A new generation of cloud-based transportation management platforms is enabling small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) to capture the cost and productivity gains associated with large freight management systems. SMBs can now achieve logistics performance levels that were unimaginable only a few years ago.

Rapid development

Shipping is much more than a cost center. The trucks that deliver a supplier’s products to customers represent that supplier and reflect its reputation for reliable, cost-effective service.

Large organizations have long recognized this, and since the 1990s they have invested in advanced transportation management systems. Using tailored software solutions, they can calculate the rates to be charged by carriers, where these providers operate and their service levels, and make good transportation decisions. But those systems are complex and expensive to implement and operate.

Stuck in the past

Freight management for SMBs, on the other hand, typically involves logging on to multiple carrier and broker websites, and collating the information manually. Shipping managers often base their decisions on assumptions about carriers and rates derived from incomplete information.

Moreover, owners and executives are almost flying blind when it comes to managing the freight operations that are critical to competitiveness. They are under relentless pressure to control costs and improve service levels, but do not have even basic analytics about their shipping patterns and freight spending.

Now everything is changing, however. Freight management solutions that use cloud technology are now available to SMBs, and progressive businesses are using these platforms to transform the logistics function.

Turning the page

The new generation of systems eliminates unwieldy, manual processes, and delivers the tactical and strategic information that businesses need to manage shipping activities.

"As more SMBs adopt move their freight management to the cloud, new ways to raise the efficiency of their freight operations will open up."

For example, there are online solutions that dramatically cut both the time and money SMBs spend on freight shipping by aggregating and comparing all of their carrier rates on a single screen. Shippers can select the best transportation option and schedule the pickup online. They can print bills of lading and shipping labels and monitor the progress of each shipment. Managing their freight becomes as easy as buying from Amazon.

The technology is profoundly changing the way SMB shipping processes are managed. Better decision-making translates into cost savings and better customer service; shipping personnel are no longer bogged down in manual processes. Executives can access historical cost analyses of freight operations and pinpoint areas of spend. Meeting customer demands is less challenging because businesses have much more control over product shipments.

Only the beginning

Today’s SMBs do not have to endure transportation management practices from a decade ago. Now they have technology that promotes rather than hinders their growth. They can also stay in tune with the growth of cloud technology. It is estimated that 78 percent of small businesses in the U.S. will be fully cloud operational by 2020 compared to 37 percent today.

But perhaps most exciting of all is the potential for future advancements. As more SMBs adopt move their freight management to the cloud, new ways to raise the efficiency of their freight operations will open up.