When the Department of Defense needs to move troops and equipment quickly, it’s the U.S. Transportation Command that makes it happen.
But just like so many other elements of the federal government, TRANSCOM has a whole host of legacy systems to handle its logistics and coordination needs, and they don’t do a good job at all of working together.
All of TRANSCOM’s systems “are very specific to the particular mode that we’d be using — air, sealift, road or rail,” said Gary Hermann, a transportation logistics specialist with the agency. “The data we have to put into one system isn’t really going to flow into the other. … The data doesn’t flow back and forth.”
That inability to flow data from one system to another causes all kinds of resource problems and bottlenecks.
“Right now it’s very difficult for us to do optimization,” Hermann said. “We can’t really see all of our transportation requirements in one location, and we can’t see all of our transportation capacity, whether that’s the lift assets or the nodes, [or] the throughput you can put through a port, for instance.”
He said TRANSCOM has to bring together big teams to sit down for days or weeks at a time to create an overall transportation plan.
Global commercial shipping companies have been using transportation management systems (TMS) to address similar multi-modal transportation problems. So TRANSCOM decided to take a look at a number of these off-the-shelf commercial solutions to see if one of them could streamline its logistics.
“We have tried out a couple of [TMS] packages to make sure they actually do the work we need to do — that’s the proof of principle,” he said. “Now we’re going into negotiations to acquire one.”
Kelly Mueller McNulty, another TRANSCOM transportation logistics specialist, said the agency took about four months to stress-test alternatives and see which could handle its needs. The testing finished in December, and the source selection phase has been under way.
“We’re developing a TMS integration team, to include a TMS consultant and an experienced TMS integrator,” she said. “This will require a significant amount of resources — people, equipment, office space … Once we have the integrator on board, we’ll build out the initial implementation schedule, gather the requirements for the implementation phase [from] people across the whole enterprise.”
McNulty said implementation is likely to be done in subsets or capability sets, by specific geography or region. A big part of it will be moving the data.
“We plan to build up the modes and nodes and lanes particular to … a region, and bring in the master data — the routes, the rates, the schedules, everything associated to build out this initial TMS capability,” she said.
As other federal modernization projects can attest, making a change like this has a lot of ripple effects, particularly on the people involved, including workflows and how information is presented.
“We’ll have to determine changes to data schemas, and the interface requirements and the business processes that have to be re-engineered,” Hermann said. “One of the big things is, as we go through this, there are quite a few changes that are going to have to happen across the whole enterprise. [That] may involve changes in roles and responsibilities.”
When the implementation is complete, however, users will have far more capabilities than are currently available.
Right now, “it’s very difficult for our commanders in the field to see what’s coming and when. Hopefully this will alleviate that,” he said. “There’s the cost aspect, as well. Once we’ve started to maximize the use of our assets, we should be saving taxpayers quite a bit of money through better transportation solutions.”