Agility Required in a Parcel TMS

We spend hours planning and optimizing your Parcel TMS configuration to meet your everyday needs and what happens once you deploy? A specific situation arises that changes your world. Ensure your Parcel TMS is agile enough to handle quick—and often temporary—variable change.

An investment in a PTMS multi-carrier rate shopping solution has proven to help a shipper plan and execute to find the best carrier and ship method to deliver per customer expectation, at lowest possible cost. While planning and executing for the standard day is wonderful, life is full of surprises that we still have to be prepared for and execute against. It could be a weather event like a hurricane, polar vortex, or a wildfire. It could be a Distribution Center that was deemed optimal for a particular zone runs out of capacity temporarily. It could be a specific carrier or ship method suddenly begins to miss time-in-transit commitments due to peak season. While all of these situations are understandable, your customers, and likely your finance department, won’t be ready to hear the reality: since the system is configured a certain way and the variables changed (permanently or temporarily) the order is going to be late, and/or shipping costs are going to exceed budget due to upgrades. What should one do about it? As the Scout Motto says: Be prepared!

Below are five examples of challenges we have experienced with our customers over the past 20+ years of serving the largest shippers in the market; we suggest your PTMS should be designed to handle these extraordinary situations.

1) Extreme Weather Events

An advanced PTMS should track destination temperature forecasts to adjust rate shop results. If a temperature sensitive product is shipping into an extreme temperature region (high or low temp), the rate shop should alter results to protect the shipment. For example, flagging operations to add a cold pack, adding signature required to avoid damage on a customer’s porch, or changing a delivery date.

While temperature awareness is useful to automate decisions based upon weather forecasts, the system should also be ready to handle extreme weather events like hurricanes, blizzards, or wildfires. (We acknowledge a wildfire is not actually a weather event, but they have similar effects on shipments.) In these cases, the PTMS needs to be ready to account for these events and plan accordingly as customers are not going to accept the excuse that your system wasn’t ready for non-standard events. Service blocks should have an origin point, start date/time, end date/time, the effected destination areas (zip range or state), and carrier/ship method where applicable. Along with these key variables, the decision-making logic needs to be defined. Will the shipper want to hold, expedite/downgrade, or change carrier/ship methods? As mentioned, it is critical that the system allow for the ability to provide editable end dates to prevent being caught off guard by expired blocks that were not deactivated.

2) Carrier Performance Issues

While carriers do provide time-in-transit tables they are contractually required to meet, if a carrier is not performing, a shipper may want to make adjustments in the system. The final customer doesn’t care who was responsible for a late shipment…they just want their order. Therefore, when a shipper witnesses performance issues—even if it is isolated to a particular zip range, zone, or ship method—the shipper may want to alter the time-in-transit used by the rating engine to select the carrier/ship-method that will be delivered with highest confidence. One may want to even go so far as to automatically utilize time-in-transit calculations based upon actual historical performance. At times these adjustments may be temporary (a one-time issue or peak season issue), so these adjustments to time-in-transit should also have a start and end date.

3) Ship Point Issues

Especially during peak, a particular DC or set of stores may run into capacity issues. In these situations, a shipper may want to throttle the volume through these ship points. This throttle may be temporary or permanent. The PTMS should be able to handle the need to block or throttle volume through various ship points as needed. In addition to the shippers’ actual ship points, the system should also be ready to handle carrier hub issues if a particular hub under performs or has a capacity issue. This need is particularly prevalent in Zone Skipping or Line Haul scenarios.

4) Specific Customer Requirements

Even if your multi-carrier rate shopping solution states that a particular carrier/ship method is the lowest cost and/or most likely to deliver on the needs by date defined by the customer, often a customer will make decision even more complex by demanding a specific carrier or ship method. Maybe they like their UPS driver, they own stock in FedEx, they prefer union workers, or they just want to test you. Regardless of the customer’s reasoning, if they made a request and you accepted that request, the PTMS should be able to ingest the specific constraints for that order or all orders by that customer in the rate shopping algorithm.

5) Shipping Option or Special Time in Transit Blocks

Just when you think you have thought of every use case that your business could possibly invent, another arises; therefore, it is best to be prepared. While rare, we have seen cases where clients require a block on a specific shipping option for a period of time (Saturday Delivery or Signature Required) along with time-in-transit blocks (blocking all 3-day time-in-transits to a zone). While one may not be able to predict all use cases, it is best to know that your system is agile enough to adjust to future challenges.

In Conclusion

We all work hard to predict and plan for the future when a PTMS is configured and hope that these decisions will serve us all year long. But the world we live in is full of changes, and while we can’t possibly predict all of these changes, we can make sure that our PTMS is ready to handle these situations when they arise.


We realize this piece is very high-level, and if you’d like to drill down on any of our recommendations, reach out to us with questions or comments. We also welcome opportunities to deliberate or dispute our insights and recommendations. No conversation is off limits.

You are an expert and we'd love to speak with you.

ScanData Systems

ScanData, the leading provider of parcel transportation management solutions (PTMS), has over thirty-one years of experience in the development and deployment of parcel shipping solutions.

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Austin, TX 78748