Pathway to end-to-end visibility

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Special Technology report - Transport Management Systems (TMS)

IT Reseller spoke with leading representatives from the analyst, vendor and end-user communities about many of the current key talking points and areas of innovation taking place within the world of transportation management solutions.

With ever more complex supply chains together with the new normal of the omnichannel delivery model among other challenges, transportation management solution providers need to plan better, predict demand better and keep on top of demanding delivery lead times to stay profitable and retain the loyalty of customers – and this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to staying one step ahead of the competition.

So, what are the current key talking points and/or innovations/developments in the transportation management solutions space?

Quick time to value

Carly West, senior director analyst, Gartner Supply Chain Practice, states there is continued demand from end users for quick time to value, easy-to-use solutions that drive ROI. “Prospects of TMS solutions want a system that can solve all their modes in one place that their teams can easily implement and run daily,” she says. “Existing TMS users are looking for additional technologies that can be easily used with the TMS that can add additional value. Ultimately right now the focus is on driving value and optimizing processes with technology.

There is a lot of hype around AI in the market right now, but the focus should be on AI to deliver value not just AI for the sake of AI. TMS vendors are working on innovations to continue leveraging AI to drive that value to the users… automating manual processes, recommended actions, workflow automation, GenAI for natural language data queries and interaction among others. The trend for cloud and SaaS is still prominent. Most users are not looking for on premise as they are looking for the quicker implementations, quicker time to value and more real time releases.”

Oscar Sanchez Duran, director analyst, Gartner Supply Chain Practice, comments: “Additionally to what Carly indicates, cost optimisation has been one of the main reasons to invest in TMS solution. Organisations are looking for capabilities that would allow them to digitize processes and get further optimisation and automation of tasks that are deemed as low-value and repetitive.

Additionally, access to talent has been challenging for some organisations and so maximising the efficiency of their teams was imperative. In this regard, we are also seeing how more organisations are considering outsourcing the use and management of TMS solutions as they neither have the talent in-house nor the resources and time to train and onboard the required staff to fully insource the management of their operations. With regards to technology, all demand we see are for cloud-based applications with a preference for SaaS applications.

The usability, technical architecture, composability and extensibility of the solution are some of the most important criteria influencing the selection of technology in addition to scalability and lower costs. Many TMS providers are offering their solutions as modular platforms, using microservice architecture and offering API integration and in some cases low-code capabilities to allow end-users customise some parts of the application.”

Disruption

In terms of some of the key drivers for these changes, West considers that disruption is always going to exist in transportation and supply chain. “Market ebbs and flows are not new and continue to be a focus for many companies,” she says. “The ability to leverage technology to better ride the waves and flatten the impact is a key reason for TMS adoption and innovation for most companies.”
 
Sanchez Duran adds “The drivers for the changes and innovations always aim at getting benefit of some sort; vendors want to have a more attractive product and be better positioned, and end users want to solve specific challenges or gain efficiencies in particular areas. Disruptions have always existed in supply chain and will continue to exist. And with that new opportunities and innovations will arise. During COVID, visibility-specialised applications and capabilities experienced a boom on demand when organisations could not get updates on their shipments as they used to since there were more challenges getting that information (less people in the office, and harder to reach out).

Then COVID restrictions were lifted at different times in different locations and the supply and demand of goods created many imbalances making transportation costs and demand capacities, generating also more demand for transportation sourcing and procurement applications and capabilities as organisations wanted to have more tools to negotiate better and faster with more carriers to secure capacity and better prices.
 
“In 2022 and 2023 we have seen high inflation, high interest rates, more disrupting events due to conflicts (Ukraine, Palestine, Red Sea…) and unusual temperatures and weather events affecting global trade (e.g. the Panama Canal reducing transit flows due to a drought). Strategic capabilities to be more resilient such as network design and strategic planning as well as capabilities that drive cost optimisation such as machine learning and AI (automation), UI enhancements (usability – less training and onboarding time required), analytics (better decision making), together with sustainability capabilities (due to regulations or internal organisation initiatives) are likely to see further developments this year as they are related to the challenges end users face today.”

Greater SME accessibility

Dominique Pesez, director, Capgemni Invent UK – Supply Chain Strategy, makes the point that a decade ago TMS applications were largely confined to big companies, due to the high initial implementation and maintenance costs. This, he says, included large shippers and Third Party Logistics (3PL) players. However, over the past 4 to 5 years Pesez observes that TMS systems have become vastly more accessible for small to mid-sized organisations.

“This democratisation has been enabled largely thanks the adoption of Software as a Service (SaaS) and integration of new technologies such as Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML),” he says. “TMS has been shifted from a significant capital expenditure to an operational cost, accelerating the return on investment. For example, we’ve seen a major move towards cloud solutions, which reduces the need for a physical premises and doesn’t incur as many accompanying costs as ‘On-Prem’ licences.

Pesez adds that AI and ML have enhanced the capabilities of TMS in terms of planning, optimisation and execution. “The large amount of data gathered by these tools can be mined and analysed to help generate insights to accelerate and simplify onboarding of 3PLs, and to identify trends and inefficiencies that can be rectified and improved upon,” he says. Additionally, the key trend Pesez is seeing is that TMS is becoming more automated, moving towards a zero-touch future.

“The standard now is that information should flow from one application to another seamlessly, reducing the need for manual processing even further,” he says. “It wasn’t too long ago that you’d have to call a truck driver or courier on the phone to get an update on where your goods were. Today’s TMS applications need to fully integrate with all existing technologies as well as adapt to new innovations as they arise.”

In terms of key drivers for these developments, Pesez believes the COVID-19 pandemic was a watershed moment that revealed to everyone – including consumers – the need for resilience in global supply chains. “It had a huge impact worldwide, with the movement of goods hampered by varying health procedures and lockdowns across different countries,” he says.

Pesez adds that disruption never really stops, whether due to issues in the Suez Canal – which was blocked for six days by a container ship in March 2021 – geo-political events, international sanctions or industrial action. “The impact of these persistent hurdles is that logistics is the top priority,” he says. “Organisations have started to recognise the need for greater visibility and resiliency of their supply chains, as well as the importance of agility and flexibility in the face of a rapidly changing geo-political environment,” he says. “There is a high expectation on technology to support businesses with navigating these challenges, and developments in TMS are being driven by the need to solve such problems.”

The ‘Amazon effect’

The ‘Amazon effect’ on consumer expectation also cannot be underestimated, states Pesez. “The speed at which customers can get their order fulfilled, and how easy it is to track, has revolutionised what businesses are demanding – ‘If Amazon can do it, why can’t we?’,” he says. Pesez adds that the impact of inflation and the need for greater efficiencies or cost savings in leaner economic times is also definitely putting the operational optimisation of logistics to the top of the agenda.

As well as dealing with challenges to the transportation industry, Pesez believes TMS systems need to be flexible enough to adapt to new opportunities and technologies. “Autonomous and electric vehicles offer a huge opportunity to increase safety, efficiency, and reduce carbon emissions,” he says. “TMS systems can be configured to prioritise electric vehicles, for example, over fossil fuel-based transportation – depending on organisations’ strategies and objectives.”

Asset management and better visibility

Bryan Ball, industry analyst and consultant, ex-Aberdeen Strategy and Research, hasn’t seen any quantum leaps in TMS technology over the past six months. Where he does think things are clearly headed is greater supply chain visibility. “I spoke with a start-up company that began with the premise of the need for effective asset management to gain greater end-to-end visibility of the forecast of its supply chain activity.

To quantify this in a little more detail, this means upstream forecast visibility concerning demand, as well as visibility to the supply, meaning upstream execution and visibility back to your lenders, your suppliers, your suppliers’ suppliers and so on. If you're buying from overseas, for example, you really want supply chain visibility of the country in question, from the point of origin to the port, on the ocean at the inbound port and on its onward journey. All these transportation pieces, nodes and components are important, especially when you have so much supply chain uncertainty taking place in areas of the globe.”

Ball makes the point that when we think of transportation, we often think of a truck, but we’re really talking about multimodal, which could also involve air and last mile delivery. “All these pieces are part of the jigsaw. So, to look at the picture comprehensively you're trying to capture where things are at any point in time. This involves the concept of asset management and the need for some sophisticated GPS or some form of location tracking, together with timestamps and so on, so that you can get as clear a picture as possible.”

Ball considers that the end goal of completely end-to-end visibility isn't quite there yet, or at least it’s not mainstream for most companies. “Certainly, pieces of the end to end are in play and there are a few companies that can achieve it, but in general the industry hasn't made that quantum leap,” he says, adding that whether or not companies have end-to-end visibility, track and trace is important in all aspects of the supply chain. Ball explains that we only have to consider pharmaceutical and life sciences where timely delivery of medicines could be a matter of life or death for patients.

He cites a service repair company as just one other example. “If you're trying to deliver parts to an airline company because a plane is out of service, but delivery gets sidelined, this can be hugely expensive for the airline company,” he says. “Without aircraft remaining active, the airline can start to lose money very quickly. It's the same in automotive. If an assembly line isn’t operational, the automotive company can start to pay large penalties. We even hear examples of companies flying in parts to automotive companies at considerable expense because it's so much cheaper than an assembly line being out of action. Some of these situations may be a little extreme, but it's important to make the point that efficient asset management and supply chain flexibility can be extremely important.”

Cost constraints

In terms of greater update of the type of TMS technology that can provide greater asset management functionality and visibility, Ball reflects that many companies’ budgets have been squeezed and they are watching what they're spending on the technology side because of things such as the increased cost of fuel and the level of inflation. “In the case of the US, we’re buying much of our oil and gas from other countries, so the cost of fuel has gone up considerably,” he says. “Also, because of the structural increase in costs, any company that does business with the US or has a relationship with companies in the US need to consider how they can offset these extra costs until something changes for the better.

“So, many companies’ budgets in general are quite constrained. I'm not saying nobody has done a lot, but I would say that the uptake has maybe been delayed because many companies aren’t flush with cash to make investments in this type of technology. So, investment in TMS might be delayed or deferred. Alternatively, companies may have bought into the software as a service (SaaS) model to save cost or put in point solutions as opposed to completely reconfiguring their whole system.”

Statistics

Ball offers a summary of some current transportation-related statistics from Aberdeen Strategy and Research:

  • Structural increases in cost (fuel, inflation, etc.) are majorly affecting supply chains across the US and the world. Aberdeen's data shows that the top 5 operational challenges with demand planning are:
    • Expedited transportation costs are too high – 42%Poor or late visibility into channel inventories, especially after fulfilment of purchase orders – 33%
    • Unable to respond to customer inquiries on shipments, arrival dates, available inventories, etc. – 30%
    • Consistently inaccurate demand forecasts – 28%
    • Delayed customer payments because of incomplete information on inventory transitions – 26%
  • The number one strategic action companies are taking to better manage their supply chain processes is to improve transportation efficiencies through consolidation of logistics and streamlining of sourcing geographies (e.g., suppliers, carriers, distribution centres, ports) – 41% of respondents rated this as one of their top 5 strategies.
  • Leading organisations are 22% more likely than followers to have a centralised transportation management organisation. Centralising all transportation information improves accuracy of information and up-to-date supply chain visibility, which can be especially impactful for pharmaceutical and food & beverage organisations who are shipping perishable and timely goods.
  • Compared to followers, leading supply chain organisations are 58% more likely to have a dedicated TMS to manage transportation operations. They are also 40% more likely to leverage a Returns Management System, 66% more likely to use prescriptive analytics, and 55% more likely to use supplier enablement for manufacturers or distributors (e.g., electronic interface or integration via EDI, XML, portal, and SaaS). All these solutions help them keep up with evolving consumer demands.

Planning and network optimisation

Mark Vos, principal solutions consultant, Manhattan Associates, makes the point that since the last Special Report in 2022 there have been some significant advances in terms of the application functionality, platform infrastructure and the connectivity of partner ecosystems. “TMS applications now offer key functionality around transportation execution and freight payment designed around planning and network optimisation,” he explains, adding that another noteworthy development has been improvements in end-to-end TMS visibility.
 
In terms of platform infrastructure, Vos says cloud-native micro services architecture has become the expectation for a modern TMS, with more and more customers and prospects expecting/demanding the flexibility to adopt new regularly updated functionality that micro services provide. Finally, Vos explains that the connectivity of partner eco systems has made strides forward too. “Manhattan’s Carrier TM mobile application has been designed to enable shippers to quickly on-board new (smaller) carriers; provide greater transparency into visibility and rates, and to support shipment execution with proof of delivery,” he points out.
 
According to Vos, transportation networks are becoming increasingly driven by consumers and are therefore more complex. “This means more intricate decision-making, processes and technology is required,” he says. “The Covid pandemic and ongoing geopolitical events have exposed the fragility of many supply chains and the importance of agile planning optimisation and visibility to manage the continual consumer shifts when it comes to buying and delivery patterns.”
 
Alongside this, Vos observes that changing legislation and ESG expectations are fuelling more complexity, making compliance and cost-effective responses essential, if shippers are to continue to meet their overall business objectives. “Manhattan Active Transport Management supports shippers with these planning decisions, whereas, in the past, decisions were often conducted manually, based on nothing more than long-term, subjective experiences,” explains Vox. “Today, manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers need to be able to respond to new consumer demands, and rely on a comprehensive, transparent and agile TMS solution, which also allows shippers to adapt as quickly and seamlessly.”

Philip van der Wilt, SVP and GM EMEA, Samsara, says fleets invest in Samsara’s connected operations platform for many reasons — from the reduction of critical company-wide operational costs and safety incidents, through to a focus on their sustainability goals. “With its Connected Operations Cloud, customers can visualise all of their physical operations on one integrated platform in real-time – empowering them to operate more safely, efficiently, and sustainably,” explains van der Wilt.

Massive transformation

“Today, we are at the beginning of a massive transformation within the transportation industry,” adds van der Wilt. “Undoubtedly, significant technological shifts are underway, encompassing autonomous vehicles, alternative energies, robotics, and more. However, the common thread binding these innovations together is data. Those who have already invested in technology and IoT (Internet of Things) platforms to manage their fleets recognise they will be better off, and what’s more, they’re realising that it’s not petrol, diesel or electricity that powers fleets — it’s data.”

Looking ahead, van der Wilt believes decarbonisation, electrification, the need to double down on fuel efficiency and the management of multi-fuel fleets will continue to pose a challenge – and old-school telematics and paper-based processes will simply not be up to the task of both overseeing the transition to EVs or managing mixed fuel fleets. “Therefore, embracing IoT, data-driven solutions will become imperative in meeting these challenges head-on,” he says.

According to van der Wilt, the key drivers for change pivot around three things: efficiency, safety and sustainability. “Making sure fleets remain operationally sound should come as no surprise. What’s happening today, though, is that data is increasingly being seen as a competitive advantage. Organisations that don’t optimise their supply chains and invest in real-time data will be left behind.”

Significant developments

Benoit Gruber – VP product marketing Alpega TMS, considers that several key talking points, innovations and developments are shaping Transportation Management Computing solutions, application software and platform infrastructure. Here, he lists some of them along with potential reasons why he believes they are significant:

  1. Integration of AI and Machine Learning: AI and machine learning are increasingly being integrated into transportation management solutions to optimise routing, predict demand and enhance overall efficiency. These technologies enable real-time decision-making, reducing costs and improving service levels. Additionally, they help in predicting and mitigating potential disruptions such as weather events or traffic congestion.
  2. IoT and Telematics: The Internet of Things (IoT) and telematics play a crucial role in transportation management by providing real-time data on vehicle location, condition, and performance. This data is utilized for route optimisation, preventive maintenance and enhancing safety measures. Integration of IoT devices with transportation management systems enables better tracking and management of assets, leading to improved operational efficiency.
  3. Cloud-Based Solutions: Cloud-based transportation management solutions offer scalability, flexibility, and accessibility. They allow stakeholders to access data and tools from anywhere, facilitating collaboration and enabling real-time decision-making. Cloud computing also reduces IT infrastructure costs and improves system reliability, making it an attractive option for transportation companies of all sizes.
  4. Blockchain Technology: Blockchain technology holds the potential to revolutionise various aspects of transportation management, including supply chain visibility, transparency, and security. By providing a decentralised and immutable ledger, blockchain can enhance trust among stakeholders, streamline transactions, and reduce fraud. Adoption of blockchain in transportation management is gaining traction, particularly in areas like freight tracking and payment processing.
  5. Predictive Analytics: Predictive analytics is increasingly being utilised in transportation management to forecast demand, optimise inventory levels, and anticipate maintenance needs. By analysing historical data and identifying patterns, predictive analytics enable companies to make data-driven decisions and proactively address potential challenges. This helps in reducing costs, improving service quality, and enhancing customer satisfaction.
  6. Electric and Autonomous Vehicles: The rise of electric and autonomous vehicles is reshaping the transportation industry and impacting transportation management solutions. Electric vehicles offer environmental benefits and cost savings in the long run, prompting many companies to transition their fleets. Autonomous vehicles have the potential to revolutionise logistics operations by reducing labour costs and increasing efficiency. Transportation management systems need to adapt to accommodate these emerging technologies and their unique requirements.
  7. Last-Mile Delivery Solutions: With the growth of e-commerce, last-mile delivery has become a critical focus area for transportation management. Innovations in last-mile delivery solutions, such as route optimisation algorithms, delivery drones and autonomous delivery vehicles, are aimed at reducing delivery times and costs while improving customer experience. Integration of these solutions with transportation management systems enables efficient planning and execution of last-mile delivery operations.

“These developments are significant because they address key challenges faced by transportation companies, such as rising operational costs, increasing customer expectations and evolving regulatory requirements,” says Gruber. “By leveraging advanced technologies and innovative solutions, transportation management systems can enhance efficiency, agility, and competitiveness in today's dynamic market landscape.”

According to Gruber, the key drivers behind the changes, developments and innovations in transportation management computing solutions, application software and platform infrastructure include the following:

  1. Changing End-User Requirements: End-users, including transportation companies, logistics providers, and shippers, have evolving needs and expectations. They demand solutions that offer greater visibility, flexibility, and efficiency in managing their transportation and logistics operations. The need for real-time data analytics, predictive capabilities, and seamless integration with other systems is driving vendors to develop more advanced and customizable solutions.
  2. Broadening Logistics Operations: Many companies are expanding their logistics operations to meet the growing demands of e-commerce and omnichannel retailing. This expansion requires more sophisticated transportation management solutions capable of managing complex supply chains, multi-modal transportation networks, and last-mile delivery challenges. Vendors are innovating to address these requirements and provide end-users with comprehensive solutions that cover the entire logistics value chain.
  3. Cost Savings and Efficiency Improvements: In lean economic times, there is increased pressure on transportation companies to reduce costs and improve operational efficiency. This has led to a greater focus on technologies that can streamline processes, optimize resource utilization, and minimise wastage. Transportation management solutions that offer cost-saving features such as route optimisation, fuel efficiency monitoring, and asset utilization tracking are in high demand.
  4. Vendor R&D Activities: Vendors in the transportation management software market are investing heavily in research and development to stay ahead of the competition and address emerging trends and challenges. They engage in ‘blue-skies’ thinking to envision and develop innovative solutions that can disrupt the industry and provide new value propositions to end-users. These R&D activities drive the development of cutting-edge technologies such as AI, IoT, blockchain, and autonomous vehicles, which are gradually integrated into transportation management systems.
  5. Regulatory Compliance and Sustainability: Regulatory requirements related to safety, environmental sustainability, and security are driving the adoption of advanced technologies in transportation management. For example, regulations mandating electronic logging devices (ELDs) for tracking driver hours of service have spurred the adoption of telematics solutions. Similarly, environmental regulations and carbon emission targets are pushing companies to adopt electric and alternative-fuel vehicles, necessitating changes in transportation management systems to support these new technologies.

“Overall, the convergence of changing end-user requirements, expanding logistics operations, economic pressures, vendor innovation and regulatory mandates is driving the rapid evolution of transportation management computing solutions and infrastructure,” says Gruber. “Companies that embrace these changes and leverage advanced technologies stand to gain a competitive advantage in the increasingly complex and interconnected world of transportation and logistics.”

Gruber adds: “Alpega TMS' vision is to make the management of transport flows as fluid and transparent as possible for its customers and their partners, thanks to an end-to-end, modular, intelligent and scalable transport management platform, offering companies: collaboration, content, predictive data and fine-tuned management of the costs associated with their operations. In 2024, Alpega launches its ‘Business Transport Excellence’ platform, designed to bring together all its solutions for both manufacturers and carriers on a single platform, integrating its entire community and partners.”

Default hub

Mukul Krishna. global research practice leader – supply chain and logistics, Frost & Sullivan, points out that one of the things Frost & Sullivan found out early in the research for its latest TMS study was that these solutions are becoming increasingly complex. “Many have literally started becoming the default hub where different seemingly siloed and disparate systems seem to converge,” he says.

“So, TMS is increasingly being expected to behave a little like a nerve centre for all the solutions, which frankly it isn’t designed to be. It is now often found to be the hub for everything from warehouse management and warehouse execution solutions down to contracts and licensing. So, not only are these TMS doing more work than they were designed to do, they are as a consequence also becoming more expensive due in part to the extra system maintenance required.”
 
So, one very early trend he sees is companies essentially trying to decouple things from their TMS in order to take some of the strain out the system. “You could say some companies are trying to re-focus their TMS on the main task it was supposed to do in the first place, which is efficiently to manage the transportation of goods through multimodal,” he says.

There are so many rules and regulations related to compliance that need to be handled through the TMS. However, as Krishna explains, if it's loaded with more are more data and it's expected to be this central hub for nearly everything then keeping on top of compliance issues can be a challenge. “So, by planning to decouple all this data from the TMS is a good thing,” he says.

Current supply chain challenges

Of course, several supply chains have considerable challenges at the moment, whether in terms of transportation in the Red Sea, the Panama Canal or conflicts taking place in various parts of the globe. As Krishna explains, in addition to resulting in delays in goods, these situations can also ramp up insurance premiums. He continues: “Maybe you would source goods from Mexico and traditionally choose a route across the Panama Canal to the East coast of North America. Now, because of the drought only so many ships can travel across the canal. If you’re ordering perishable goods, you may not be able to rely on your traditional routes to ensure you receive the goods before they are out of date and unsalable. The good news is that many new TMS are using more real-time data.
 
“Previously, you might have relied on a two-week delivery timeframe for your perishable goods, but based on all the available news sources and what the authorities in Panama are saying, the delivery time would be four weeks. Your goods could be spoilt by then, so the TMS, relying on all this real-time information, might advise that you instead take road route from Mexico to the US, which will take three weeks. In this way, you would save a week, your goods would still be safe and it would only be marginally more expensive than it would have been had you relied on your traditional route.”
 
Of course, it's not just perishables that might prove to be a problem if delivery times are compromised. Krishna continues: “It might be that you've ordered something for a major event such as the Super Bowl. You don't know who's going to win so you need both team shirts before the Super Bowl begins so that you can maximise their sales potential on that day or the days that follow. So, seasonal items need to be delivered at the right time. There is that type of urgency in international trade.”

Generative AI

With all the relatively recent AI capabilities that are being introduced, TMS is able to source more valuable information, for example, better data related to geopolitical situations and how trade routes might be affected. This allows you to factor all this information in to determine the best possible route based on delivery time and price. “So, AI can make TMS even more invaluable, and, again, this is another reason to de-couple the other data from the TMS so that it focuses on what it's supposed to do,” says Krishna.
 
He explains that almost all the TMS vendors he has spoken with have talked about incorporating some version of generative AI into their systems. Earlier versions were known as chat bots, but now it's more about generative AI tapping into all the sources of information regarding visibility, track and trace. “With current supply chain challenges, this is of course very important,” says Krishna. “Some companies have been trying to develop their own generative AI solutions but whether they grow their own, work with a partner or try to take something off the shelf at least in the first instance just to get the solution out there, this is all a move in the right direction.”
 
Krishna adds that the value proposition, especially with many line managers, is very strong. “Line managers often need to supervise across the supply chain and are constantly trying to figure out where the goods are in the chain and plan what to do if something happens on route which could delay delivery. So, having that type of generative AI functionality can not only tell them where goods are in the supply chain, it could also point out that something might happen to affect delivery times and if that happens it can provide alternative options. So, having enhanced predictive and prescriptive capabilities through generative AI is going to be invaluable, and these AI solutions are only going to get better and better.

Multiple challenges

Helen Flanagan, product director, Transport Control Tower, Wincanton, considers that organisations face multiple constraints when it comes to managing transport in their supply chains. “The different cost drivers of transport, including fuels, vehicles and people have been driven upwards, while the availability of skilled drivers continues to pose a challenge,” she says. “In 2022, some 30% of total HGV mileage in the UK was represented by vehicles running empty. Inefficient scheduling and sub-optimal vehicle utilisation are having a significant impact on the bottom line and sustainability commitments of many organisations.

Furthermore, Flanagan makes the point that a fragmented transport sub-contraction marketplace poses a major challenge to many organisations. “Matching supply and demand, allocating work and facilitating payments is time-consuming and challenging, particularly when demand fluctuates to reflect the economic landscape,” she says.

Digitisation

Flanagan believes the digitalisation of transport will transform the sector as organisations seek improved visibility, control and communication in the management of their operations. “Facing an increased and volatile cost base in transport, with poor visibility of operational activity and spend is a less than ideal place to be. Using digital tools to increase visibility will generate more real-time data and speed up payments for subcontractor partners and customers. This will support a new, digital marketplace where additional resources can be bought, and excess capacity can be sold, creating further efficiencies and building resilience into transport networks.

“EyeQ, Wincanton’s transport control tower solution is at the forefront of digitalised transport, transforming the way businesses manage by enhancing operational visibility, data and insight. By placing technology-based solutions at the heart of transport, we are improving supply chain visibility and resilience, while reducing administration time, operational costs and carbon emissions for major businesses across the UK.”

Johan Hellman, vice president product and carrier, nShift, states that the key talking points in transport management can be summed up in one word: reliability. “Now more than ever, delivery or transport management systems form an essential part of the warehouse infrastructure,” he says. “Worryingly, research shows that technology lets warehouse teams down far too often.

According to one study, almost half of respondents are plagued by tech problems several times a week. These risks increase when new point solutions are required to integrate with existing systems. That’s why it’s so important that warehouses select transport or delivery management systems with a proven and reliable track record. They can place such a system at the heart of their delivery process, seamlessly incorporating carrier management, tracking, and returns capabilities.”

In terms of drivers for change, Hellman considers that evolving consumer expectations have raised the bar. “People expect deliveries to be glitch-free and will abandon businesses that fall short,” he says. “That means companies must up their game when it comes to the delivery experience. While this might be most obvious in the last mile, it has implications across the supply chain. Visibility across the supply chain is crucial.  And when it comes to ecommerce, retailers wishing to offer an integrated delivery experience, including carrier management and tracking, must make sure their full range of solutions are based around a core book and print platform that they are sure they can trust.”

Notable improvements for users

What have been the subsequent benefit improvements for the user? Hutton believes simplification in a company’s technology landscape and the ability to deploy and integrate quickly is primarily all about realising a quicker ROI. “As companies face increasing demands on their IT budgets, it is essential to see tangible returns within a reasonable timeframe,” he says. “Those who cannot point to credible examples of this will find it harder to be selected. An important consideration is that any buyer is competing against internal competitors from equally important departments such as Finance or HR for their chosen technologies. Successful vendors will be those who turn their prospect champions into effective salespeople and therefore, meaning the best solution may not always win out.”

Gruber outlines the following:

  1. Open Systems and Interoperability: Enhanced interoperability and the adoption of open standards enable seamless integration between field-based TMS and back-office systems from different vendors. This allows users to choose best-of-breed solutions for each aspect of their transportation and logistics operations without worrying about compatibility issues. Open systems also foster innovation and competition, driving continuous improvement in TMS and related technologies.
  2. Improved Middleware Solutions: Middleware solutions have evolved to become more robust, scalable, and adaptable to diverse integration requirements. Modern middleware platforms offer advanced features such as message queuing, protocol transformation, data mapping, and workflow orchestration, making it easier to integrate field-based TMS with various back-office systems. Improved middleware solutions reduce the complexity and cost of integration while enhancing flexibility and agility.
  3. Advancements in Wireless Communications: Wireless communication technologies such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and cellular networks have undergone significant advancements, enabling faster data transmission, wider coverage, and better reliability. This allows field-based TMS to communicate seamlessly with back-office systems in real-time, regardless of the location or type of mobile device used. Improved wireless communications facilitate better coordination, tracking, and monitoring of transportation operations, leading to enhanced efficiency and customer service.
  4. Developments in Wireless Standards: Standardisation efforts in wireless communication technologies have led to thedevelopment of robust and interoperable protocols and standards. For example, advancements in standards such as MQTT (Message Queuing Telemetry Transport), RESTful APIs (Representational State Transfer Application Programming Interfaces), and WebSockets facilitate efficient and secure data exchange between field-based TMS and back-office systems over wireless networks. Standardized wireless communication protocols ensure compatibility and interoperability across different devices and platforms, simplifying integration efforts for users.
  5. Enhanced Security and Data Protection: With the increasing importance of data security and privacy, advancements have been made in securing wireless communications and protecting sensitive information exchanged between field-based TMS and back-office systems. Encryption protocols, authentication mechanisms, and access controls are employed to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of data transmitted over wireless networks. Enhanced security measures instil confidence in users regarding the safety and reliability of integrated transportation management solutions.

“Overall, the subsequent benefit improvements for users resulting from advancements in the relationship between field-based TMS and back-office systems include greater flexibility, efficiency, reliability and security in managing transportation and logistics operations,” says Gruber. “These improvements are driven by the continuous innovation and evolution of technologies such as open systems, middleware solutions, wireless communications and wireless standards, which enable seamless integration and collaboration across the entire supply chain.”

Rob Hutton, sales director, Aptean, considers that web-based transportation management applications are now a ‘must-have’ for system vendors. “Users at all levels demand easy-to-access, clean UI whether they have been used to a spreadsheet or they are looking to upgrade from their current system,” he says. “This demand is largely influenced by the heightened expectations of B2B users, shaped by their experiences in B2C interactions in their daily lives.

Hutton also states that freight exchanges must ensure security, quality and integrity for a shipper organisation to truly benefit. “Otherwise, they risk devolving into chaotic environments, ultimately serving the interests of a select few rather than fostering mutual benefit,” he says. “In our opinion, private networks of like-minded, collaborative companies from both the shipper and carrier communities will emerge as the most reliable way to access and leverage the spot market.”

Whilst (driver) mobile app tracking may not be a groundbreaking solution, Hutton believes it is still the most practical option for cost-effective, accurate positioning of shipments on their respective journeys during road legs of a supply chain. “There is, however, a huge challenge in motivating a driver to play their part in this,” he says. “Whilst food-delivery apps can leverage their systems to ensure compliance, the situation is more complex for road transport operating companies.”

Hutton also maintains that convergence of technologies are a natural progression from the current state of the transport technology market. “The rush to market of supposedly 'innovative' technology solutions, driven by substantial investments, on top of the established products, has left a landscape consisting of 1000s of applications often with significant overlap and lacking interoperability,” he explains. “This has left the transport technology buyer confused as to what is ‘real’, what is of tangible value and what will actually deliver a reasonable ROI.

However, the demand for change and a departure from the fragmented assembly of applications, akin to 'patchwork quilts,' towards more integrated systems is becoming increasingly apparent. The other driver for this consolidation of applications is supply chain vulnerability and/or resilience. The more individual applications a company utilises, the greater the risk of security breaches, with an abundance of log ins, access points and databases to protect and maintain.”

In terms of key drivers for these changes, Hutton considers that company technology specifiers and buyers purchase applications to automate manual processes and generate reliable data to augment the existing data in their organisations. “Data is the primary reason for most technology transformations, but solutions need to be user-friendly to ensure successful deployment,” he says.

Hutton also states that usability plays a significant role in determining their success, ultimately impacting the return on investment. “Whilst many good applications have served users well for years, there is now a competitive race among established market players to modernize their offerings,” he says. “This is driven by the need to keep up with newer players who may have less functionality but offer superior user interfaces and have substantial financial backing, enabling them to potentially seize market share or target untapped market segments.”

Driver shortages

Vos makes the point that driver shortages are not exclusive to the UK and shortages in most Western European countries have been well reported. “The early warning signs of these potential shortages were ignored with the cheaper and easy recruitment of Eastern European drivers, only for the possible impacts of Brexit, the pandemic, and the war in Ukraine to be overlooked and disregarded,” he says.
 
Vos also considers that the common denominator across all Western European countries is a rapidly aging workforce, high retirement rates and the challenge to recruit a younger workforce due to a lack of investments and long-term incentivisation. “Nevertheless, the driver shortage has impacted the UK considerably harder than the rest of Europe for several reasons,” he says.
 
“The first reason is the years of underinvestment resulting in poor working conditions, especially when compared to European counterparts. Secondly, Brexit has exacerbated the UK driver shortage, as the UK government made it harder to recruit European drivers and many who were already in the UK, simply returned home. Once seen as a country where salaries were higher, the UK’s stagnant wage growth and cost-of-living crisis (which has been more acute than the rest of Europe) has also had a significant impact too. Finally, additional delays & administration due to increased border checks and customs procedures have also proved unpopular for many European drivers who would ordinarily have come to the UK in 2019.”
 
Can TMS functionality alone mitigate the UK driver shortage? The short answer is no, according to Vos. “However, a future ready, agile TMS will be able to address poor planning and provide realistic, achievable schedules, exception management and driver communication, all of which will certainly go a long way to creating a better working environment for those who do decide to pursue a career in this space.”

van der Wilt believes driver shortages and issues around recruitment and retention are key concerns for the industry. However, he adds that they are also constantly firefighting problems —everything from keeping a lid on costs and fluctuating fuel prices to improving road safety and the spread of low-emission zones. Additionally, van der Wilt says they need to upgrade their fleets as part of the transition to electric vehicles (EVs) and alternative fuel sources. “Yes, the road ahead is bumpy, but progress is being made,” states van der Wilt. “As a sector that has typically been underserved by technology, we need to explore what role data and digital systems can play.”

van der Wilt also states that, at the same time, there is an appetite to adopt more technology. “Everything from route planning, improving fleet efficiency, driver safety, and transitioning to EVs can be aided by technology,” he points out. “For business owners, technology can drive efficiencies that make them more competitive while freeing up funds to invest in their people on the frontline.”

Hellman believes that international supply chains continue to be vulnerable to ongoing disruption. “Transportation visibility – understanding where products or supplies are at any given moment – is crucial,” he says. “Traditional transport management systems attempt to calculate efficiencies in the supply chain using pre-defined shipping rules. However, increasingly, logistics operations need more than that. A transport management system based around deep carrier connectivity can cast light on what is happening at each stage of the logistics management process, while enabling teams to change things in response to unforeseen events.”

Hutton believes many of the ramifications from the major disruptions over the past few years have highlighted the fragility of supply chains. However, he adds that, much like turning the Evergreen around, the reaction to this in terms of change is slow. “Existing commercial contracts, business case approval and ultimately sourcing all take time to play out, particularly in larger enterprises where the huge committees of stakeholders can add considerable time to the process of change,” he says.

According to Hutton, the deployment of a TMS should be relatively straightforward, especially when transitioning from a manual or rudimentary starting position. “Numerous success stories demonstrate the substantial benefits of adopting TMS technology,” he says. “However, a common challenge lies in obtaining comprehensive information about the available options and their costs from the market. It's often difficult to achieve complete certainty. The reality is whilst most of the supply chain has received investment for a number of years such as warehousing and S&OP and inventory and range planning, transportation still lacks adequate data utilisation. Deploying and harnessing the data from a TMS often presents a straightforward solution to this issue.”

Increased border checks

Gruber considers that current supply chain issues and driver shortages are influenced by a combination of factors, including Brexit, geopolitical tensions and the ongoing impact of COVID-19. “These factors have created disruptions and challenges across the global supply chain, leading to delays, bottlenecks and increased demand for transportation services,” he says. Here's how each factor contributes to the current situation, according to Gruber:

  1. Brexit: The UK's exit from the European Union has resulted in increased border checks, customs procedures, and regulatory changes, causing friction and delays at the borders. Brexit-related uncertainty has also led to stockpiling, fluctuating demand patterns and supply chain reconfigurations, further complicating logistics operations.
  2. Geopolitical Tensions: Geopolitical tensions, such as trade disputes, sanctions, and conflicts, can disrupt global trade flows, disrupt supply chains, and increase transportation costs. For example, trade tensions between major economies like the United States and China have led to tariffs, trade barriers and supply chain diversification efforts by companies to mitigate risks.
  3. COVID-19: The COVID-19 pandemic has had profound and far-reaching effects on supply chains worldwide. Lockdowns, travel restrictions, and quarantine measures have disrupted production, distribution, and transportation networks, leading to shortages of goods, raw materials, and labour. COVID-19 outbreaks among transportation workers, along with health and safety concerns, have exacerbated driver shortages and operational challenges.

The right type of Transportation Management System (TMS) functionality can help mitigate or resolve supply chain problems by improving visibility, efficiency, and agility in transportation operations. Some ways TMS functionality can address supply chain challenges include:

  1. Optimised Route Planning and Load Consolidation: TMS solutions with advanced route optimisation algorithms can help maximise efficiency and minimise transportation costs by optimising delivery routes, consolidating shipments, and minimising empty miles. This can help alleviate capacity constraints and reduce the need for additional drivers.
  2. Real-Time Visibility and Tracking: TMS solutions that provide real-time visibility into transportation activities, including vehicle location, status updates, and delivery ETAs, enable proactive decision-making and exception management. Enhanced visibility helps identify bottlenecks, reroute shipments, and respond quickly to disruptions, reducing the impact of delays and improving customer satisfaction.
  3. Driver Management and Collaboration: TMS platforms with driver management capabilities facilitate better communication, collaboration, and engagement with drivers. Features such as electronic driver workflows, mobile applications and driver performance monitoring tools can help streamline operations, optimise driver schedules, and address driver shortages through improved retention and productivity.
  4. Supply Chain Analytics and Predictive Insights: TMS solutions with advanced analytics and predictive modelling capabilities can help identify trends, anticipate demand fluctuations and optimise inventory levels. By analysing historical data and market trends, companies can make informed decisions, mitigate risks, and optimise supply chain performance in the face of uncertainties.
  5. Integration with Supply Chain Partners: TMS platforms that enable seamless integration with other supply chain systems, such as ERP, WMS, and CRM, facilitate end-to-end visibility and collaboration across the supply chain ecosystem. Integrated systems enable data sharing, process automation, and workflow synchronisation, enabling faster decision-making and better coordination of transportation activities.

“In summary, while supply chain issues and driver shortages are influenced by various external factors such as Brexit, geopolitical tensions, and COVID-19, the right type of TMS functionality can help mitigate these challenges by improving efficiency, visibility and collaboration in transportation operations,” says Gruber. “By leveraging advanced technology and analytics, companies can adapt to changing market conditions, optimise resource utilisation and enhance resilience in the face of disruptions.”

Enhanced connectivity

Gruber makes the point that recent developments in the relationship between field-based Transportation Management Systems (TMS) and back-office systems they integrate with have focused on enhancing connectivity, interoperability and data exchange capabilities. He explains that some key developments include:

  1. Real-Time Data Integration: There's been a push towards real-time integration between field-based TMS and back-office systems such as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Warehouse Management Systems (WMS), and Supply Chain Management (SCM) platforms. Real-time data exchange enables timely decision-making, improves visibility across the supply chain, and enhances operational efficiency.
  2. API-Based Integration: Application Programming Interface (API)-based integration has gained prominence, enabling seamless communication between different systems regardless of their underlying technologies. APIs facilitate the exchange of data in a standardised and efficient manner, allowing field-based TMS to interact with back-office systems without requiring extensive customisation or manual intervention.
  3. Cloud-Based Integration Platforms: Cloud-based integration platforms are being used to facilitate the integration of field-based TMS with various back-office systems. These platforms offer pre-built connectors, data mapping tools, and workflow automation capabilities, making it easier to connect disparate systems and exchange data securely over the cloud. Cloud-based integration also provides scalability, flexibility, and cost-effectiveness compared to traditional on-premises integration solutions.
  4. Advanced Analytics and Reporting: Integration between field-based TMS and back-office systems is enabling advanced analytics and reporting capabilities. By aggregating data from multiple sources, organisations can gain deeper insights into their transportation operations, identify trends, and make data-driven decisions to optimise efficiency, reduce costs, and improve customer satisfaction.
  5. Mobile Integration: With the proliferation of mobile devices and applications, there's been a focus on integrating field-based TMS with mobile platforms used by drivers, warehouse personnel, and other stakeholders. Mobile integration enables real-time communication, task management, and data capture in the field, enhancing collaboration and productivity. Mobile applications integrated with TMS allow for features such as electronic proof of delivery, GPS tracking, and instant status updates.
  6. IoT and Sensor Integration: Integration of field-based TMS with IoT devices and sensors is enabling real-time monitoring of assets, vehicles, and cargo. IoT sensors provide valuable data on temperature, humidity, location and condition of goods during transit, which can be integrated into TMS and back-office systems for proactive management of exceptions, compliance, and quality control.

“Overall, recent developments in the relationship between field-based TMS and back-office systems have focused on enabling seamless connectivity, real-time data exchange and enhanced collaboration across the entire supply chain,” Gruber adds. “These developments are driven by the need for greater visibility, agility, and efficiency in transportation and logistics operations, as well as advancements in technology such as cloud computing, API-based integration, and IoT.”

Integration

In terms of the relationship between the more field-based Transportation Management systems and the back-office systems they integrate with, what been some of the key recent developments?

Hutton states that today’s TMS or transport applications must be relatively easy and quick to deploy. “As has been the case for many years, the actual time taken comes down to the integration with existing and, or new enterprise or supply chain systems or stakeholders,” he says. “A number of constraints can conspire to delay any technology project, but vendors must now consider the capacity for customer IT teams to engage with their own systems. The ease of integration has become paramount because, even if a solution offers top-notch functionality, if it takes months or years to implement, a competitor with a quicker, albeit less feature-rich application, might seize the opportunity by delivering benefits within days.”

Hutton adds that whilst it is most buyers’ objective to minimise the number of applications in play, it is also pragmatic to bear in mind that each platform or application has its limitations. “For this reason, operating as part of an ecosystem is an important consideration for most vendors and the ability to be a ‘good ‘technology citizen’ and work easily and well with other apps is essential for sustainable future recuring revenues,” he says. “Open APIs are essential to achieving interoperability and whilst many buying customers may struggle with utilising APIs, most vendors must be able to do so.”

Security

Hutton states that speed to market for SaaS/Web-based applications has seen some high-profile incidents, which have highlighted the impact of a security compromise. “Cyber-attacks on web applications are becoming more frequent,” he says. “This underscores the importance of carefully selecting your vendor. Vendors must prioritise customer protection by thoroughly integrating security measures into their architecture and infrastructure.”

Gruber considers that there are indeed remaining security and confidentiality concerns at the more 'mobile' end of Transportation Management solutions space. He cites some of these concerns as the following:

  1. Data Privacy: Mobile transportation management solutions often involve the collection and transmission of sensitive data, such as customer information, shipment details, and location data. Ensuring the privacy and confidentiality of this data is crucial to comply with regulations such as GDPR and CCPA. Unauthorised access to or disclosure of sensitive information could result in legal and reputational consequences for transportation companies.
  2. Cybersecurity Threats: Mobile devices used in transportation management operations are susceptible to cybersecurity threats such as malware, phishing attacks, and data breaches. Malicious actors may attempt to exploit vulnerabilities in mobile applications, operating systems, or network connections to gain unauthorised access to sensitive data or disrupt operations. Implementing robust cybersecurity measures, such as encryption, multi-factor authentication, and secure network protocols, is essential to protect against these threats.
  3. Device Security: Mobile devices used by drivers, warehouse personnel, and other stakeholders in transportation management operations are often susceptible to loss, theft, or unauthorised use. Inadequate device security measures, such as weak passwords, lack of device encryption, and failure to implement remote wipe capabilities, increase the risk of unauthorised access to sensitive data stored on mobile devices. Implementing device management solutions and enforcing security policies can help mitigate these risks.
  4. Network Security: Mobile transportation management solutions rely on wireless networks for communication and data exchange. Insecure Wi-Fi networks, public hotspots, and unencrypted connections pose security risks, as they may expose sensitive data to interception or eavesdropping by malicious actors. Implementing secure VPN connections, using encrypted communication protocols, and enforcing network access controls can help safeguard data transmitted over wireless networks.
  5. Application Security: Mobile transportation management applications may contain vulnerabilities that could be exploited by attackers to compromise data or disrupt operations. Common application security issues include insecure coding practices, insufficient input validation and lack of secure authentication mechanisms. Conducting regular security assessments, implementing secure coding practices, and performing code reviews can help identify and remediate application security vulnerabilities.
  6. Compliance Requirements: Transportation companies operating in regulated industries, such as healthcare, pharmaceuticals or defence, may be subject to industry-specific compliance requirements related to data security and confidentiality. Ensuring compliance with regulations such as HIPAA, FDA regulations, or ITAR requires implementing appropriate security controls, data encryption measures and access restrictions in mobile transportation management solutions.

“Overall, while mobile transportation management solutions offer flexibility and convenience, they also present security and confidentiality concerns that need to be addressed proactively,” says Gruber. “By implementing comprehensive security measures, adhering to best practices, and staying abreast of emerging threats, transportation companies can mitigate risks and ensure the integrity and confidentiality of their data in the mobile TMS space.”

Mobile computing

Have mobile computers evolved with respect to TMS?

“In short, absolutely,” says Pesez. “The revolution brought about by mobile devices is difficult to overstate and has been truly transformative for the sector worldwide. Ten years ago, sophisticated telematics hardware was required for drivers and couriers. Nowadays, all they need to do is install an app to receive an order and make deliveries, while also offering the ability to send pictures as proof of delivery to suppliers. This has been game-changing for the speed and profitability of the sector, enabling faster payment of the carrier.

“The location-tracking capabilities enabled by mobile phones give stakeholders at every part of the supply chain an opportunity to see movement of goods in real-time or near real-time. This makes it far easier to identify roadblocks or causes for delays in the system, from as far as the other side of the world. Mobile location-tracking increases security by highlighting stops that are longer than required, and therefore vulnerable to fraudulent activity. Real-time measurement of the location and environmental conditions of goods is vital in the movement of sensitive products such as medicines and vaccines, which must be kept strictly at specific temperatures. The accessibility of mobile computers has allowed the sector to become more collaborative, transparent, and agile, impacting everyone from major global carriers to smaller local transport companies and individuals.”

Sanchez Duran says he cannot talk specifically about mobile computers as such but believes there indeed has been an evolution on mobile applications and mobile-enabling capabilities for transportation professionals (beyond drivers). “There is demand for accessing transportation data on-the-go, from different devices such as tablets or mobile phones and serving different purposes,” he says. “Some of these vendors have evolved their mobile apps to offer capabilities beyond the more common capabilities expected in a driver’s app such as sign-on glass, capture electronic POD or label scan capabilities, offering now push-to-talk, cash-on-delivery payments and even capabilities for gig economy workers so they can see their payouts based on the services performed.”
 
Additionally, Sanchez Duran is seeing how transportation technology vendors such as TMS and Last Mile Delivery software providers are putting more emphasis on enhancing their app capabilities to provide a more cohesive experience also for other roles such as dispatchers and planners, providing them with specific solutions where visibility and exception management capabilities are more predominant.

Legislation

Have changes in transportation legislation influenced the development of Transportation Management systems over the past year or so, in your view?

Hellman points out that a crucial legislative change is the introduction of the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD). “This will require some 50,000 companies doing business within the European Union to report on their carbon emissions,” he explains. “For many companies, transportation and shipments will represent a substantial share of their emissions.  They need to measure these as easily as possible and find a way of straightforwardly managing reporting requirements.  And, accurately tracking emissions is the first step to meaningfully reducing them.”

nShift has developed ‘Emissions Tracker’ to help retailers and warehouses manage reporting requirements. It collates all carrier data into one reporting tool with an easy-to-use template. Calculations are made at shipment level, giving businesses the ability to drill into shipping data, compile accurate reports, and identify quick wins for emissions reduction.

Like Hellman, Pesez observes that greater emphasis from governments on sustainability, with new regulations such as CSRD and Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM), has significantly influenced the direction of the sector. “TMS systems have long-helped organisations improve efficiency by integrating and analysing all of the available data,” he says. “Efficiency in the supply chain often has the benefit of both cost-saving and improving sustainability, which is the easy part to justify. But today’s TMS also needs to be able to help businesses that want to prioritise emissions reduction even in the face of lower profitability, where the cost and carbon footprint might not be aligned. Advances in measurement capabilities to track the true emissions output across the chain is making TMS better suited to organisations that want to both monitor and take action towards environmental sustainability.

“If we’re looking at the UK specifically, changes in how goods are imported from the European Union have influenced the development of TMS systems. Companies have to take into account additional variations in VAT rates as well as other differences in customs and regulations when moving between countries, which can be hugely time-intensive to navigate. Progress in TMS systems means much of this administrative burden is reduced, helping businesses ‘automatically’ adhere to local rules and legislation.”

Hutton observes that CO2 legislation is starting to become more prevalent, and carbon taxes are being discussed or implemented. “This acknowledgement and acceptance that CO2 must be reduced in supply chains signifies a change in buyer priorities, now placing CO2 reduction alongside cost and service as key considerations,” he says. “With more companies publicly committing to net zero targets, buyers are increasingly seeking technological solutions to help meet these goals.”

However, according to Hutton, before reducing CO2 emissions, accurate measurement and reporting systems must be in place throughout the supply chain. “This is an area that is still embryonic in many transport operations,” he says. “Without consistent and reliable measurement of every vehicle's emissions, assessing progress accurately is challenging. Our products have been accurately measuring CO2 emissions for many years giving us a competitive advantage. But with various standards available there's still progress needed to ensure the credibility of reported data.”

West hasn’t seen legislation make a massive change since US ELD mandates. She points out there is some impact with legislation limiting things such as Autonomous trucks from taking off at scale. However, that isn’t new within the past year. Sanchez Duran adds that, in Europe, changes in ESG legislation are influencing the roadmap of TMS vendors to some degree. He also explains that changes related to sustainability reporting and carbon emission reduction is making more TMS vendors include carbon emission calculation and planning capabilities in their roadmaps.
 
Gruber answers in the affirmative. “Changes in transportation legislation, both locally and globally, can significantly influence the development of Transportation Management Systems (TMS) and related technologies. Over the past year or so, several legislative changes have impacted the transportation industry, prompting adjustments and enhancements in TMS solutions.” Gruber explains that some of these changes include:

  1. Electronic Logging Device (ELD) Mandates: Many countries have implemented or expanded regulations requiring the use of electronic logging devices to track drivers' hours of service (HOS) accurately. These mandates aim to improve road safety, prevent driver fatigue-related accidents, and ensure compliance with HOS regulations. TMS solutions have evolved to incorporate ELD functionality, enabling seamless integration with electronic logging devices to automate HOS tracking, recordkeeping, and compliance reporting.
  2. Environmental Regulations: Governments worldwide are implementing stricter regulations aimed at reducing carbon emissions, promoting sustainability, and addressing climate change. Transportation companies are under pressure to adopt cleaner, more fuel-efficient vehicles, optimise route planning to minimise environmental impact, and reduce overall carbon footprint. TMS solutions are incorporating features such as emission tracking, fuel efficiency monitoring, and alternative route optimisation to help companies comply with environmental regulations and achieve sustainability goals.
  3. Safety and Compliance Standards: Legislative changes related to safety and compliance standards, such as the implementation of the International Safety Management (ISM) Code, Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP), and Food Safety Modernisation Act (FSMA), impact transportation operations and supply chain management. TMS solutions are evolving to support these standards by providing tools for safety management, risk assessment, compliance monitoring, and audit trail documentation.
  4. Trade and Customs Regulations: Changes in trade agreements, tariffs, and customs regulations affect international transportation and logistics operations. Transportation companies must navigate complex import/export processes, customs clearance procedures, and trade compliance requirements to ensure smooth cross-border movements. TMS solutions are incorporating features such as trade compliance checks, customs documentation management, and duty calculation to facilitate international trade and ensure compliance with regulatory requirements.
  5. Data Privacy and Security Regulations: Data privacy regulations, such as the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), impose strict requirements on the collection, processing, and storage of personal data. Transportation companies need to ensure that their TMS solutions comply with these regulations to protect sensitive information and avoid costly fines. TMS providers are enhancing data security measures, implementing privacy controls, and offering GDPR/CCPA-compliant features to help users meet regulatory obligations.

“Overall, changes in transportation legislation have a significant impact on the development of Transportation Management Systems by driving the need for compliance, safety, sustainability and efficiency in transportation operations,” says Gruber. “TMS providers must stay abreast of regulatory changes and adapt their solutions accordingly to meet the evolving needs and requirements of the transportation industry.”

Safety

In van der Wilt’s view, safety is a key driver for all fleets, regardless of where they operate or developments (such as AI) elsewhere. “Focusing on safety ensures people are protected at work, but it also has a knock-on effect across the whole business,” he says. “Paying attention to safety reduces risk, which leads to lower costs such as insurance and vehicle maintenance. It also helps to build brand presence. In other words, good safety is good business.”

Future direction

What might be the next key developments to look out for over the next year or two?

West anticipates there will be continued investment in convergence of solutions and modularity of options. She believes there will also be continued investment and innovation leveraging AI to automate and optimise processes within transportation to drive business value. Additionally, she maintains there will be a stronger push for transparency and data sharing across partners like suppliers, freight forwarders, carriers, shippers and customers. “I believe the days of holding onto ‘my own data’ and not being more transparent about the different legs or nodes of the supply chain will be gone in the coming years,” says West.

Sanchez Duran agrees with West regarding the importance of application convergence to provide further automation and data transparency through stronger networks and connections. Other areas where Sanchez Duran believes we should expect further developments are usability, as Gen AI can provide new options and possibilities as to how end users interact with TMS solutions and risk management and insights, as organisations are looking to become more resilient and manage better further disruptions.
 
Pesez observes that there are many emerging technologies impacting the sector. “What is crucial is that TMS systems can adapt and integrate all of them seamlessly, to enable organisations to continue make the best decisions for their business without interruptions,” he says. “Undoubtedly, rapid progress in AI is a focus for the industry. Its role is likely to only expand within TMS, providing real-time analysis to help teams keep up to date with factors such as traffic or extreme weather, or offering enhanced predictions to assist in planning and decision-making. In the coming years, AI and ML won’t simply be executing administrative tasks, but carrying out complex autonomous decision-making processes to help manage whole fleets of manned / unmanned vehicles. Integration of blockchain to TMS is also increasing security and traceability in the supply chain. Blockchain-empowered TMS will act as a glue to facilitate seamless exchanges between each stage of a shipments journey, ensuring all elements are stored in a standardised, consistent and immutable ledger.”

Gruber believes several innovations and developments in Transportation Management solutions are likely to shape the industry. He outlines some potential areas to look out for:

  1. Autonomous Vehicles and Drones: The continued development and adoption of autonomous vehicles and drones are expected to revolutionize transportation and logistics operations. Autonomous trucks, delivery vehicles, and drones can help reduce labour costs, increase efficiency, and improve safety in transportation management. Look for advancements in autonomous technologies, regulatory developments, and pilot projects testing the feasibility of autonomous transportation solutions.
  2. Blockchain for Supply Chain Management: Blockchain technology has the potential to enhance transparency, traceability, and security in supply chain management. Blockchain-based solutions can provide a decentralized and immutable ledger for tracking goods, verifying transactions, and ensuring compliance throughout the supply chain. Keep an eye on developments in blockchain integration with Transportation Management systems, particularly in areas like freight tracking, provenance verification, and smart contracts.
  3. Predictive Analytics and AI-driven Insights: Predictive analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) are expected to play a more significant role in transportation management, enabling proactive decision-making, risk mitigation, and optimisation of operations. Look for advancements in AI algorithms, machine learning models, and predictive analytics tools that can forecast demand, optimise routing, and anticipate disruptions in real-time. AI-driven insights can help transportation companies improve efficiency, reduce costs and enhance customer satisfaction.
  4. Internet of Things (IoT) Sensors and Telematics: The proliferation of IoT sensors and telematics devices is transforming transportation management by providing real-time visibility into vehicle performance, cargo conditions, and environmental factors. Look for innovations in IoT sensor technology, connectivity solutions, and data analytics platforms that enable better monitoring, tracking, and management of assets throughout the supply chain. IoT-enabled transportation management systems can enhance efficiency, safety and sustainability in logistics operations.
  5. Environmental Sustainability Initiatives: Increasing focus on environmental sustainability and corporate social responsibility is driving the adoption of green transportation technologies and practices. Look for developments in electric vehicles, alternative fuels, and eco-friendly logistics solutions that help reduce carbon emissions, minimise environmental impact, and meet sustainability goals. Transportation management systems that support green initiatives, such as route optimization for fuel efficiency and carbon footprint tracking, will become increasingly important.
  6. Enhanced Integration and Collaboration: The future of transportation management lies in seamless integration and collaboration across the entire supply chain ecosystem. Look for advancements in integration platforms, interoperability standards, and collaborative tools that enable real-time data exchange, workflow automation, and decision support across transportation, warehousing, and inventory management functions. Integrated transportation management solutions will facilitate end-to-end visibility, agility and efficiency in supply chain operations.

“Overall, the next year or two are likely to witness significant advancements in Transportation Management solutions driven by emerging technologies, changing market dynamics and evolving customer needs,” says Gruber. “By embracing innovation and leveraging these developments, transportation companies can stay competitive, resilient and responsive to the demands of the modern supply chain landscape.”

According to van der Wilt, unquestionably, the answer is focused on the leveraging of artificial intelligence (AI). “The evolution of fleet-based telematics is about to step up a gear,” he says. “However, as the rush for enterprise systems that leverage AI gains momentum, it also looks set to accelerate the demise of old-school vehicle telematics systems. That’s because if fleets want to capitalise on AI to improve their safety, efficiency and sustainability then they have to invest in new data-first platforms.”

As AI technologies continue to evolve, van der Wilt believes the quality and accessibility of enterprise data could significantly impact an organisation's ability to assess large datasets in real-time, stay competitive, eliminate bias and free up more time for innovation. “For CIOs in the world of physical operations, transport and logistics, this means one thing: the next frontier in AI lies in the synergy between AI, connected platforms utilising Internet of Things (IoT) technology and real-time insights across a diversity of data.”

Changing end-user requirements

Gruber considers that some key trends and shifts in end-user requirements to watch out for include:

  1. Demand for Real-Time Visibility and Transparency: End-users will continue to prioritise real-time visibility and transparency across their transportation and logistics operations. They will expect Transportation Management solutions to provide comprehensive and accurate data on shipment status, inventory levels, and supply chain performance. This demand for visibility will drive the adoption of technologies such as IoT sensors, telematics, and advanced analytics to enable real-time tracking and monitoring capabilities.
  2. Emphasis on Sustainability and Green Initiatives: End-users are increasingly concerned about environmental sustainability and are seeking transportation management solutions that support green initiatives. There will be a growing demand for features and functionalities that help reduce carbon emissions, optimize fuel efficiency, and minimise environmental impact throughout the supply chain. Transportation management systems will need to incorporate sustainability metrics, carbon footprint tracking, and eco-friendly transportation options to meet these requirements.
  3. Focus on Flexibility and Agility: End-users will continue to value flexibility and agility in their transportation management solutions, particularly in response to changing market conditions, supply chain disruptions, and evolving customer demands. They will expect TMS platforms to be scalable, adaptable, and customisable to accommodate fluctuations in demand, shifts in business priorities, and emerging industry trends. Flexible pricing models, modular architectures, and rapid deployment options will be key considerations for end-users evaluating transportation management solutions.
  4. Integration with Emerging Technologies: End-users will increasingly seek integration with emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, blockchain and autonomous vehicles to enhance the capabilities and effectiveness of their transportation management solutions. They will expect TMS platforms to support seamless integration with these technologies to improve efficiency, optimise decision-making and drive innovation in transportation operations. Transportation management vendors will need to invest in research and development to stay ahead of the curve and meet the evolving needs of end-users.
  5. Enhanced Collaboration and Partner Connectivity: End-users will prioritize collaboration and connectivity with supply chain partners, carriers, and service providers to streamline operations, improve visibility and enhance decision-making across the supply chain. They will expect Transportation Management solutions to facilitate seamless communication, data sharing, and collaboration with external stakeholders through integrated platforms, standardised protocols, and interoperable systems. Enhanced partner connectivity features, such as electronic data interchange (EDI), API integration, and digital supply chain networks, will be essential for meeting these requirements.

“Overall, over the coming year or two, end-users in the transportation management space will continue to prioritise real-time visibility, sustainability, flexibility, integration with emerging technologies and enhanced collaboration capabilities,” says Gruber. “Transportation management vendors will need to innovate and adapt their solutions to meet these evolving requirements and deliver value in a rapidly changing and competitive market landscape.”

AI

According to Hutton, today’s buzzword has to be AI. “Everyone is using it,” he says. “However, AI in a TMS is a slow learning process and the ability to use it in the first place has to be firmly embedded in the very design principles of the application. There is no doubt that the use of AI in transport has a huge potential to positively impact the companies who harness it, but it requires patience from the sponsors of the programmes that incorporate AI in their TMS because the results will not be immediate. The sheer number of variables and complexities involved in transport demands substantial computing power if we are to properly use AI in our dynamic environment. Consequently, only a handful of vendors can provide sophisticated AI capabilities within their products.”

Hutton believes this is a very important consideration when assessing the marketplace. “Whilst every marketing department from every TMS vendor might eagerly embrace AI to avoid falling behind, it's the discerning buyer who should ask two key questions: What is 1) really required by their business, and 2) do I really understand what I’m asking for and do I understand the cost of these requirements? Therefore, actual computing power/cost has the potential to throttle back the speed of AI adoption in TMS.”

Hutton makes the point that master data often serves as the major obstacle to leveraging existing TMS functionality. “In reality, many companies don’t scratch the surface of the functionality in their current non-AI TMS applications,” he says, adding that this isn’t because they don’t want to or can’t afford to, but because they are constrained by poor Master Data in their primary enterprise systems. “Whilst many discuss the need for increasingly sophisticated TMS functionalities and advanced planning capabilities the lack of a solid strategy to address issues with company (e.g., product) or customer data is often overlooked. Yet, these are vital inputs for a TMS; without them, its effectiveness is severely limited.”

What about further changes with regard to end-user requirements over the coming year or two? As technology advances, Hutton states there is a growing need for increased automation, user-friendly interfaces, and improvements in usability, alongside the rising demand for AI integration. “We see that customers have less patience for B2B systems that don't match the smooth experiences they encounter in B2C interactions,” he says. Hutton adds that there is a trend towards consolidation in terms of accessed systems/modules. “Where a user daily, there is a desire to consolidate these to as few instances as possible accesses multiple applications or modules,” he says, adding that many users also wish to have less cluttered views, more graphical representations of data and the ability to do more within a single screen.”

Hellman agrees with Hutton in that, as in many other sectors, AI is already having a substantial impact on logistics and supply chain management. “We are likely to see even more development when it comes to route optimisation, demand planning and prediction, and real-time visibility,” he says. “Transportation management systems are likely to further enhance efficiency and decision-making.” Hellman adds that emissions reduction is another key area. “Many carriers now offer low- and zero-emissions delivery options. In addition, businesses are increasingly keen to gather data on their carbon emissions from logistics.  They’re using this information to spot quick wins for reducing emissions – as well as reporting their improvements back to customers and regulators. Vendors that have the stability to plan and invest for the long-term are those that are most likely to be ahead of the pace of change.”

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