Implementing a TMS: Why Communication is a Key Success Factor

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Having invested in a transportation management system (TMS), you’re looking forward to its implementation. But the term “implementation” doesn’t really capture the full implications of this next step. Implementing a TMS means much more than installing and plugging in a system—the experience is transformative and requires some serious change management resources.

When it comes to implementing a TMS, a resource that is pivotal to success is effective communications—both at the provider and buyer ends of the process.

In this blog post, I offer some insights into what communications capabilities you should look for in a system provider that are critical to successful TMS implementations. Next week I’ll look at the important capabilities you’ll need to successfully embed the new TMS in your logistics operation. Both posts pertain to implementations within the United States. Global implementations that involve multi-regional rollouts are trickier to coordinate and, hence, more complex from a communications perspective. I’ll tackle these projects in a future post.

Key indicators
Communications in the implementation phase may or may not be part of your thinking when evaluating TMS options.

Yet clear, timely communications are at the heart of every effective TMS implementation. It’s impossible to anticipate every outcome initially; however, there are certain provider capabilities you can look out for.

How closely aligned are the provider’s sales and implementation teams? If functional silos impede communications between these teams, you can expect problems when it comes to implementing the system. The dangers of sales departments promising features that turn out not to be viable are well known, for instance. Check out the provider’s organizational chart to determine how aligned these two departments are. Who do the sales and implementation teams report to, and are there lines of command—even dotted ones—connecting all parties?

How does sales hand off new customers to the implementation team? You have probably spent many months—perhaps years—talking with the sales team. During that time, the reps will have accumulated a lot of knowledge about your particular needs. It’s critical than when the sales phase comes to an end, all of that knowledge is transferred to the people who will implement the system. A first formal meeting with the implementation team that is full of knowledge gaps and inaccurate assumptions is a recipe for disaster. Ensure that the TMS provider has a formal process around the important hand off between sales and implementation.

How does the implementation team hand off to the end user? When the implementation is complete in a managed services environment, the team will hand the baton to the account team that manages the customer relationship. In self-serve arrangements where the customer is largely responsible for system execution, the implementation team will hand off to the customer. The communications challenges are similar in each case. Again, it’s essential that every grain of knowledge about your specific needs, and relevant system nuances, are exchanged when these hand offs occur. Also, what support services, such as follow-up meetings, does the provider arrange?

Lasting benefits
TMS implementations are especially reliant on effective communication because of the sheer number of moving parts involved and the inevitable challenges that have to be addressed. Many people must come together to integrate the system and ensure the transformation works for your business. Making a special effort to promote the exchange of knowledge early on can pay huge dividends throughout the life of the system.

Next week, I’ll look at the shipper end of the communications challenge.

Geoff Allen
Director, Global Implementation | TMC
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