Companies that invest in transportation management systems (TMS) generally know what operational paybacks they can expect. But leading edge TMS technology also delivers less obvious returns during the implementation stage, particularly for organizations that are well prepared to actively participate in the project.
In last weeks post, Dave described how client companies can learn much from the first two stages of TMC’s four-stage TMS implementation process (Investigation, Innovation, Integrate and Improve). In this post, we look at the benefits that can be gained from the latter two stages.
It is commonly assumed that the Integrate phase is where the heavy lifting of any implementation process takes place. While this assumption may be true, the weight that needs to be lifted depends directly on the success of the first two stages. Having mapped out the client company’s transportation needs and designed a system to meet these needs, the client and TMC project teams execute on the agreed plan. The required systems and tools are developed, master data is imported, supplier data is integrated, SOPs for all parties created, training conducted, and the information exchanges that underpin daily operations tested systemically and confirmed operationally.
It can be a powerful learning experience for those involved. They get to see firsthand whether the system that began to take shape in the earlier stages of the implementation project actually delivers on the expectations they articulated.
A common pitfall is that there are gaps in the processes charted and designed by the team in the first two stages of the implementation project. Perhaps there was a general assumption that the system data followed a certain path, but when the data was exchanged for testing purposes, the team discovered a different model to the one delineated at the beginning of the project.
A good example is gaps in a customer’s master data. The client company is required to consolidate loads for a particular shipper, but it turns out that there is insufficient data at the SKU level to provide this service. Such discrepancies only surface when you start to share data with external trading partners. Another glitch that crops up is when one group – loading dock personnel, for instance – has not properly communicated how a procedure works to managers, and this has created confusion that has gone undetected for years. To reiterate, both examples are caused by assumptions made, or information withheld, in the earlier project stages.
These are problems that have to be solved; but they are also opportunities. By exposing shortcomings, the process provides a great opportunity for the client company to clean house and make its freight operations more efficient. While performing a scrubbing of master data may not be enjoyable, it is a best practice that needs to be enforced
At the end of the Integration stage the team performs a post mortem to review the process so far and pinpoint areas that failed to meet expectations. For example, where there questions that went unasked in the first two project stages? And could these unspoken questions have provided the information needed to overcome a particular obstacle? Most commonly, a person who was not involved either in the Investigation or Innovation stages is identified in the third stage and is able to provide the needed information. It should be noted that such late changes to the project inevitably cause delays, scope creep, or the deployment of a solution that fails to meet the full needs of the client.
There is second chance to iron out operational wrinkles when the Improve stage kicks in after the solution goes live. At this time, TMC’s implementation team hands off to the TMC account team that handles day-to-day management tasks on behalf of the client company. It is the account team’s responsibility to identify areas for improvement, and work with TMC’s process improvement engineers to research, scope, and implement additional solutions for the client.