CAMS Software: Driving Grocery Transportation into the Cloud

Brian Taylor, President It’s the end of another long, dry day at the Supply Chain conference. The sessions are very high level stuff, fluff and theory with some thinly veiled sales pitches thrown in. Hours of “sustainability initiatives” and “collaboration opportunities” have dried out their eyes and they’re parched. They are all looking for new Transportation Management Systems for their grocery distribution operations. This is serious. TMS systems are vital organs to their business. If they fail, the trucks don’t roll.

The first one opens the evening conversation; “Our CIO understands that our TMS is so critical for our business but our routing package is well past its best before date. Over the years we’ve patched together some homegrown systems for dispatch and driver payroll but they’re completely unsupported and we’ve outgrown them. We can’t track service levels or even costs until after the fact. We’re flying blind half the time. We need one TMS that handles all of our needs.”

The second one responds, “Speaking from experience, I can tell you what not to do. Don’t buy one TMS that claims to handle all of your needs! We went with an ERP bolt on TMS module. It was thrown in with the deal so at the time we couldn’t refuse. We knew it wasn’t a perfect fit but it looked like it was 90 percent there, it just needed a few mods. The costs for those modifications were insane and in the end they couldn’t get it to work for us anyway. It was like looking at a perfectly good skyscraper that just needed to be moved 50 feet to the left. To make it work for us they would have had to start all over from scratch and nobody was willing to go down that rabbit hole. It was ultimately a complete bust. A huge waste of time and money.”

The third one says, “Why don’t you just get your IT department to take care of all that for you?”The three men burst into laughter.

Why do so many TMS systems in Grocery fail?
Let’s face it; there is an awful lot of scorched earth when it comes to new TMS projects in the food and beverage sector and in the grocery industry in particular. Over the last five years there has been an epidemic in the grocery industry of failed or completely stalled TMS projects is the areas of routing, dispatch and activity based driver payroll. Yet the IT experts are doing their job. They’re not taking any shortcuts. Each vendor was thoroughly vetted in advance and met or exceeded all of the typical vendor selection criteria. How is this possible? The PowerPoint looked so convincing.

The truth is it’s actually not that difficult to get a square peg to look like it might work for grocery, getting it 90 percent there. Muddle it through an evaluation. However getting it to actually be practical for use in grocery, 100 percent there, is a different story altogether.

Transportation in grocery is filled with hidden nuances that most outside vendors don’t readily see at the beginning of a project. As these unexpected nuances are gradually revealed they are discovered to be very complex. Even worse, they tend to be extremely rigid, often contractual, and must be accommodated. The foundation of their solution is forced to change and change again. Then change some more. It gradually becomes more unrecognizable and more unstable. The vendor pushes back on further changes to the core product. The original generic solution that worked so well in other industries and appeared to be an asset suddenly becomes the liability. You eventually realize that what you have will never work. You realize that you would have been better off starting from scratch–but it’s too late. Sound familiar?

“Look, nobody starts a project knowing it’s going to fail,” says Brian Taylor, President, CAMS Software Corporation. “Imagine if you could go back to the beginning of that last crater-maker and perform user acceptance testing with your own staff and production data–before you had to commit. All that money and frustration could have been avoided.” Oftentimes it’s the dead weight of those previous failures that are preventing IT departments from doing what is necessary to enable the business. They’re gun-shy.

It’s not the IT department’s fault. “Transportation management with food and beverage, and in grocery, is a completely different animal. You have perishable products with extremely short turnaround times from order cutoff to delivery.Typically a matter of hours, not days,” he notes. In large scale grocery distribution, companies are often dealing with their own assets and labor. “Transportation management of your own fleet and all their activities is far different from just the management of one way shipments from your facility with 3rd party carriers.”

“If I was shipping apparel products from Houston to Portland, I could have some shipping company do that for me, it doesn’t really matter if it takes a week or if it’s relayed between a half dozen drivers and a train, as long as it gets there eventually. However in the food and beverage industry, they are typically responsible for everything from the time the products are ordered, to the time they get delivered and all the driver activities in between.
In grocery distribution you have to take the orders, route them optimally, select them, load them, deliver them, and get back in the shortest possible time,” he adds.

“Generic TMS systems are more based on tracking the load and not so much in tracking the activities of the driver or carrier. Grocery is so different because most every load is actually a round trip back to the distribution center. It’s not just ‘A’ to ‘B’, it’s back to ‘A’ as well. Grocery distribution involves picking up store returns, reusable assets such as milk crates, totes, pallets and salvage. Larger grocery companies also offset a significant percentage of their outbound transportation costs with backhaul revenue by bringing back vendor product on the way back home. Optimizing the timing and routing of the return legs effectively while taking into account salvage obligations, PO pickup appointments and driver hours of service is yet another twist that can make grocery transportation such a fumble-drill.

CAMS Prospero acts as the backbone of the client’s transportation operations and provides a comprehensive and versatile solution to a whole spectrum of grocery transportation challenges. Prospero is not a bunch of smaller single purpose software packages cobbled together under some larger vendor umbrella. Prospero is truly an integrated transportation solution with a single database that can support multiple distribution centers offering true enterprise visibility in planning, execution, driver payroll and historical reporting.

“Another challenge with backhaul activities is accurately calculating and tracking the actual transportation costs incurred to pick up the product against the pickup allowance offered from the vendor. I’ve seen some operations with tens of millions of dollars in backhaul revenue but no way to truly track actual costs for picking up that product. They are essentially running multi-million dollar backhaul operations with no true visibility into profit or loss. Honest and accurate backhaul profitability reporting is the exception, not the norm.

”Historically, grocery companies have had customer location and delivery schedule information in their routing system. These legacy routing packages were useful for planning, but not practical for execution. Consequently, they lacked other resource information such as drivers, tractors and trailers. Driver activity information had to be captured elsewhere, such as in a separate dispatch system. To make matters worse, driver “bids” where a senior driver can dictate his or her shift start time, or even where they drive to, introduce a whole world of complications and constraints into the dispatch process. As a result dispatch systems often required custom logic that just couldn’t be found in generic TMS packages.

If the drivers were paid based on the activities they performed, the task of collecting accurate and complete data and then consistently calculating accurate payroll, was that much more daunting. Teamsters just won’t tolerate “close enough” when it comes to their payroll.

The recording of driver logs is a legislated requirement, so you can throw electronic on board recorder (EOBR) systems onto the pile of duplicated data. Interfacing any of these systems together successfully was a rare occurrence indeed.

Now imagine having all these problems 10 times over. What if you were responsible for a major grocery chain with multiple distribution centers across several states?

What do the BIG guys do?

Rather than combing through spreadsheets of functional capabilities and rolling the dice on a vendor that was willing to tick off the most boxes, wouldn’t it be better to just find something that already works consistently in grocery? It’s not rocket science.

Idealists believe that if you choose the right vendor and the right technology the solution will work. Pragmatists believe that if the solution works you have the right vendor and the right technology.

For a TMS system to be successful in a large scale food and beverage or grocery operation, it needs to be designed with that industry in mind. It needs to understand the bigger picture and how all the pieces fit together. Specifically it needs to be a round peg in a round hole, not a generic TMS built to satisfy the broadest requirements possible to mostly accommodate the requirements of as many different industries as possible.

CAMS Prospero is a cloud based solution so the entire infrastructure is already in place. Prospero runs out of two co-located data centers. Switch, is a Tier IV data center in Las Vegas, Nevada and considered by many to be one of the most secure and technologically advanced data centers available for private data in the world. CoreSite is a Tier III data center in Reston, Virginia.
CAMS Software and both of their data center partners are all SSAE 16 Certified.

Even though Prospero is hosted in the cloud, the solution still interfaces with all the legacy on premise warehouse systems, order managements systems, electronic on board recorders, and PO systems that are prevalent in grocery. Prospero does this using an ingenious Prospero Connector Service application that is deployed in the client’s datacenter which handles all the two way communications between systems via SSL. A similar web service application handles vendor to vendor integration between Prospero and other cloud based systems. These seamless interfaces leverage your existing investments and can resurrect some additional ROI from them.

Out of the many success stories linked to CAMS Software, it is the story of Safeway—one of the largest food and drug retailers in North America—that stands apart. The retailer has employed Prospero Transportation Suite across all its 13 distribution centers for route optimization, replacing their current legacy routing system. The client is also using Prospero for Dispatch, Payroll, Backhaul Optimization, Salvage Optimization, and Tour Building.

“Picking a platform like CAMS Prospero was pretty easy,” said Barry Libenson, CIO, Safeway. “It saved us millions of dollars and time that would have been wasted in buying and installing new ERP software. CAMS presently runs the application for us and they did a great job across our 13 distribution centers delivering services on time,” he added. Prospero is also used by major grocery operations such as Albertsons, Shaw’s, Merchant Distributors Inc., Associated Wholesale Grocers, Unified Grocers and several others.

Why does CAMS succeed EVERY time?

“Since inception, CAMS Software has never failed to successfully deliver the system whenever we have been engaged,” claims Brian. Over one hundred major grocery distribution centers in North America are currently using CAMS’ products to dispatch more grocery trucks daily than all competitors systems combined. “We take our client’s trust in us very seriously. We are absolutely committed at every level of our business to providing full value for our client’s investment,” adds Richard Taylor, Director of Business Operations, CAMS Software. “This has been engrained in our DNA and project failure is just not an option for us,” he notes. This isn’t just quality slogan rhetoric. The fact that CAMS Software consistently outperforms even the other Gold Competency Microsoft Partner Network members, in both Canada and the U.S., in rankings for customer satisfaction, is reflective of this commitment.

“We just spent a lot of years in R&D building Prospero and we aim to spend the next few years going back to our clients, upgrading their systems from legacy technology to brand new offerings. Going forward, we will continue to expand our offerings to address new challenges in the industry,” says Richard. “No industry stands still and neither should the systems that support that industry, at CAMS we’re committed to designing and developing the tools that our clients in grocery need to remain competitive now and for years to come,” concludes Richard.

Transportation management with food and beverage, and in grocery, is a completely different animal

So back to the bar

After the laughter died down the third executive continues, “Obviously I’m kidding, we just finished rolling out the Prospero system from CAMS Software. Our business and IT spent over a year evaluating every TMS we could, and in the end it was a no-brainer. Prospero was the only system that had the core functionality we needed to run our operations, plus they had all kinds of advanced productivity tools we plan to grow into in the future. It’s not just about meeting our current requirements; it’s about partnering with a genuine innovator who will help us continuously improve our processes and operations. The rollout went smoother than anyone could have hoped and we’re already reaping the benefits. Oh, and now everyone thinks our CIO is a genius for the great decision that he made.”

CAMS Software

New Westminister, Canada

Brian Taylor, President and Richard Taylor, Director of Business Operations

A company that offers innovative transportation management solutions for the grocery industry.