Q: What the heck is an API (application program interface) and why should a transportation manager give a rat’s backside about this techie term? A: The API is the key to connecting the universe of tech apps, solutions and programs essential to the twenty-first century, cloud-based supply chain. While it may seem like the changes are coming too quickly to handle, there are providers out there ready to help shippers manage the convergence of these technologies so that logistics users can be logistics experts without having to also be tech experts. Here’s the story.
It’s happening whether you’re ready or not. The relentless march of technological advancement continues to seriously disrupt businesses of every kind. Economic evolution and rapidly shifting market trends are driving the emergence of newer, ever more sophisticated technologies. Internet connectivity and the concept of an “internet of things” drives the convergence of technologies between industries at a rate never before seen. It can seem impossible to keep up and even more impossible to make decisions about logistics IT that doesn’t result in wasted time, money and effort.
The shipping organizations fully embracing advances and refusing to shy away from adopting new tech will survive while the rest will fall far behind. At the center of this is the cloud-based TMS platform. A world class cloud-based TMS must be able to connect to all manner of new technology efficiently and effectively in order to succeed as the convergence point for a successful supply chain management program. Even as new tools continue to emerge.
Cloud-based TMS providers with flexible APIs are becoming the dominant force in the logistics IT industry precisely because they more readily support connectivity with any and all new technology as it comes to market.
Let’s examine the numerous recent technological advances relevant to transportation industries. There are some currently in use (or being quickly phased in) dictated either by law or by market demand. These include telematics technologies like Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs) which are mandated for all fleets operating in the US. There are also automated fleet tracking and tracing solutions built on cellular and GPS technologies such as MacroPoint, FourKites, Peoplenet, Orbcomm, OceanInsights and others. There are increasingly accurate mileage and mapping solutions from RandMcNally, PC Miler, GoogleMaps and others. Don’t forget the growing embrace of Big Data practices for data-driven logistics planning, enabled by rating and BI solutions from companies like SMC3, Tableau, FedEx, UPS and others.
There are even newer technologies in advanced stages of development, expected to make a significant impact on the transportation industry in the very near future. Tech like self-driving tractor-trailers being perfected by Otto (recently purchased by Uber) and parcel delivery drones like those being developed by Amazon.
Add to this complex mix the broadening array of supply chain logistics automation technologies touching activities upstream and downstream from transportation logistics like warehouse management systems (WMS), yard management solutions (YMS), ERP systems, automated fulfillment tools, complex retail ecommerce platforms like Amazon, Walmart and Alibaba, and a logistics manager may be ready to cry. The key to quick and easy connectivity between all these systems is the flexible API. The API is the code allowing software programs to communicate with each other. Cloud TMS platforms like UltraShipTMS are designed to offer open APIs enabling connectivity and data transfer between all the systems mentioned above.
This is the weakness of hosted TMS solutions and the web-enabled solutions that put a cloud-style interface over the older, hosted platform technology. Accommodating breaking new technologies using an older system with more rigid integration points makes adoption of new solutions more difficult and costly to achieve in a timely way. Cloud-based TMS providers with flexible APIs are becoming the dominant force in the logistics IT industry precisely because they more readily support connectivity with any and all new technology as it comes to market. Is your TMS ready for the convergence?