Deciding to implement a transportation management system (TMS) is one of the most effective ways shippers can gain control over logistics and manage freight spend. Unfortunately, selecting a system is only one half of the battle. The remainder includes TMS integration and ongoing maintenance of the system. At the same time, a shipper’s needs are in continual flux, and the requirements of today do not necessarily reflect those of tomorrow. As explained by Emma James of Inbound Logistics, shippers must focus on what they hope to achieve following TMS integration and implementation. For example, it may be necessary to add customers needing export and import capabilities in addition to domestic transportation. Therefore, shippers should take the time to ask a few specific integration questions before ever beginning the process to understand what they should expect.
What Software or Programming Language Is Used for TMS Integration?
The first question to ask is the simplest. What software programming languages used for integration? For example, will PHP, classic ASP or ASP.net be used? Is integration achieved via a restful application programming interface (API), or does the system operate with a traditional electronic data interchange (EDI)? Alternatively, will the system rely on outdated SOAP protocols to enable integration, reflecting an increase in time and cost of such integration?
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Can the TMS Integrate With Legacy Systems or Other Cloud-based Platforms?
Concerning integration, it is essential to consider whether the system is compatible with legacy systems and cloud-based platforms. After all, the best plans on the planet for TMS integration could fall short if the system does not integrate well with your existing e-commerce platforms, which may have involved countless millions of dollars in investment throughout the past. Fortunately, many cloud-based platforms are built on modern, more advanced APIs and an open architecture-based system, allowing for broad compatibility. The exact nature of the compatibility will depend on how the TMS was designed.
How Long Will Integration Take to Complete?
In a recent podcast, the timeline of implementation and integration is one of the most common questions shippers have. At Cerasis, integration timelines can vary dramatically based on shipper needs and use of legacy systems. Some shippers may achieve full integration within a period of days. Others may require months to get system settings and integration correct. Fortunately, at Cerasis, with our in-house TMS development team, we’ve been able to standardize most integrations, no matter the shipper’s technology capabilities, so the process is clear, smooth, and fast. This may not be true from other TMS providers, so asking specific questions, are crucial.
Are Additional Modifications to the TMS Necessary to Enable Integration?
In today’s age, it is easy to assume that every TMS should provide the functionality to enable ongoing modification. While most systems can be integrated into some form or fashion to accommodate specific alteration, such change may not always be necessary. As a result, shippers should know if additional modifications to the TMS will be required to enable integration. At the same time, shippers should work with their software vendor to review requested changes and manage the cost of implementation.
What Are the One-Time and Perpetual Costs of Integration?
Your TMS integration will likely incur both one-time and perpetual costs, coming in the form of time or money or manpower. One-time costs are those reflecting the initial integration and implementation process, such as purchasing the software. For those leveraging software-as-a-service payment models, such as those offered by Cerasis, costs will recur based on the contractual terms between shippers and the software vendor. Aside from this concern, shippers should also consider whether additional costs of integration will be necessary as new versions of the software are released and how the company evolves in the future.
What Is the Difference Between Web Services Integration and Standard Integration?
Another concern is the difference between standard integration, relying on an on-premises solution, and Web services integration, leveraging cloud-based technology. A standard integration will typically live on-premise, and the Web services integration live within the software vendors data center. Standard integration processes often offer more flexibility, but Web services integration is possible too. The only limitation with Web services is a rigid, fixed user interface.
Concerning Web Services, What Functionality Is Available?
The level of functionality within Web services during TMS integration is significant. Your software vendor should be able to offer shipment rating, shipment scheduling, tracking, shipment counseling, and information requests within the TMS. For those that consider an on-premise solution, the same functionality can be expanded. However, it all depends on the level of sophistication and compatibility within legacy systems.
Does the System Offer a Testing Environment for Ongoing Development?
The ability to test new processes and workflows is crucial to maximizing the ongoing maintenance and development of your TMS platform. Furthermore, it is critical to assess whether a system offers a testing environment for review of data and process execution before your go-live date.
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Ask the Right Questions to Optimize Your Integration Timeline
Asking the right questions will optimize your TMS integration and reduce delays. Furthermore, some shippers may realize the chosen solution during the TMS selection phase will fall short when it comes time to begin the process of integration. By asking these questions, shippers can further ensure their selected TMS will fulfill its promise and need.
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