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3Gtms Solves TMS Implementation Struggles (Part 1 of 3) - Integration

5/21/14 4:04 AM | Feature Highlights 3Gtms Solves TMS Implementation Struggles (Part 1 of 3) - Integration

This article by 3GTMS describes how a new approach to systems integration can solve many TMS system implementation challenges. By JP Wiggins.

By: JP Wiggins, Co-Founder, VP of Logistics

In the course of an evaluation I often get asked why an implementation of our TMS software, 3G-TM, will be better than others they have either experienced themselves or have heard stories about. In terms of efficiency, cost, time and end results, the simple answer is that from the beginning we applied decades of TMS experience to design 3G-TM to be easier to use and install using the best of today’s technology as its foundation. This emphasis certainly helped, but we also developed a new implementation methodology and tools to not only speed up time to use, but also to substantially improve the overall quality of the implementation while avoiding issues that are inherent with TMS installs.

Integration is a great way to illustrate how we have designed our TMS to work easier – it sounds simple but is actually deviously complex. To start with, the TMS has to be designed to be integrated, seems like a no-brainer, right?  Well, the trouble is most TMS systems on the market today were designed before the systems they currently have to integrate with were even developed.  Sure if you are a small 3PL or broker you may not have many legacy systems to integrate with your TMS, but at a minimum you need to talk to your finance systems, as well as probably carriers and clients.

A TMS needs to be designed to handle order changes seamlessly, integrate with warehouse systems and merge with finance with highly complex, two-way interfaces.  These interfaces have to be designed into the data model and software, not put in as an afterthought. Most integration complexity derives from the fact that the original systems were not designed to talk to each other vs. ours which was designed with integration capabilities built-in.

Moving along, we get into the technical aspects of integration. I’ll keep this very non-technical. If you need those details, then call us.  Let’s start with the industry standard Application Program Interface or API. An API is the basic way a TMS interfaces with other systems. One way to look at it is an API is data being formatted in a specific fashion to be picked up by another system.  The specifics of what’s in the data, its format and how to use it define the API.

For TMS systems, APIs are used to move things around like orders, shipment, tenders, master data and EDI messages – pretty much anything that needs to go in/out of your TMS. The difficulty in working with APIs is that you have to get everything to match up. For example, when you integrate a TMS and a financial package somebody is going to have to look at both and program to each system’s API to get them to communicate back and forth.

Like most other TMS software providers, 3Gtms has a published suite of APIs. We like to use XML via web services for almost everything. Ours might be a little more modern and clean in design, but in general everybody does this part more/less the same. TMS software vendors publish their API and then sell you consulting for mapping and coding interface project work to get everything talking.  There are also third party firms that specialize in this work. What the sales teams often to forget to mention is that as vendors update software, APIs change. Or, God forbid, your business model changes, or you want to interface in new systems – all of this adds to the cost/complexity of maintenance. Not to mention the cost of the tools to do the mapping and needed programing talent. Many TMS system projects have failed, or been shelved, due to the complexity of writing and maintaining interfaces.  It’s the biggest point of risk in a TMS system installation.

The industry is calling for more than just a list of published APIs and consulting, and 3Gtms is responding. In addition to having a system that is designed to be integrated and a modern suite of APIs, 3Gtms has built a game changer – our 3G-Integration Hub.

Our integration hub is a cloud-based transformation and transfer tool communication bus.  This self-service tool allows our clients to take data in their native format and transform it into our APIs. Yes, this involves having resources to do style sheet programming, but we simplify the process by providing example templates. As we grow so will this library of templates. We already have a library for common EDI, 3rd party finance (i.e. Great Planes, Sage) order, status, shipment and more.

The hub can create and receive in a variety of formats, such as XML, CSV (Excel files), X12 (EDI) or even SQL to populate databases directly. 3PLs can use the 3G-Integration Hub for much faster onboarding of client’s order data.  If the client already has some order feed, chances are our hub can map to it and use it directly.

The 3G-Integration Hub is for use by our clients, but it is also the internal tool we use for projects requiring integration. It is a true differentiator for our TMS system, and one of the key ways we make a TMS installation easier. We are bringing our clients to the world of self-service integration, taking cost and time out of the implementation by doing it a better way.

Give us a call and learn more.