St. Onge Company Links Supply Chain Blog
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Building a Gingerbread House or TMS?

With multiple transportation industry modes available and ancillary freight functions (freight bill audit & payment, freight claims, etc.), how do you ensure that your transportation solution is systematically operating efficiently?  This is like assembling a gingerbread house, you need to build it correctly.  This requires the correct supplies, the right number of each of the supplies, instructions, and individuals with the right skill set(s).

Instead of gingerbread, icing bags, icing, and candy decorations, your transportation supplies are

  • The right software for YOUR operations
  • Clearly defined interfaces with other software or systems
  • Accurate master data
  • The right software configurations

Your company’s vision/plan, footprint, products/industry, customer locations, and the transportation modes you use, will determine what type of TMS (Transportation Management System) or gingerbread cookies you need.  This will also determine what supporting software is required; e.g. supplier management, freight claims, mapping, etc.  Without the right gingerbread recipe, your house can crumble.  Similarly, your transportation solution can fail if the wrong software is chosen for your specific needs.

Just as icing links each piece of gingerbread together, the systematic integration does this with the software.  Integration defines the method/protocol that allows data to be transmitted from one software and populate another without data re-entry by a human.  Some examples of common transmission protocols are FTP (File Transfer Protocol), FTPS (File Transfer Protocol Secure), SFTP (File Transfer Protocol over a Secure Shell), VAN (Value-Added Network), and AS2 (Applicability Statement 2).  In addition to integrating within transportation solution, the transportation solution needs to be integrated with other software within your company (manufacturing system, warehouse management software, etc.) and possibly 3rd party software (business intelligence, etc.).

Candy decorations complete the gingerbread house to make it your own.  This comparison may be a stretch but I am going with it: Accurate master data enables the transportation solution to meet your operational needs.  “Master data” is consistent data such as vendors, locations, items which contain their defining attributes.  Collaborate with the applicable up and downstream parties ensures that the master data is setup, configured, and integrated to other software, correctly.

Master data also affects the transactional data.  For instance, the “item master data” is used to create a sales order in the manufacturing system which in turn is used to create a shipment in the TMS.  If the details of the item in the manufacturing system’s item master file are incorrect, they may not match the actual physical attributes.  This can cause not only picking and packing issues but also delays in TMS operations (incorrect mode, delayed shipment creation, etc.), shipping, and delivery to the end customer.  So master data both directly and indirectly affects transportation operations.

Software typically comes standard with options that need to be setup or configured to match your operations.  Configurations are different than customizations, which require the software vendor to customize or change the standard functionality for an additional cost.  Do you need a front door made of pretzels, candy canes, or gingerbread?  Should it be a single or double door with a rounded or flat top?  For instance, if the manufacturing software is the source system and the TMS executes the outbound shipping, the vendors/freight carriers and locations (origin, stops, and destination) used in the TMS should mirror the manufacturing system’s master data tables.  If the TMS tables are integrated with the manufacturing system, what triggers the data to be sent to the TMS and how it is sent, is a configuration.  Once received in the TMS, how this master data is used is also a configuration.  For instance, if the vendor/freight carrier is deactivated, the TMS should not assign it to a shipment.  There are two types of configurations; software vendor and client.  Typically, the configuration responsibilities for the software vendor are most complex and less complex for the client.  The division of responsibility and obtaining the proper training are key for the client.

As you are building your transportation solution, you should also be documenting the processes and developing training materials.  These are like your gingerbread house assembly instructions.

Selecting the team to create and assemble the gingerbread house affects the success of the final result.  Therefore, the gingerbread team (for the sake of conversation) is comprised of individuals with baking and architectural skills.  You will need to secure the right skill sets on the team to manage the transportation solution project and/or develop and implement it.  This may require a mix of internal, external, permanent, and temporary team members.  To set your solution up for success, ensure that you have the right people in place to execute it.  Otherwise you may wind up with icing that doesn’t stick, gingerbread cookies that are too brittle, incorrectly sized candies, pieces that don’t fit together, and, ultimately, a mess!

Stay tuned for more blogs that continue to explore the transportation industry and systems.

–Jess Kittrell, St. Onge Company

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