Transportation Data Lives on Cloud Nine

Blair Thomas, Director, Customer Care, Columbian Logistics Network
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Blair Thomas, Director, Customer Care, Columbian Logistics Network

The transportation industry can often be seen as a stodgy place to make a living. In the regulated days of the 1970’s, there was little a carrier could do to differentiate itself besides hosting the nicest happy hours or spiffing the best tickets to the local baseball games. In that environment, the use of data as a competitive advantage was simply unnecessary.

In today’s market, we move as much data as we do freight. Nearly every load we move requires at least 4 data points related to the time stamps of arrival & departure times at the pickup, and the arrival & departure information at the delivery. Couple those needs with in-transit updates, GPS tracking, driver safety controls, temperature monitoring, security monitoring, and electronic logs, and  the humble truck has become a command center for data related to in-transit freight across the country.

At Columbian, our data has become as mobile as our trucks. We’re in the process of installing a cloud based Transport Management System(TMS) product from one of the industry’s leaders. Going to the cloud with the TMS allows for several advantages beyond the simple outsourcing of the ownership and maintenance of in-house servers. Running a cloud TMS takes the hassle of version control out of our hands, with semi-annual releases that keep us up to date on the newest functionality. More importantly, the Cloud TMS offers a standard coding language that seamlessly integrates with other software packages, including but not limited to Warehouse Management Systems, accounting systems (like MS Dynamics GP or Sage), HR systems (like Paychex or Kronos), and others.

  ​Going to the cloud with the TMS allows for several advantages beyond the simple outsourcing of the ownership and maintenance of in-house servers 

Third party logistics providers like Columbian are typically not manufacturers of products, so we often don’t invest in large-scale ERP systems like SAP or Oracle. Those not thinking strategically can end up with a hodge-podge collection of disparate systems that simply don’t talk to each other. The more integrations we can accomplish, the more manual processes we can take out of our business. The cloud platform allows us to leverage best of breed technologies and focus on what makes us great: serving customers with on time deliveries. In our case, our cloud TMS solution integrates directly with Microsoft Dynamics AX, our primary accounting platform. From there, we can marry up accounting between our warehouse, transportation, and consulting business units and report high-level financials with activity-level detail.

In calculus class, we learned that the first derivative of a function is the rate of change of that function at a given point. By migrating to the cloud with our applications, we allow ourselves to ask not where do we stand, but how fast are we changing, which is a powerful position for any organization.

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