Is your logistics tech stack pulling its weight?
Maybe you’ve invested in a transportation management system (TMS), but it hasn’t reduced your team’s labor and found you the cost savings you were hoping it would.
Or maybe you’re still managing your supply chain manually (via spreadsheets and email) or with systems like QuickBooks that can handle part of the job, but not all of it.
It might be time to choose a new TMS.
But there are loads of options out there — how do you pick one?
Learn when it’s time to invest in a TMS (or upgrade your current tool), what differentiates some major TMS players, and five important steps you can take when shopping for a new solution.
The simple answer is: when your transportation is more difficult to manage than it should be.
This obviously means something different to different shippers, but there are some specific signals you can look for.
These hold true whether you’re buying a TMS for the first time or if you're looking to upgrade your current system.
First-Timers: Signs You Need to Start Using a TMS
- You have too many manual processes.
If you’re still tendering freight via email and spreadsheet, imagine how much easier your life would be if you could connect all your carriers from a single platform.
- You’re growing quickly.
You might have been able to get away with manual methods as a new business with a single facility. But as you expand, the complexity of your freight network can grow exponentially.
- You don’t have or can’t track KPIs.
Have you set on-time and tender acceptance KPI standards for your carriers to hit?
And are you able to see if they’re performing at a high enough level?
Are you able to report easily on your transportation spend?
- You don’t have a routing guide.
Once your network grows beyond a single dedicated carrier servicing one or two facilities, you need a routing guide to keep up.
And when you make one, you’ll quickly realize a TMS is the only smart way to put it in action.
- Your personnel are doing work they shouldn’t be.
If your accounting team is pitching in with load planning, you need a system in place to get that work off of their plate.
Existing Users: Signs You Need to Change Your TMS Provider
- Complicated load tendering process in your current system.
A TMS is supposed to reduce hurdles to getting your freight on trucks, not put more of them up.
If your team is struggling to execute this basic task in your current system, you might want to look elsewhere.
- Lack of API/EDI integration.
A TMS is at its most powerful when it’s able to integrate with your freight providers’ systems.
You want to be sure you’re using one that can easily sync load data, paperwork and invoices/payment between yourself and your carriers.
- Your current system can’t keep up with your volume.
As you move more and more shipments, there may be more opportunities for cost and time savings through dynamic load consolidation.
You want your software to be able to identify them.
- Your current TMS is difficult to use.
You need a system that is intuitive for new users to pick up and easy for existing users to work with.
If your team struggles to generate basic reports on your network in a clunky UI, your TMS isn’t really saving time.
- Your current system doesn’t do well with your modal mix.
If LTL, intermodal, or air and ocean are important links in your supply chain, you can’t afford to use a TMS that struggles to manage them.
Ultimately, it comes down to whether or not you have decent supply chain visibility and the ability to execute.
If you are struggling to keep your supply chain data clear and actionable and you know you’re missing opportunities to improve, it’s time to make a change.
Want to try a free, cloud-based TMS solution?
CoyoteGO Premium is an easy-to-use TMS that let's you manage your freight, your carrier network, your routing guides and your payments — and it's also totally free. Check it out to see if it's right for your business.
No matter which TMS you choose, there are some features you should definitely expect to find.
Virtually all modern TMS platforms:
- Are cloud-based
- Let you plan loads and tender freight
- Allow you to upload a routing guide
- Handle your accounting needs
- Track and report on KPI performance
That said, not all platforms are created equal.
When evaluating providers, take the following factors into account.
This is often the most important factor that shippers consider when choosing a TMS.
Some systems and providers are more intuitive when it comes to the specific data entry demands for certain modes (LTL accessorials, for instance).
Certain systems may also offer integrations with more providers in some modes than others.
This is particularly important if you frequently use modes outside of standard dry van truckload. If you regularly book open-deck equipment, final mile capacity, or air and ocean transportation, you need a TMS that can handle it.
Managed Solution or SaaS
This distinction has to do with both the service you need and the price you’re willing to pay for your TMS.
There are plenty of software as a service (SaaS) TMS solutions out there: BluJay, Transplace/Uber Freight, LoadSmart to name a few.
These are out-of-the-box systems that you can purchase with an annual subscription and that your logistics team can use to manage your freight.
For a more white-glove experience, some TMS providers such as TMC, Shipwell, Emerge, Blue Yonder offer what’s called a managed solution, which means they back their software product with dedicated personnel who can help you operate it.
If you’re at a larger company with a more significant transportation budget, you might want to invest in this level of service.
Automated Shipping Optimizations
The more sophisticated TMS options out there do more than just give you a platform for managing your data.
They actively work to make your freight network more efficient.
These systems will use heuristic models to learn your freight network, anticipate your needs and help you eliminate inefficiencies by consolidating loads traveling in the same lanes.
1. Consider Your Goals & Network Needs
The first step to any search is knowing what you’re looking for.
What business problems are you hoping to address with your new TMS?
What modes does it need to perform in?
What data does it absolutely have to capture?
What is your budget?
What is your network’s level of complexity?
- Smaller Businesses
If you’re only moving a few loads per week, a robust, complex TMS is overkill.
If you can mostly manage your supply chain using spreadsheets and emails, there are many off-the-shelf solutions that require very little set up with simple, budget-friendly monthly or per-load payment structures.
- Larger Businesses
As you start increasing your level of network complexity (multiple loads per week, larger carrier base, multiple modes, multiple shipping facilities), you will likely want to invest in a more comprehensive TMS to automate your processes and provide a centralized view of your operations.
2. Gather Your Internal Data
Operational data is key to understanding whether a SaaS TMS might meet your needs or if you will really benefit from a managed solution that comes with operational support.
You’ll need detailed information about your freight network so your provider knows how complex your supply chain actually is.
3. Identify Options and Get Quotes
Make a short list of three to five options that seem like they could meet your needs. A little internet research combined with some networking with your peers should make this part pretty straightforward.
Next, submit the forms and start getting in touch with account representatives.
4. Host an RFP
Once you have your few options, host an RFP (request for proposal) and get quotes for the service level you’ll need.
A TMS is a big investment, both financially and operationally, so it’s important to carefully consider your options.
Be sure to ask whether the platforms you’re considering integrate easily with your current systems.
If you’ve done steps one to three thoroughly, it should be straightforward to separate the actual contenders from those that won’t cut it for you.
5. Try It Out
Most TMS platforms allow you an evaluation period to test it out and see if you think it will work for you.
Some even offer a sandbox environment where you can plug in your data and test for functionality.
During this time, you’ll want to pay close attention to how your team works with the tool and whether its user interface seems intuitive.
You want to avoid wasting time and resources onboarding a clunky tool that your team will struggle to use, and this is your opportunity to make sure you don’t put yourself in that position.
6. Make a Decision
By this point, you should have all the information you need to purchase your new TMS.
If you went the SaaS route, you’re ready to start onboarding your team. If you chose a managed solution, it’s time to start building a relationship with the team that will be working on your behalf.
Either way, your supply chain is about to get more agile and resilient!
Take Our TMS for a Test Drive (It's Totally Free)
CoyoteGO Premium® is a cloud-based TMS that puts you squarely in control of your network.
You can upload a routing guide and tender freight, procure truckload and LTL spot rates through our classic CoyoteGO interface, and manage and track KPIs with six different types of automated reporting.
You can enroll in and use the platform at no cost and you’ll enjoy the support of a dedicated product specialist to ensure you get the most out of it.
Take it for a spin and see if it's a good fit for your transportation network.