This is the first in a three-part series and is set in the late 1990s.
When it came to understanding what an early TMS could do for shippers, it was a classic example of the saying “You don’t know what you don’t know.”
Buried in paper, faxing, emails and phone calls only to have skilled staff manually enter order data into Excel spreadsheets, shipping managers at small and midsize businesses had no idea what cost cutting and revenue generation opportunities they were missing.
These logistics professionals, however, became painfully aware of problems with this approach when mistakes were made, deliveries were delayed, costs were added and actual shipping limped along at a snail’s pace. Even worse, freight costs were climbing.
And nobody was happy. Shippers had no means to apply their logistics and supply chain skills. AR and AP were calling in with problems. Customers experienced a lack of consistency with some deliveries. And those seeking the status of their shipments faced long waits or went without. Updates were available in unreal time.
All this sounds like a scary movie, with shippers lacking visibility into and control of their supply chains, but it was real life before small and midsize business (SMB) had any technology-driven systems to help shoulder the freight shipping load. It’s tough to solve a pressing problem without a solution.
Is Bigger Better?
While SMBs struggled mightily with daily shipping operations, logistics managers at some of the world’s large corporations were beginning to implement something called a TMS. Back then, what passed for a transportation management system was essentially an on-site hardware platform with software.
The TMS was pricey to say the least, took forever to implement and needed staff on hand to handle its care and feeding, which included installing seemingly endless software upgrades and scrambling to react in the event of an emergency at the location at which it resided. (Single point of failure).
And having spent megabucks on the TMS and committed to a multi-year contract for the onsite system, came almost unimaginable pressure from C-level execs to start showing a ROI, after the big-box-and-software system finally went live.
Back to the Past
I don’t have any issues with early TMSes whatsoever, especially as I was in the freight shipping business during this era. The options were seriously limited and were limited to the large corporations willing to spend and commit big to one of these on-prem box systems.
Remember, it was the onsite approach or no approach at all. Everything was on site without viable hosted options way back then. Phone systems, mainframes, data centers, storage, servers and all software were at the company site. And all these key IT infrastructure and processing elements require administration, management, monitoring and oversight.
Ask around to see who remembers long-distance calls, wired phone systems or life before real working from home. And you thought VCRs flashing 12:00 are funny.
The Road Ahead
All the while, a new era of computing was dawning that would give rise to the broader application of advanced technology that would set the stage for the early days of freight intelligence and TMS options that more companies and their overworked logistics departments could begin to consider for their shipping needs.
Tune in next week, as I continue the freight shipping story forward toward more modern-day technology approaches that gave rise to TMS solutions and alternatives for a broader base of businesses.
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