This month we spoke with Kevin Zweier, Vice President of the Transportation practice at Chainalytics.
Kevin Zweier manages the delivery of projects related to transportation procurement, fleet modeling and systems and operational assessments.
Prior to joining Chainalytics, he led the North American Logistics Practice at ICG Commerce. He was previously at INSIGHT and Manhattan Associates.
NextGen Supply Chain: When it comes to NextGen technologies, not everyone thinks of transportation management systems or TMS right away. After all, TMS has been around for 20 years.
Then again, 3-D printing has been used in the automotive and aerospace industries for even longer and there’s no question that 3-D is a NextGen technology. That said, is TMS really a NextGen technology and why?
Zweier: To me, there’s not much question that TMS belongs. It may have been around for awhile but plenty of companies still don’t use it. Many of those that do use it do so only in its most basic form. That leaves plenty of room for future TMS adoption and it will be an important supply chain software going forward. There’s another reason why TMS fits here.
In a word, it’s Amazon. Odd as that might sound, it’s true. In our private lives, we all expect to have visibility of where our Amazon shipment is and when it will arrive. That expectation is now spilling over to business-to-business transactions, especially in the transportation sector. Until recently, shippers were willing to accept poor visibility into their shipments.
But that’s changing. Not long ago, improved visibility software packages started to appear in the marketplace that can help with knowing the current status of a shipment. But visibility software is only part of the answer. Integrate it with TMS and you have much more than just visibility of shipments. You also have a way to better manage the entire transportation process. If that’s not NextGen, I don’t know what is.
NextGen Supply Chain: How far along are we in this process of bringing visibility to TMS?
Zweier: I deal primarily with large shippers. These are the companies most likely to be early adopters and at best are 60% action and 40% talk at this point. But this is building. We’re already past the time when shippers’ biggest leverage was the overcapacity of carriers. Rates were the centerpiece then. But not anymore. Now shippers are looking for better visibility and it’s coming.
NextGen Supply Chain: How are shippers reacting to this?
Zweier: At this point, they don’t know what they don’t know. But they are being forced to explore how TMS and visibility can drive efficiency in their operations, not to mention in their customers’ operations, going forward.
The key here is analytics.
By being able to took across their network and better quantify truck loading and unloading times, for instance, they can see the positive impact on their operations. Not to mention customer service. They understand how precious a commodity time is. And these TMS analytics are a stepping stone to better predictive analytics across the transportation networks of carriers.
NextGen Supply Chain: Cloud is becoming a centerpiece of information networks across the supply chain. Where does Cloud stand with TMS?
Zweier: Cloud is a now thing, not a future thing. All TMS will eventually be in the cloud. Cloud improves usability of the software as well as the user experience. TMS is inherently a solution stitching together multiple networks, so the Cloud is a no-brainer here. There’s no turning back.
NextGen Supply Chain: Are there other NextGen technologies likely to impact TMS going forward.
Zweier: Once you start down the path to advanced analytics, that almost inevitably brings in artificial intelligence. AI will be one of the tools shippers can use to take advantage of all the data coming in. We aren’t there yet with AI and TMS. But we will learn more about AI’s role as we expand visibility in TMS. Another NextGen technology here is blockchain. There are some very limited tests going on now with blockchain in the supply chain.
The belief is that blockchain will be a perfect fit for the supply chain due to the immutable record of transactions. However, we still need good data in order to have a useful blockchain. So we’re more at the buzz word stage right now for blockchain in TMS.
NextGen Supply Chain: Are there other changes TMS is likely to bring to the supply chain?
Zweier: Oh, yes. Right now, an emerging trend is to use TMS to manage all transportation operations, not just select modes like LTL or truckload. At the largest shippers, there is an effort to better integrate the transportation of goods across all of their networks, rather than treating each network, geography or mode as its own separate entity and compromising service levels and asset efficiencies.
This is an important step as digital freight matching services become part of the conversation. It’s a parallel development to what Uber and Lyft are doing for passenger ride scheduling services. And it’s something that TMS will need to be at the epicenter of (and integrated to) going forward to build the NextGen supply chain.
Gary Forger is the special projects editor for Supply Chain Management Review. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.