use the software to route shipments, tender loads, and conduct other day-to-day activities. Shippers use the system to obtain the business intelligence they need to make longer-term transportation decisions. “They develop the plan, and we execute it,” Kass says.
Managed TMS provides shippers the chance to save money by cooperating with other shippers. A single platform supports all C.H. Robinson customers— whether or not those customers also use the TMS themselves.
“They’re already integrated, and so are their carriers,” Kass says. “That presents a unique opportunity to collaborate on round-trips, LTL consolidation, or other efficient transportation moves.”
Better business intelligence
Like C.H. Robinson, Blue Grace Logistics in Riverview, Fla., has developed a TMS based on collaboration between shipper and 3PL. “Some of our customers only utilize the TMS,” says Bobby Harris, chief executive officer at Blue Grace. “They just want the technology piece, and they manage their own rates and shipping. But the majority of customers engage us to handle distribution, and our TMS is the centerpiece.”
Blue Grace provides its BlueShip system as a free service to customers who use it mainly as a visibility and business intelligence tool. For example, a purchasing manager might use the system to find out when a particular shipment is due to arrive. A chief financial officer might pull a report to learn what the company paid to ship product to a certain state in the past 60 days.
“The system allows us to gather data and compile a detailed review,” Harris says. For instance, the system could help Blue Grace and the shipper find opportunities to save money by consolidating shipments.
Whether they decide on a long-time TMS market resident or the new guy in town, the variety of choice increases the chance that shippers will find a solution to closely match their needs.
For a tour of TMS solutions available from traditional software providers, download the IL’s TMS Buyer’s Guide.
Software House or 3PL? Addressing Your TMS Needs
How do you know whether to obtain your transportation management system from a traditional vendor or from a third-party logistics provider? Consider these factors when making your decision:
The Solution’s Track Record
Some 3PLs have offered a TMS for some time, or have based their products on well-established technology purchased from another firm. But 3PLs in general may fall slightly behind traditional TMS vendors in developing their systems. “There may be some areas where other TMS vendors offer functionality lacking in your 3PL’s TMS,” says Roy Ananny, senior manager, transportation practice at consulting firm Chainalytics in Atlanta. “Whatever the source of a TMS, it’s wise to ask the vendor how long it has been offering the solution.”
The Appeal of Added Services
Do you want some of the additional services a 3PL can offer along with a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) TMS? If functions such as carrier selection and rate management aren’t part of your core competencies, your company is better off working with a 3PL, says Jordan Kass, executive director of TMC, the TMS division of Eden Prairie, Minn.-based 3PL C.H. Robinson.
Your Desired Collaboration Level
TMC’s SaaS solution, Managed TMS, promotes collaboration between the shipper and 3PL. But some shippers don’t want that kind of relationship. “They may want in-house staff to operate the TMS and handle tactical execution,” Kass notes. If this is the case for your company, a 3PL TMS might not be right for you.
The Technology’s Quality
If you are considering a TMS from a 3PL, evaluate its IT capabilities just as you would any other software provider. “Evaluate whether the 3PL is as rigorous toward what it has built, designed, and supports as a software vendor that’s building a TMS as its primary business model,” recommends George Abernathy, executive vice president and chief operating officer at Dallas-based 3PL Transplace.
The 3PL’s Vertical Knowledge
Make sure that the 3PL has expertise in your market. “Transplace, for example, designed its system to be user-friendly for consumer packaged goods, food and beverage, discrete manufacturing, and retail shippers,” Abernathy says. “But, the software can also play in other verticals.” If a 3PL has never worked with companies in your vertical market, investigate carefully before choosing that TMS.
Changing the TMS Scene
Here are some 3PLs that have moved into the transportation management system (TMS) space. They offer their TMS either as a stand-alone option or part of the outsourced transportation service.
Blue Grace Logistics
BlueShip TMS allows users to customize their transportation process, providing functions such as rating, routing, tracking, and reporting.
Cardinal Hosted Logistics
Cardinal’s hosted TMS, available as a stand-alone solution or integrated with other services, enables shipment management from order creation to final-mile delivery.
Echo Global Logistics
FlexTMS offers Echo Global clients routing guide management, automated load entry, tendering and acceptance, load visibility, customized reporting, and analytics.
Exel will configure and deploy its TMS to shipper specifications.
Available to Jacobson customers, the Logistics Integrated Network Collaboration System (LINCS) offers access to shipment information to enhance order visibility and product flow throughout the supply chain.
LeSaint supports its transportation management services with its Web-enabled TransTech TMS, which gives shippers visibility to shipping costs and activities.
Menlo Worldwide Logistics
The Logistics Management Solutions suite available to Menlo customers features decision-making tools to select carriers and routes based on customer-specific business rules.
SEKO’s TMS allows users to automatically audit invoices, report exceptions, and generate real-time track-and-trace information for international and domestic shipments.
TMC, A Division of C.H. Robinson
TMC’s Managed TMS provides planning, execution, settlement, and strategic procurement capabilities.
Transplace’s on-demand TMS automates order management, optimizes and tracks shipments, and builds sustainable routes to increase asset utilization.
The Weber Web Portal provides shippers access to TMS functions such as shipment visibility, reporting, and custom business rule setup.
Werner’s SMART system provides customers shipment validation, visibility, and optimization, and comprehensive data collection.