St. Onge Company Links Supply Chain Blog
Strengthening your supply chain one link at a time.

Transportation Systems – The Citrus Family

The saying, “It is like comparing apples to oranges,” means comparing two different things makes the comparison invalid.

We can use fruit as an analogy to describe Supply Chain Execution Systems (SCES). SCES include multiple systems that enable supply chain operations, such as warehousing, transportation, and labor management.  Therefore, the systems within these SCES groups would be the fruit groups.  Let’s use citrus to describe commercial transportation systems.  Are you hungry yet?!

Historically, there were separate systems that enabled commercial transportation functionality.  Although Transportation Management Software (TMS) may sound like the generic term to describe any software or system providing this functionality, it is not.  Some of the various transportation systems include:

  • “Grapefruit”/Shipper TMS. This is the traditional TMS used by shippers to plan and execute efficient and on-time, one-way freight movements with for-hire, common (Truckload, Less-Than-Truckload, Parcel, Intermodal) carriers by automating processes, transactional sourcing, route modeling, and shipment visibility.
  • “Pink Grapefruit”/ 3PL (Third-Party Logistics) TMS. This is similar to the above functionality but specific to 3PL operations and encompasses receiving shippers’ freight tenders/shipment requests, assigning an underlying carrier, and communicating with shippers and carriers throughout the shipment’s life.
  • “Tangerine”/Fleet Management. Shippers use this with private/company-owned or dedicated/contracted for-hire transportation fleets.  Fleets are comprised of equipment (tractors/trailers, straight trucks, etc.) and drivers that operate them.  This fleet-specific technology includes TMS functions for round-trips and supports “last-mile” operational processes while ensuring the fleet is utilized safely and efficiently and the equipment is maintained and high-performing.
  • “Blood Orange”/Rail Transportation Software. The three above are focused on the OTR/“Over-The-Road” freight network delivered by a vehicle using road modes; however, this software is specific to the rail mode.  Shippers use this, and although the premise is the same as a traditional “TMS,” the technology is different because the rail network functionality is so different from OTR.

Each system is within the same “citrus”/transportation systems family but caters to different freight parties and modes; shippers/OTR (grapefruit), 3PLs/OTR (pink grapefruit), shippers/fleets (tangerine), and shippers/rail (blood orange). I mentioned above “historically” because these vendors started out providing only one of these as their sole solution.

Today, the vendor market is vast.  Some vendors still focus on one principal solution or citrus fruit.  Others offer hybrid citrus fruits by providing solutions encompassing part or all of another transportation solution or partnering with other vendors.  For instance, a TMS might include fleet management functionality, or the vendor has started to expand into the rail realm, or a vendor’s offering includes fleet management on another platform or is integrated with a partner to provide rail.

Do you have multiple transportation systems needs, where one is the focus and the others are smaller needs or even nice-to-haves?  If so, evaluate vendors whose core competency matches your primary transportation need and where their newer, peripheral solutions meet your basic requirements of the smaller needs.  Or is your mix different, with multiple primary transportation needs? When looking for a transportation system solution to support your operations, ask yourself, which flavor or flavors do you need?

Stay tuned for subsequent blogs that explore the shipper, OTR transportation systems, TMS, and Fleet Management.

–Jess Kittrell, St. Onge Company

Enter your email to subscribe to "Links":


St. Onge Company is Proud to Have Been Ranked Among the Highest-Scoring Businesses on Inc. Magazine’s Annual List of Best Workplaces for 2023

We have been named to Inc. Magazine’s annual Best Workplaces list! Featured in the May/June 2023 issue, the list is the result of a comprehensive measurement of American companies that have excelled in creating exceptional workplaces and company culture, whether operating in a physical or a virtual facility.

From thousands of entries, we are one of only 591 companies honored.

Click here to see our listing!