Integrating TMS with your WMS

Facilities and fleet are often kept at arm’s length in the logistics space, whether you own both or have partners managing a piece of your supply chain. However, keeping these aspects of your business siloed can lead to unnecessary costs and delays, as well as make it harder for you to adapt to new circumstances or proactively work to minimize risk and harm.

The explosion of digital, cloud tools is here to help bust down that silo and enhance operations. Integrating TMS with your WMS is one straightforward way to bridge these two worlds and have a single brain running the show. Integration is a growing practice because of the value it provides to sellers, carriers, 3PLs, and other players in the logistics space.

As we start to understand what a WMS TMS integration achieves, it’s good to start with the most significant impact to your operations: data visibility and veracity.

A single version of truth

Integrating a TMS and WMS has one specific and important goal: creating a single version of truth in your operations. This means that you have a dashboard or platform that can show your supply chain with the most accurate information possible from all of your tools.

Combining the TMS with WMS should give leadership access to a solution that shows inventory, trucks, partners, labor, and more in a unique location. This unified view must also be shareable so everyone on your team and within your supply chain has access to the same data. Sharing information in this way allows everyone to work from the same data and assumptions, making it easier to adapt and react to any supply chain disruption.

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When integrated properly, you’re able to use the WMS and TMS to precisely track each shipment up and down the supply chain, knowing inbound and outbound movements and how they’ll impact the rest of your operations. Notices, events, and other flags can then be managed together and shared. It’s a requirement for any agile or lean supply chain designed to protect your bottom line.

Define your needs and goals

That truth is a lofty promise for any software effort. It’s a tantalizing prospect that also comes with the concern over how difficult it will be to actually integrate and combine. That’s why you’ll need a plan that’s clear and concise, with requirements for your company as well as the vendors who make both your WMS and TMS.

In many cases of combining platforms — but perhaps especially for integrating TMS with your WMS — you should first review the tools you have. Look at what works together and identify gaps where manual processes are required to share information. Then, ask vendors which TMS tools they have experience with integrating. This can save considerable time and cost, plus it may reduce duplicate effort or functionality.

Beyond that, discuss the hardware your operations use. This is everything from handheld scanners and forklifts to in-cab management tools, fleet tracking software, temperature sensors, and any specialty requirements you have. 

Get specific with your questions. The right software and integration options will depend on them. For instance, requirements shift if you need to be able to pull data from port terminals. How do you access and track assets? What are your requirements for proof-of-delivery? Who will use your system and how much training will they need? Do drivers need a mobile app? Does it mean I have to use QuickBooks?

Specific goals come from your operations. If you’re a manufacturer or seller, combining TMS and WMS will make it easier for you to move goods from a manufacturing center to a distribution center. If a 3PL handles your fulfillment, the aim may be visibility to reduce overall costs and analytics to find better timing or processes.

Logistics companies and 3PLs use combined TMS-WMS solutions to better control their docks, understand and predict labor, identify ways to fill empty miles, or even try advanced applications that get returnable containers back to a main DC.

Sometimes, it’s as simple as being able to have an answer anytime someone says: “Where is my freight/shipment right now?” Others will find integrating TMS with your WMS to be a smart path to better understanding and optimizing workflows.

APIs and functionality

APIs, or application programming interfaces, are a communication protocol for letting two pieces of software communicate, in this case that’s your TMS and WMS. If you’re considering bridging software, always look to see if APIs are available.

Without getting too technical, APIs automate communication and data sharing so that it’s easier on you to manage the platforms, implement changes, and use relevant information. APIs ensure that your dashboards in the TMS, for example, know the orders and inventory that a truck will pick up, while at the same time your WMS knows when trucks will arrive and how to schedule your dock thanks to information being delivered from the TMS.

If your supply chain is huge, an API is an effective way to keep everything straight. Dozens of systems will be used to track all the distinct parts of your transportation and efforts, which means hundreds of changes, exchanges, and more. APIs automate the data moving between companies and systems at these points, eliminating many, many chances for human error.

Reach throughout your supply chain

After you’ve got a handle on data, it’s time to see where you can bring in more partners to the fold. Your combined TMS-WMS solution might be able to optimize areas that were previously outside of your control or capabilities.

In many cases, the integrated software can make it easier to determine the best way to move a given order or load — whether that’s speed, cost, or most reliable partnership. You might be able to optimize work with common carriers as well as understand how to align your shipments best to match your captive fleets.

Knowing your inventory and fleet will show your gaps and potentially outsized needs. If you’re going to have to ask for help, it’ll be clear and easy to see when and where. 

If you’re providing logistics services to customers, your WMS will be able to reach through their supply chain and predict your transport needs. You can best allocate workforce and shipments, which can introduce savings. 

I’ve seen some 3PLs use a combined TMS-WMS dashboard to realize that they could move tiny amounts of customer inventory to different DCs. They save by relying on empty space to turn LTL into FTL loads. It’s a gradual movement that can happen as space is available but has allowed them to control costs. The visibility (and cost controls) they have and can share with customers also helps the entire supply chain adapt to changes in end-consumer purchasing via inventory movement instead of additional production.

Keep the focus on customers

Integration is always tricky and involved. It can be easy for scope creep to occur as you add and change functionality, goals, and requirements. The nature of these tools means you’re always building something unique to your operations.

Perhaps the best way to avoid piling on new features, functions, and cost is to think about how the system will improve your ability to serve customers. Tie each integration option to a customer gain, whether those are internal or external processes. If something seems like a smart idea but you’re not certain if it can improve your service, put it on a “nice-to-have” list instead of a “must-have” one.

Keep bringing the focus back to your customer and you’ll have a good guiding star for what you need and what investment may deliver a strong ROI.

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Geoff Whiting

About the author…

Geoff is an experienced journalist, writer, and business development consultant with a focus on enterprise technology, e-commerce, and supply chain development. Outside of the office he can be found toying with the latest in IoT, searching for classic radio broadcast recordings, and playing the perpetual tourist in his home of Washington D.C.

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Geoff Whiting

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