The house TMS built! A trilogy by Tony Wayda

Implementing a TMS is much like building a house.  In the first blog we discussed the design and planning process as it related to TMS.  In this blog we will begin discussing foundational elements necessary for every TMS no matter who the software provider is or if they are a tier 1 or 2.

Clearing the lot and pouring the foundation

Let’s start with base data, sometimes referred to as master data.  Base data is the equivalent of preparing the building site and pouring the foundation.  Without a level building site for a solid foundation the house problems will begin to appear as construction of the house continues upon a weak base.  TMS systems are the same.  One of the most challenging pieces of a TMS implementation is the collection and cleaning of the base data.  I have seen many companies who do not have a master data team as part of their organization spend 6 month or more attempting to clean up their data.  This is the equivalent of trying to build a home on unstable ground.  You must drive steel beams deep into the ground and provide a lot of reinforcement which costs time and money.  At the end of the day you have to get to a solid foundation before beginning to build regardless of the time and costs. Same with TMS.

There are several components of base data but here are the major objects:

  • Item Master – Individual SKU level information which includes dimensional information, freight class, hazmat information, packaging UOM and more. This is typically the largest and most difficult piece of base data to collect and keep accurate.
  • Location/Facility Master – Specific physical locations of supplier, DC’s, store or any location that is picked up or delivered too. Associated with locations are specific attributes needed for planning – special equipment required (lift gate required), restricted carrier, type of facility (DC, pool point, store), latitude and longitude, and many other reference attributes.  The number of attribute vary by system.
  • Calendars – Calendars track open and close times, shipping and receiving times, holiday schedule of any location. In some TMS system the calendar is a part of the location setup not a separate item that can be associated with multiple locations.
  • Equipment – Definition of all sizes and types of equipment utilized whether an ocean container, dry trailer, or refrigerated straight truck.
  • Carriers – A complete list of all carriers and associated attributes such as mode, communication method and contact names.
  • Rates – Carrier TL, LTL, Ocean, Intermodal, Air and parcel rates. This is usually the next largest mass of data after item master.
  • Transit Times – Transit time between all shipping and receiving locations. There are several tools that have published transit time and all TMS have built in calculators to estimate transit. It is my experience that even with tools that will return transit times to a TMS there is still a significant setup for international shipping lanes both inbound and outbound.

The level of effort to collect and sanitize base data is usually underestimated in most TMS projects so it is important to understand the quality of your data before estimating.

Now that we have our base data loaded into our TMS we can continue with configuration and then on to testing.  Configuration will be specific to each customer depending on the size and complexity of the transportation network.  My one caution – START SIMPLE!  TM Systems are highly configurable and it is important to start with the basics, stabilize, then move to more advanced features.  Equally as important is to test all business scenarios from end to end in a mirror of the production environment.  This means testing the complete flow including interfaces to the host order system/ERP, WMS, Carrier, Supplier, 3rd PL and accounting system for settlement and pay.  This may seem obvious but you would be surprised at the short cuts companies take.  Also ensure that a SME validates the data in each of the systems.  It is not sufficient to validate the data made it to the destination system without error.  The data should then be run through the normal operations in the destination system – if the WMS received the data, run a wave, pick, pack and ship to ensure there are no issues.

One last thought, ensure that you involve super users as early as possible in the TMS project, including design, design review, test planning and finally testing.  If users feel ownership they are more likely to support the implementation, work through problems and complain less.

In the next blog we will explore finishing our construction and utilizing our new home/TMS.