Maintaining a Parcel TMS
Are you following these steps to keep your PTMS healthy?
A Parcel TMS can be a very effective tool, but without regular attention it can quickly lose its power. Regular maintenance is required to keep your system in tip-top shape to deliver on the cost saving, on-time delivery, and operational efficiencies promised. Following are seven examples of activities that should be performed by your internal team or PTMS vendor on a periodic basis.
A PTMS is not a static product—many variables change on an annual, quarterly, and even shorter period. In many organizations, the PTMS ownership is across a broad set of team members which can result in critical maintenance items missed. As you review the list below, you may want to consider formulating your own list and identifying who within your organization is accountable for ensuring the maintenance is completed, along with the interval the task should be performed. Regular status reviews will certainly help you avoid accidentally missing a key item.
1) Rate Table Maintenance - Let’s start with the obvious, unless you are connecting to your carrier via API for real-time rating, you (or your PTMS provider) needs to keep all rates up to date including accessorial, DIM divisors, and fuel surcharges. These days these rates, especially fuel surcharge, can change numerous times each year (unless you have a formal contract that keeps these rates static). Also, these updates can occur at awkward times for the business, often right before or after peak when you are least likely to have the bandwidth to remember and/or execute. A dated rate card can be incredibly damaging.
2) Carrier Compliance - For the major carriers, one should do annual checks to ensure compliance before the carrier calls you with a troubled set of shipments due to non-compliance. Often the annual changes are minor, or optional new services are available; these additional services may be useful and worth consideration. Other times the changes can be quite dramatic like an EDI enhancement, updates to shipping paper requirements, integration security protocol change (TLS for example), a new label format due to carrier automation, or changes to the variables used in calculating rates. Outside of the major carriers, annual changes are typically very minor, but one should check regularly to make sure you are informed. Most carriers do send notices to their shippers informing them of upcoming changes, but quite often these messages go to parties that do not know how to respond, or the messages get lost in the mass of email we all face daily.
3) Route, Zone, Time-in-Transit, and Destination Table Maintenance - For many carriers, the data in the tables used to route and other data used to rate (time-in-transit, city/state/zip, commercial/residential, zone tables) are fairly static, but they can change slightly over time. Without regular updates, the variance between your data used to rate and actuals can grow to a level that will affect your on time deliveries and touch points within the carriers’ network.
4) Rate Shopping Methodology - When a PTMS is implemented, it is typically based upon as-is analysis. While your environment may not change on a weekly or monthly basis, over time, your analysis could be dated especially if seasonality and peak season isn’t taken into account. You should regularly assess your methodology to determine if changes should be made. Examples to think about include changes to destination density, carrier cut times, DC capacity, parcel attributes (like dimensions/weight/hazmat/restrictions), and customer delivery expectations.
5) Billing and Tracking File Format Changes - Carriers regularly make changes to tracking event codes, billing file formats, and general integration methods to acquire this information. Without careful review of the source data and the associated reports you run against this data, you may not even know that there was a change. While carriers typically inform shippers of these changes, one could miss them unless periodic reviews are made to validate data and associated reports.
6) Peak Season Readiness - Even when a system has worked well all year long, your world likely changes quite a bit during peak season. A month or two prior to peak, a system test should be conducted to assess overall health, database performance, and general system performance. Validate that the system has adequate hardware (processing power, database storage, and network bandwidth) to handle peak capacity. Finally, running volume/stress tests that simulate orders during peak will verify that your PTMS can and will scale effectively.
7) Support and Disaster Recovery Processes - Whether your PTMS is supported internally via IT or externally through a partner, it is advisable to have quarterly check-ins to review any issues. This review can determine if any are avoidable in the future through root cause analysis and assessment of the performance of the support process and team. Annually, one should review the disaster recovery process to keep the support recovery team informed of their responsibilities.
While keeping a PTMS is certainly more complex and broader than the items listed above, having these items in mind should help keep your system in order. These items are just a through-starter; we encourage all to inventory the items requiring regular attention and maintenance. Upon internal reflection, it is certain that your organization will identify many other checklist items to track.
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.
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