Are you ready to embark on the adventure of a lifetime by incorporating new software into your operation? Trucks are already interconnected, but how about your back-office systems? Because we are right there with you, supporting you every step of the way. We support your endeavor, which is why we wanted to put together a comprehensive guide to help you through the complex and often frustrating process of adopting and implementing a new system. But wait, you say. What about building a transportation management system (TMS) in-house?
We understand the importance and complexity that can come with embarking on a journey to bring new technology into your trucking company. It can be absolutely nerve-wracking. Companies within the transportation and logistics sector make this adoption decision every single day, and it isn’t easy. Your company may want to implement new software or develop proprietary technology. Who can you rely on to help you do it? Consider taking what you’ve seen and learned along the way and create a guide for yourself throughout the process.
First, before we dive into the topic, let’s give you our bird’s eye view. The truth is you should not strictly buy OR build the tech you use for your business. Whether it be a transportation management system or otherwise, consider a hybrid approach. In most cases, the most beneficial thing for an organization includes a combination of buying and building. Now, the next question is when do you buy or build? It’s time to dive in.
Buy or Build? That is the Question
It’s an important question. We generally recommend making this decision based on a simple rule. Simply put, it is:
- Buy what you can.
- Build what will differentiate you in the market.
Buying software can provide you with a foundational layer you can then build off of. And you’ve got plenty of options. With so much growth in the TMS sector, software companies are jostling one another for business. Feature rich systems are popping up left and right just about everywhere you look.
The market for software solutions is exploding with growth all over the world. The TMS market is one aspect of the broader software-as-a-solution (SaaS) market. Yet, the TMS market is expected to grow from $7.7B in 2020 to $17.8B in 2025. That represents massive growth in what had been a very nascent sector of the industry.
It is within this context of rapid industry growth that business executives in transportation and logistics must make important decisions. Do they buy off the shelf software or build their own products. What is right for them? It’s certainly a tough decision. And making it requires taking into consideration the strengths of the individual company, the demands for the solution, and the goals for the future.
Set a Foundation for Success
If this all sounds a lot like proper business planning, it is! We’re doing our part to help you decide the best way to adopt and implement new technology. Before starting on your journey, you must first do some business level planning and evaluation. Understanding where you are as a company and who you want to be as you scale up will be incredibly important. What workflows will be affected? What metrics will need to be studied? Set goals to answer these questions.
Let’s talk a little bit about goal setting. Make sure when you set your goals that you are clear and transparent with yourself about the methods and timelines associated with said goals. What is your budget and timeline. Set clear and achievable benchmarks for yourself and you’ll be sure to meet your goals in no time.
We’ve put together a handy list of questions you can refer to when you are setting about creating your goals:
- What values does your business represent?
- Who are your competitors?
- How does your organization compare to your competitors?
- What are your strengths?
- Where do you stand out in a crowded marketplace?
- Are there areas that require immediate attention?
- What business imperatives are driving your software acquisition philosophy?
- Do your users require additional functionality?
- Is your network infrastructure ready for a new system?
- How will the new solution integrate with existing technology?
- How will success be measured?
These are just a small sample of the many questions you should ask yourself as you conduct due diligence. Implementing a new software system is no small – or simple – matter.
Be Realistic and Consider Your Organization’s Design
It’s incredibly helpful to go through this process with an open mind. Still, you want to make sure you have set up realistic parameters for what the TMS will and will not do. Software can only do so much to solve the problems within your business. You simply cannot rely on software to do everything.
When software does fail, there is generally a problem with the process. The reason software fails often comes from issues in this process. The three main pitfalls you should be mindful of and ensure you avoid at all costs include:
- Delaying the pre-evaluation phase because you simply must have the absolute, ideal solution.
- Having unrealistic expectations for what the company can support, whether the solution is bought or built.
- Underestimating, or failing to estimate, the organizational change required from a new piece of software.
The next step is essential. It’s time to do some reconnaissance. This is the information and resources gathering phase of your TMS implementation project. You must establish your list of requirements and specific capabilities for the system you choose. Documentation is the key to any successful software selection, build, or implementation. You want the clearest picture possible of your business and ensure your TMS solution fits within the framework of your operation.
Capabilities Evaluation Best Practices
When you examine the performance and capabilities of a TMS, whether bought or built, you must evaluate it from every angle. Whether it be support, end-users, truckers, internal users, or external users, how these people use the system must be considered. Consider starting with some market research. If you want to succeed in your particular marketplace, you must know it well. What are competitors doing and what do their customer’s demand? How will a new TMS help you address these concerns?
There are some absolute essentials for a TMS to be a contender in the market. If you plan on developing your own TMS in-house, knowing these must-have components is critical. It gives a foundation to bring to a technology provider if you plan to buy or in-house developers if you want to build. This way you can confirm they can supply the solution, integrate it, and offer support for it.
Remember that capabilities must-have list? It should be as short as possible. Why? Because it should help you quickly filter to the right vendor if you plan to buy and help you build more cost effectively if that is your plan.
Finally, if too short is a problem, so is too long. If you have a super long ‘must-have’ list you may be left with too few options, or a product that is incredibly expensive or on backorder. Don’t use this list to write out every wish you could ever have for the TMS. Instead, ensure it mostly covers core features and functionality, but that there is room for add-ons or other integrations.
The Project Cost and Timeframe
Like so much else in this world, the decision your trucking company makes may be based on cost in the end. How much money you have and what you can afford drives quite a lot of our decision-making, both in and out of business. Still, between building and leasing a TMS solution, it is important to realize this isn’t an evaluation of equals.
The timeframe for your project may also greatly influence whether you decide to buy or build. Building a new piece of software from the ground up is not easy. It requires a lot of development time and effort and will tie up your resources for quite some time. Expect to sink plenty of time and treasure into your own project.
The time frame for implementation could be a significant factor in some circumstances. There could be an opportunity for a competitive advantage. Or if you miss the initial rollout, you can bide your time and limit the fallout from missing the boat. Fortunately, we know the best way to avoid this. Any estimates made for the time frame of a build solution should be made on the conservative side for a safe comparison. Give yourself a cushion.
Implementing new software is never easy, whether you buy or build. Just ensure you conduct your due diligence and make a call that fits the needs of your organization. TMS solutions can help you better manage your business, just make sure the software is the right fit.