Best Practices for Yard Management System Vendor Selection

Our friends over at Inbound Logistics magazine recently published a piece on “Selecting a Yard Management System” or YMS.    While every point made in the article was spot on, there were a few that were so salient; they jumped right off the page!   While we certainly agree with the more obvious suggestions (like finding a YMS that is highly configurable and integration-ready and selecting a vendor that can accommodate your budget), we were on our feet and clapping at the following suggestions which echo the advice we often provide to organizations seeking YMS (and TMS) solutions.

Not surprisingly, number one on Inbound Logistics’ list of selection criteria is, “Identify the specific operational challenges you want the YMS to resolve”.  So often, we encounter supply chain practitioners and transportation managers who imbue software solutions with greater powers than they possess in actuality.  It is a popular misconception that simply implementing a software tool will solve the issues plaguing a business.  What many find out – after investing and implementing a new solution – is that the automation of broken or incomplete business processes does little to correct the underlying issues.  Arriving at clear definitions of the specific challenges the YMS is expected to solve is crucial to selecting the best solution.

The other exceptional piece of advice doled out in the IL piece is, “Choose a provider with real-world operations experience.”  We cannot stress enough how important this is.  As the article notes, software vendors are a dime a dozen and any of them can write code to address yard management challenges.  However, those who have never even set foot in a freight yard (and that’d be most of ‘em) cannot possibly field a solution that intuits the needs of supply chain personnel.  You’d be surprised to learn how many of the market leading vendors in this space don’t have roots in transportation operations.   Ask questions about the pedigree of your YMS vendor (and this is true for all transportation IT solutions) to ensure you’re selecting a tool built by people who have first-hand knowledge of the processes they’re automating and the pain suffered by users of these tools.

If the Collaborator was to offer one thing to add to the Inbound Logistics piece on selecting a YMS it’d be this:  Ask the provide about any hardware requirements that may be involved in implementing their solution.  Many YMS solutions require WiFi coverage for the areas in the yard in order to provide connectivity to handheld devices.  This type of hardware may require a five or even six figure investment.  Moreover, building a powerful WiFi network opens the door to security challenges adding another layer of complexity to the mix, and likely requiring the allocation of additional IT resources to manage over time.  Avoid these hardware hassles by seeking a YMS that can work via a simple 3G connection and cell phone handsets or cell-enabled iPads/tablets.

There is much to be gained by plugging the supply chain gaps that the unmanaged freight yard often represents.   As with anything, sourcing a solution is not nearly as effective as sourcing the right solution.

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