For years, segments of the transportation industry have relied on transportation management system (TMS) software for routing, tracking and tracing, routing guide creation, and reporting – from one computer or mobile device screen. The technology also aids shippers in finding freight capacity among carriers and brokers with real time tenders, bidding, and load execution. But such automated processes can backfire, especially when dealing with more complex freight, like dry and bulk liquid shipments.
Disadvantages of TMS software for finding freight capacity
The downsides to TMS for sourcing capacity are related to shortcomings of the software itself, as well as the human input required.
1. Load information is often incomplete or inaccurate. When this happens, carriers are accepting loads under false pretenses that could lead to major headaches for all involved. A few examples:
- Customers/shippers sometimes use cookie-cutter language when communicating information about a given load. Example: a carrier recently accepted a load through a TMS that called for “standard equipment” for delivery to a rail yard. Upon arrival, however, the carrier was presented with a facilities access agreement that no one in their right mind would sign. This created contentious back and forth between all parties before the customer ultimately resolved the issue. The headaches – and wasted driver time – could have been avoided had the shipper adequately described the situation (though, if they had, the carrier would never have accepted the load).
- Many liquid bulk carriers won’t touch a load that requires more than 100 feet of hose. One such carrier recently accepted a ‘standard equipment’ run which ultimately required 160 feet of hose – a detail they didn’t learn until arrival at the delivery site, where they suddenly found themselves underequipped. Is 160 feet of hose “standard equipment?’ Not in the minds of any carrier we know. This is just one of example of the difficulty associated with automating bulk freight transportation. It’s such a complex type of transport that 1-on-1 interaction remains the most efficient way to handle it.
- Safety data sheets (SDS) are essential for handling chemical freight. They’re also regularly left out of the load information within a TMS. If a carrier doesn’t do his or her homework and secure one ahead of time from the customer, payment squabbles are a likely result when the job is complete. Tank washes are usually the culprit as they can become a very expensive (e.g., $600 to wash a tank after carrying certain polymers) surprise for the carrier.
2. Rate changes may not be invoiced accurately. Speaking of payment squabbles, they regularly result when agents on the TMS side secure a load manually. It looks like this: a routing guide with a set rate will make the automated rounds from carrier to carrier. If none of the carriers accept the offer, an agent with the TMS provider will contact carriers directly to try to secure the load with a spot rate. When the agent is successful, the job will be completed as agreed. When it’s time for payment, however, the carrier will often be paid at the original rate instead of the spot rate. The unhappy carrier must then chase down the balance from the annoyed shipper directly.
3. Scheduling is inflexible. Within the TMS software, carriers can either say “yes” or “no” to a load offer. There’s no opportunity for, “well, I can’t deliver it Monday, but I can Wednesday” or other key follow-up communication. Because of this, shippers are unaware of alternate options and related benefits that could be more efficient and/or cost-effective.
Freight brokers > TMS when it comes to finding bulk freight capacity
TMS systems and load board software are convenient ways of securing capacity, but they’re not your only convenient freight options. Freight brokers that specialize in bulk freight are superior to TMS systems in the following ways, while keeping the convenience factor just as high.
1. Bulk freight brokers know your products. Freight brokers that specialize in bulk freight – especially brokers that have been doing so since 1987, like Bulk Connection – will understand the unique characteristics and requirements that must be considered during shipment. These include safety data sheet (SDS) information, temperature requirements, equipment requirements, unloading and loading facility characteristics, tank washes, and incompatible prior products (products that must not have shipped in a tank or trailer prior to your product).
2. Bulk freight brokers can secure capacity for your loads. With the truck driver shortage and COVID-19-related slowdowns, bulk capacity can be very hard to come by. When you partner with a freight broker that has a large network of carriers, however, one call to your broker can effectively match your loads to all the carriers in its network. The key difference here is that an expert freight broker will only match your loads to carriers with the equipment, experience and driver endorsements that meet your products’ specific needs and requirements.
3. Bulk freight brokers will vet their carrier network. While an expansive network is a definite plus on the side of freight brokers, it means nothing unless every one of those carriers is reliable and worthy of transporting your product. To ensure this is the case, freight brokers (the best ones, at least) will thoroughly vet their carriers to make sure they are capable and qualified. At a minimum, the vetting process involves the following carrier information.
- Operating authority
- Motor carrier number
- Federal I.D. number
- Insurance information
- Hazmat information and TSA certification (if applicable)
- Driver endorsements (hazmat tank truck drivers, for instance, will need both the tanker and hazmat endorsements)
- Research regarding citations or judgments against the carrier and/or its drivers
Finding freight capacity: It’s all about relationships
While trucking is a commodity, your ability to secure capacity depends largely on your relationships. When you have a relationship with a freight broker that understands your business and your products’ needs, finding freight capacity becomes easier. Why? Because your bulk freight broker can look at its entire network and see where your loads fit in. Oftentimes, it has insights into carrier scheduling that will help place your load long before capacity would ever appear within a TMS or on a load board.
The bottom line: Do you feel more comfortable putting your products in the hands of a true freight expert that you have a trusted relationship with or with a faceless computer algorithm? If you’d like to skip the digital cattle call of a TMS and work 1-on-1 with a bulk freight specialist, contact Bulk Connection today to get started.