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Examining the Evolution of Transportation Management Systems

Transportation is an ever-evolving industry, and technology has played a huge role in this evolution and will continue to drive the industry forward. One of the most critical tech tools in a fleet’s toolbox is a transportation management system (TMS), used to streamline operations and grow the business.

There’s no doubt that over the years, TMS solutions have evolved to address the needs of today and the future, shifting from primarily on-premise solutions to the cloud, and beyond. Kelly Williams, Trimble’s vice president of product for TMS, maintenance and optimization, shared what she's seeing and hearing from customers as well as what’s next for TMS.

TMS and the Evolving Supply Chain

The supply chain and movement of goods in North America is dynamic and constantly changing, which makes transportation a very complex industry with a wide variety of challenges and unique business needs. As a result, there is no longer a one-size-fits-all TMS that can do everything a customer wants right “out of the box.”

Williams shared that rather than a monolithic TMS that aims to solve all of an organization’s challenges, the industry is moving toward enabling a better cloud-connected set of solutions, which could include driver, order, asset and network management, and more. She says this approach offers a better user experience for drivers, and enables carriers to operate more efficiently regardless of what’s happening around them, like changing technology, geopolitical issues, consumer behavior and more.

“What is really powerful about this direction from a network optimization and network insight standpoint, is it doesn't matter if you're a shipper, a carrier or a 3PL,” Williams shared. “If you're intermodal only on Monday, but on Thursday you want to be a warehouse, you have the ability to operate in the right way in the connected supply chain using our features and solutions.”

For years, Trimble has been building and investing in cloud-enabled infrastructure to give its customers a competitive advantage when it comes to cloud-connected TMS solutions. This goal is being realized through Trimble’s Connect & Scale 2025 strategy, which includes integrations via the Trimble Transportation Cloud and a growing partnership with Microsoft.

Customized, Tailored Solutions

"In the past," Williams said, "customers were often looking for a TMS that did, for example, a handful of specific things: track an order, provide proof of delivery, invoice the customer, or other specific tasks." But Williams shared that she’s seeing a shift. More and more, customers are not coming to Trimble saying they want to solve for a specific problem or find an efficiency, but are instead asking what cloud-based solutions and features Trimble has to solve those issues, which frequently results in a tailored recommendation to meet those needs.

By working more closely with a customer, Trimble is able to see firsthand which solutions can meet a specific need. And as that customer’s needs grow or change, Trimble has more solutions and integrations available that can easily be enabled if and when the time comes.

Strategic vs. Operational Thinking

Williams shared that transportation companies, not surprisingly, can often get caught up in the problem of the day, focusing on day-to-day operations rather than big picture strategy. While it’s important for the TMS to function efficiently every day, in order to advance, transportation companies need to take a step back and assess their overall network strategy and identify opportunities for improvement.

Trimble’s network strategy solutions are able to identify the major pain points that are incurring extra costs or inefficiencies in a carrier’s network so companies can operationally execute against those, while also looking at network insights to inform the larger strategy and the next set of adjustments.

Williams shared that for long-term success, it’s no longer just about solving the current problem, but being able to anticipate the next three. That’s why Trimble is doubling down on creating cloud-connected capabilities and offerings to anticipate customers’ future needs.

No Replacement for Human Interactions

“We're working with human beings here. You can't dismiss that,” Williams shared. “Let the computers do what computers are good at, and let humans do what humans are good at.”

While technology is evolving the transportation industry, there is no replacement for dispatchers, planners and the people on the backend supporting and interacting with drivers, who can put their valuable experience and expertise to work in areas that need creative thinking, or a human touch. Where TMS solutions play a critical role is helping make those individuals work as efficiently and effectively as possible.

Williams shared that while there are many highly specific but technology products and solutions joining the market every day, the glut of disparate systems can seriously hamper productivity. Trimble has instead focused on creating an end-to-end technology environment that enables people to focus on the work that matters to drive true productivity and innovation. Trimble understands the important role people play in keeping the supply chain moving. Simply put, real-world connections and conversations with people are irreplaceable and play a vital role in drivers’ job satisfaction.

Sharing Data to Support a Connected Supply Chain

Finally, Williams said that looking ahead, the value that Trimble can bring is not only in providing a modern and robust stand-alone transportation management system, but also in delivering a portfolio of connected transportation management solutions.

As the transportation industry evolves, the old way of thinking – “my data is my main competitive advantage” – is slowly going by the wayside. The entire industry does better when shippers, carriers, suppliers and more can share data to make the entire system less fragmented.

While companies can gain insights from their own data, seeing how that data is part of the larger connected supply chain can help create overall industry efficiencies and bring the industry into the future. But in order for companies to get this holistic picture and improve the connected supply chain, they need to get comfortable sharing their own data.

Learn more about Trimble’s TMS solutions here.