Managing a vast transportation network can be one of the most daunting tasks facing global manufacturers. From handling huge amounts of shipment data to staying on top of freight traveling half a world away, companies depend on their transportation management systems (TMSs) to keep the wheels turning. At Beckman Coulter, TMS is at the forefront of the company’s -- and future -- technology roadmap.
The manufacturer of biomedical testing products, diagnostics systems and life sciences research instruments is undergoing an upgrade from Oracle Transportation Management 6.1 to the recently released 6.3 version. Carl Sandvik, the company's senior manager of IT enterprise information systems managing the project, said the goal is to finish by the middle of February. "The reason we're pushing it on such a quick timeline -- four to six weeks -- is to complete a technical upgrade of the instance. Then we will start our actual functionality improvement," he said.
Starting with Oracle Transportation Management 6.1
Beckman Coulter first implemented Oracle Transportation Management 6.1 in January 2011, according to Sandvik, whose team is directly responsible for supporting the module. Along the way, Sandvik also helped to design and implement the entire Oracle system to ensure it met the company's business needs.
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Sandvik explained that carrier selection was Beckman Coulter's largest transportation challenge, so automating it was a primary objective of deploying a new system. "We were manually selecting freight carriers, and we had a lack of data visibility for decision making on the front end," he said. "We didn't have a solution to optimize our freight routing or any automated consolidation of freight. There were just so many optimization opportunities out there that we were missing by not using a TMS."
When they began reviewing TMS vendors, Sandvik's team didn't know for certain that Oracle would ultimately be its choice, despite the company being a large Oracle shop running a single global instance of Oracle ERP. "I had personally looked at the Oracle TMS solution several years ago and knew of its capabilities," he said. But the project turned out to be somewhat historic, according to Sandvik, because the company was the first to implement Oracle's TMS integration module with Kewill Inc., a small parcel shipping management vendor and members of the Oracle PartnerNetwork.
"With us being the first on a very complex technical solution like that, there were a few snags,” Sandvik said. "Oracle and Kewill ensured alignment between our teams and we worked through issues very well." Beckman Coulter used both its internal team and an external systems integrator throughout the implementation, along with support from Oracle's product management team when dealing with technological issues, he said. The entire Oracle Transportation Management implementation process took the good part of a year and a half, but the long timeline was due in part to Sandvik's team juggling other projects, he said.
Transportation management system improves planning, routing
Today, Beckman Coulter uses the Oracle TMS primarily for transportation planning, Sandvik said. "When we get our sales orders, we import those into Oracle TMS, plan the shipment, select what carrier it needs to be routed via and send those orders back to ERP for execution," he said. "We're also using [Oracle Transportation Management] for some electronic tendering processes with a few of our carriers, and for pre-notifications of shipments coming to our carriers."
Routing via parcel is another main front-end function of the Oracle TMS at Beckman Coulter, Sandvik added. "When planning parcel shipments, we have integration with the Kewill Flagship system, so that triggers notifications into those systems for execution as well." He noted that his team is still planning new uses for all this information, as Beckman Coulter is exploring ways to integrate the data it's collecting from Oracle Transportation Management into its business intelligence system. While the system is being used mostly for domestic shipments, the company plans to expand its uses into other markets, including Europe and some parts of Asia.
As a current user, Beckman Coulter gave Oracle its functionality wish list during the lead up to version 6.3, Sandvik said. "Oracle worked very close with us to gather important requirements for system improvements. One of the reasons we're upgrading to 6.3 is in preparation of implementing functionality Oracle built into their service offering to improve our freight routing."
Sandvik pointed to two areas in particular that the company hopes will get a boost from the upgrade. "There's the TMS itself, and then there's global trade management [GTM] as a solution, as well," he said. "For transportation management, we need to expand and improve our U.S. domestic freight process today, and the GTM module will be used for global implementation of our trade management requirements." With February right around the corner, Beckman Coulter is hoping to meet its Oracle Transportation Management 6.3 upgrade goals and get to work creating a better, faster and more streamlined freight system.
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