Once upon a time, fleet owners bought a transportation management system (TMS) to track where their assets were at any point in time. Today, it’s much more complicated than that.
Carriers these days not only have to worry about tracking their equipment and all the expenses that go along with day-to-day trucking operations, but they also have to comply with a heavy regulatory environment, deal with a growing driver shortage, and analyze an unprecedented amount of data coming off the trucks themselves.
“There is just a lot more complexity to a TMS because of the diversity in the types of freight being moved,” according to Ray West, vice president and general manager of the TMS solution at TMW Systems. “A TMS is more complex than it once was. It has to handle a whole lot more different responsibilities just to be acceptable.”
Todd Hodges, product manager at Verizon Connect, explained that a fast and reliable connection to the mobile worker is more important in today’s trucking operations than ever. Today, he said, mobile workers are able to access large amounts of information and data, which empowers them to make more informed decisions.
For instance, connected navigation systems can give advanced warnings of major road closures so that drivers can reroute and hopefully minimize delays. Additionally, mobile workers can share more details with other connected workers regarding customer site visits, giving them insight into things like the proper entry and exit points for pickups and deliveries.
“Progressive fleets are connecting and sharing more information with their customers,” Hodges said. “Customers of fleets want more real-time information regarding driver ETA so that they can operate more efficiently. Some may even want additional driver details.”
How regulations impact TMS
The hours of service (HOS) regulations have had a big impact on trucking, and now that the industry has begun its full immersion into the electronic logging device mandate (ELD) era to track those hours, productivity has taken a hit. When just a few years ago, it was all about getting from Point A to Point B safely and on time, now tracking all the elements of how a carrier gets there is just as important.
That means regulations, like the proper handling and management of refrigerated goods under the Food Safety Modernization Act, now dictate that carriers track the temperature variations in the trailer throughout the lifetime of a shipment. The same goes for tracking driver safety and HOS to ensure the driver is not fatigued or driving above the allotted hours under federal regulations.
“A TMS has to manage all of this information,” West explained. “Now you have to factor in HOS regulations. You have to factor in fuel stops along the way and rest stops. You have to calculate what the drivers’ hours are coming into the load, just like during the load.”
“Regarding temperature control for the reefers, hauling food-grade anything becomes important also,” he added. “The trailer has to be inspected and monitored, and you have to make sure you have alerts so that if something comes in and looks like it’s going to be out of scope, you hit it off as soon as possible, or you can lose a load of freight.”
Due to the heavy regulatory demands that fall on carriers and the volatility in the industry in general, West said it is important that TMS solutions are updated consistently and in real time.
“It’s an onslaught of constant updates and constant modifications to the systems because for TMW Systems, for instance, we have over 200 partners we work with that we have integrations with,” West noted. “Whether it’s mobile communications integrations, fuel cards, fuel tax, HOS, monitoring a driver’s compliance, or insurance, there is just no limit to the number of integrations, and as other third parties change their systems, we have to change our systems to adjust.”
In addition to the constant updates that a TMS must undergo, providers have to conduct standard research and development work that deals with customer requirements and changes to their businesses. West stressed this is the main reason today’s TMS applications are highly complex and volatile.
Mark Cubine, vice president of marketing at McLeod Software, pointed out that developments to TMS products have been moving rapidly for the last five or six years in terms of the capability sets companies want. Much of that has to do with the ELD mandate and the changes it has brought about.
Because of driver Hours of Service regulations and the ELD mandate, the definition of capacity now means time for carriers. Additionally, fleets are now fully cognizant when it comes to tracking the velocity of a trip, meaning the total time from pickup to delivery, which includes detention on both ends.
“That’s been a fundamental change for some carriers, and the thing that we have seen happen is that the carriers are being much more attentive to analytics that tell a story beyond revenue per mile,” Cubine explained. “It used to be a universal paradigm, and it’s still an important number to look at, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.”
When Cubine says “telling the whole story,” he means looking at a specific lane or customer to really evaluate what’s going on. He said fleets now need to consider the following:
- How profitable is that customer in that lane in terms of my ability to get freight delivered?
- How are they using my time in terms of detention?
- Do I have poor velocity in this lane or with this customer?
“Profitability, velocity and revenue per hour were things that not all carriers paid attention to in the past, but it’s become very important,” Cubine noted.
Andy Oleson, product management at Verizon Connect, told Fleet Owner that regulations have also brought a new level of attention to the manner in which companies are accessing data. Since drivers are now fully responsible for adhering to their regulated HOS, new requirements have been implemented to take that data into consideration when planning routes, planning vacation time, and handling other day-to-day business.
“Customers also want streamlined access to platforms and don’t want to have to access several different ones to manage it all,” Oleson said. “Customers should be focusing on coaching the drivers that have had excessive violations, failed inspections, etc.”