By choosing Application Platform as a Service (aPaaS), transportation companies can integrate IoT and transform workflow with built-in capabilities and greater flexibility.
It’s no secret that using some form of transportation management software (TMS) has become crucial for stakeholders across the transportation and logistics industry. TMS solutions can help shippers, distributors, retailers, and 3PLs with everything from route planning to supply chain visibility. As these software solutions proliferate, it’s clear that the adoption of new technologies is playing a crucial role in helping companies improve their operations and remain competitive.
And yet, too many TMS products are falling short of what transportation companies ultimately need. While most off-the-shelf TMS solutions deliver on the execution end of things, many lack the extensibility required to manage complex IoT deployments, support predictive maintenance, or enable real-time optimization. In short, the needs of transportation companies are expanding beyond that which transportation management systems were designed to deliver.
At the same time, many transportation companies simply don’t have access to the resources necessary to build proprietary software solutions designed to support and extend the functionality of their TMS. The answer to this particular challenge is neither switching to another TMS nor building a custom solution from scratch. The answer is an entirely new approach to software procurement and development: Application Platform as a Service (aPaaS). APaaS solutions offer a balance — and for many transportation companies, the perfect balance — of pre-built power, ease-of-deployment, and customization.
The State of Transportation Management Software
Every industry has to deal with the choice between buying an off-the-shelf software solution and building a custom product from the ground up. But this issue is particularly important for transportation management in logistics, which is uniquely interconnected, heavily regulated, and currently undergoing a number of seismic shifts between decades-old traditions and next-generation, tech-enabled practices. Meanwhile, keeping down costs is crucial. In such a challenging environment, choosing the right software solution can be a make-or-break decision.
Indeed, the transportation industry is complex, diverse, and rapidly transforming. A growing number of stakeholders are involved in each and every shipment, each of whom is bringing their own needs to the process. But silos between shippers, 3PLs, and retailers are breaking down, as factors like fast communication, real-time status updates, and supply chain visibility become paramount. Companies must balance compliance, quality control, route optimization, and much more. Finding equilibrium in this balancing act requires tools that can adapt to changes — whether those changes involve new technology, new pricing models, new legal requirements, evolving customer expectations, or emerging industry trends. It’s hard to stay competitive if you’re relying on decades-old models.
To answer these needs, dozens of old-school transportation planning software solutions have cropped up. But most of these are designed for a rigid set of uses and functions within particular sectors of the overall supply chain. Companies might wisely choose one of these solutions for the seemingly simple “out of the box” usability. But it quickly becomes apparent that these solutions cannot cover the entire gamut of requirements that contemporary transportation companies are looking for. That makes it hard to truly integrate TMS with other technologies and already-complex enterprise workflows. Transportation management systems can all too easily become just another bureaucratic box to check off, rather than a tool to improve internal operations.
In that context, it’s worthwhile to note that the transportation industry is good at what it does: transportation. But building software? That just isn’t their domain. That much is clear from the fact that dozens of TMS solutions exist to address some particular aspect of the supply chain, yet none enable real end-to-end visibility throughout the entire process. Indeed, none have truly transformed how the industry does business.
Moreover, many of these solutions were designed for the industry requirements of years past, and offer comparatively minimal ROI in a world where profits are slimmer, business moves more quickly, and everyone expects more visibility at a lower price point. Transportation companies might know their business inside and out, but they aren’t equipped with in-house developers capable of designing cutting-edge software solutions to meet their needs.
What aPaaS Brings to the TMS Table
APaaS, or Application Platform as a Service, is part of the proliferation of Anything as a Service (XaaS) tools that allow organizations to more easily invest in technological solutions and scale as needed. Choosing aPaaS means choosing a new way to think about the future of transportation management. It’s an approach — a comprehensive attitude toward how to integrate technological solutions into a business plan. APaaS solutions are uniquely positioned to allow transportation companies to quickly build and deploy software that improve operations or expand service offerings to meet the rapidly evolving market landscape.
An aPaaS solution provides a middle ground between pre-configured, out-of-the-box Software as a Service (SaaS) options, and the Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) options that require serious development investment.
On the one hand, aPaaS have ready-made, back-end infrastructure (and in some cases microservices) that offer powerful off-the-shelf functionality in less time and with less financial risk. For instance, a situational awareness aPaaS solution comes equipped with architecture and relevant services to deliver location, resource tracking, scheduling, tasking, and communication. These pre-built resources offer great value to transportation companies, which simply don’t have the in-house IT resources — or the months or years it could take — to build an effective solution from the ground-up.
On the other hand, transportation software built on aPaaS is also customizable, with the flexibility to design features and user experiences to suit a company’s specific workflow. Businesses can work with an aPaaS provider to build a purpose-built solution on top of pre-coded modules. For transportation companies dealing with the limited functionality of most TMS apps, it’s crucial that a platform allows them to configure the features and experiences that will set their company apart.
Indeed, the IoT is becoming increasingly integral to logistics, with sensor-equipped smart trailers to support trucks and shipments, RFID tags and GIS tags for tracking loads, and edge computing that can generate instant insights and analysis. With aPaaS, data from a nearly infinite array of sources (transportation management systems included) can be easily integrated into powerful applications — applications which can themselves be reconfigured, optimized, and scaled as requirements change.
Delivering Next-Gen Transportation Software Solutions
Transportation companies at any and every point in the supply chain can benefit from better software solutions. Most of the currently available TMS options are designed for an industry that companies increasingly don’t recognize. Most don’t allow for the customization required by a rapidly changing market environment. Ideally, transportation companies can easily integrate new technologies and use their TMS platform as a communication tool rather than a checklist. But platforms that aren’t designed for flexible operational structures will always be sub-optimal since they can’t adjust to specific business requirements.
At the same time, the vast majority of logistics companies simply don’t have the time, resources, or expertise to hire developers for a built-from-scratch solution — nor is that approach finally necessary. With aPaaS transportation planning software, it’s possible to pair powerful built-in capabilities with enough flexibility to meet both the needs of today and of tomorrow.
The result can be more than the sum of its parts. When transportation logistics meets situational awareness, it can transform how everyone, from retailers to shippers to 3PLs, does business. With a common operational picture, it’s easier than ever to keep stakeholders on the same page and provide true end-to-end visibility. Data from IoT devices, GIS trackers, and other inputs can be instantly surfaced on an operational map for routing, updates, delivery estimates, and more. The right tool will enable faster, more profitable operational decision-making. That’s the power of aPaaS.