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Don’t let your transport department override optimised route plans

Route planning software can reduce fleet operation costs significantly, improve on-time performance, enhance customer satisfaction and even make drivers happier. But in order to achieve these results, it’s critical that the routes your planning department creates factor in the actual resources available, including drivers. Otherwise, the transport team responsible for putting your plans into action, including assigning drivers to specific deliveries, will quickly deviate from those plans.

Unfortunately, at many businesses with larger fleets these two teams – planning and transport — don’t always work as well together as they should. That can create a dysfunctional dynamic that undermines the potential of route planning software to optimise fleet efficiency.

What happens and why?

It helps to go back to basics, and examine the interplay between the three teams involved in delivery operations — transport planners, transport office and drivers.

The role of drivers, obviously, is to carry out instructions, preferably without deviation unless it’s essential. They expect to be allocated routes in line with their availability and skill sets.

Equally obvious is the role that transport planners play in creating the best route plans possible; routes that meet daily delivery requirements, using the least amount of time, miles, vehicles and driver-hours.

The trouble is that those plans can fall apart once the transport office is handed the plan. This is because the transport office is often given permission to make changes in order to make route plans work “in the real world.” If plans have not accounted for actual driver availability, skill sets and other practical considerations, the transport office could completely overhaul the plan, drastically reducing the efficiencies that can be gained from fact-based route planning.

While the transport office may understand the ability of routing software to direct trucks efficiently on a map, they don’t necessarily trust the software or the planner’s ability to factor in practical considerations like driver skill sets and preferences, habitual delays at particular customer sites, working time limitations and myriad other considerations. In effect, planners and transport end up in separate silos, working at odds instead of in harmony.

This dynamic is costing your company money – probably more than you think.

Putting all your delivery data in one place

Today’s advanced delivery route planning software includes resource management functionality that allows you to plan according to detailed data on each driver’s hours, skills and preferences. As a result, the software produces plans that intelligently assign drivers to routes in a way that makes sense to everyone. But if that data resides in multiple places outside the system, including the heads of the transport team, then it’s far more likely that the transport office will consider route plans to be mere suggestions, rather than the carefully calculated directives they should be.

Businesses where route planning and the transport team work in separate silos lose track of what “good” really looks like. On paper, route plans may call for fewer trucks and drivers. When those results don’t materialise, you can be left wondering why.

Well, we know why.

When you don’t trust route planning software to do what it was designed to do, you pay for more people and equipment than you need. It’s that simple.

How route planning is exactly like furniture making (OK, not exactly)

In the days before widespread factory automation, furniture was made by true craftsmen capable of turning raw wood into beautiful and functional pieces using basic hand tools. It would have been considered outlandish, 100 years ago, to suggest that machines could replicate these same intricate designs. But today, computer-directed lathes churn out thousands of the same chair in the time it used to take a craftsman to build just one.

The reason that can happen is essentially the story of computerisation. The design can be reduced to dimensions and these numbers can be entered into a computer. It’s the same with the data needed to plan efficient truck routes – average road speeds, available trucks, driver skill sets, time per drop… It’s all “knowable” data that can be entered into route planning software to inform plans.

But here’s the big difference between modern furniture making and modern route planning. At the furniture factory, there are no craftsmen with chisels examining furniture as it rolls off the line and hand-correcting any perceived imperfections. If quality control spots a problem, design and engineering are contacted and the software that directs the manufacturing process is changed. It’s one team with one shared objective.

In route planning, when adjustments are required, the planning and transport teams must work together to incorporate new data into the plan. The transport team shouldn’t be regularly changing the existing route plan to “make it work;” they should be helping to create future plans that eliminate the need to make post-planning changes. The entire transport team needs to trust the plan.

Advances in delivery route planning software will impact the structure of transport teams

There is an inverse correlation between route plan accuracy and the number of behind-the-scenes people required to manage your fleet. Advanced route planning software can generate super-smart plans that go far beyond simply identifying the most efficient routes. It can factor driver-specific details into route assignments.

When planners create plans that consider every detail that impacts truck and driver assignments, there’s less of a need for the transport office to second-guess those plans. Route planning and dispatch functions could then logically merge into a smaller team with the shared goal of creating the best, most optimised route plan possible. No more silos; just a team that continually adapts plans to what’s happening on the road.

The result: One truly integrated transport operation, with one version of the truth.


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