Route planning and delivery scheduling software is a fantastic way to optimise your commercial transport operations: reducing wasted fuel spend, cutting back on CO2 emissions, improving the efficiency of your available assets and enhancing your service to customers. But just like any automated tool or program the results you can expect are heavily reliant on the quality of the information the planning software is provided with – To quote a popular layman’s term “garbage in, garbage out”.

The use of good data, practical planning and a robust overall process are vital in making certain that the plans provided by your routing and scheduling software are making the most of your available resources, whilst still being firmly grounded in the everyday reality of your business. Here are a few principles to think about.

The importance of sound data

Any system is only as good as the quality of the data you provide it with. This is especially true of routing software where the scope for getting it wrong is enormous. It’s important to work with realistic constraints so for example if your vehicles can carry up to 35 mattresses then make sure you set the maximum capacity for 35, not 30. Likewise if an acceptable delivery slot is 2 hours then enter 2 hours, not 90 minutes. In short, the better the data your software is using, the better the results you can expect.

In the initial stages of your route planning project, it’s important to verify and validate the information to be used – common factors such as vehicle capacity, driver availability – even the accuracy of customer addresses – are all among the vital data that routing and scheduling software will rely on. Additional factors such as road speeds, known congestion hot-spots and permissible delivery times may also be essential, depending upon the operations to be managed.

Incomplete data is one of the biggest challenges we encounter with transport operations automating their planning process for the first time. Conversely once customers get their data in good shape – or put the processes in place to drive good data collection behaviour – then the improvements in efficiency can be significant. A customer recently explained to us that they had incentivised their procurement team to enter correct volumetric data at the point of purchase. If you think the accuracy of your data could do with some improvement, it’s worth thinking about the processes you could put in place to achieve that now.

Ensure data can flow easily between systems

Wherever possible you should also ensure a good interface between route planning software and other related systems. How do you currently collect your data? Does it sit in an Order Management System or a Sales Order Processing System? Paragon’s implementation team is experienced in integrating our routing and scheduling software with many different systems including Navision and SAP, as well as systems developed inhouse.

The inability to automate data transfer between your business critical applications not only slows down the process by having to input data via manual ‘workarounds’ but also introduces the possibility of human error.

Plan to reality, not fantasy

Planning which takes into account the real-world circumstances of your transport operation is a must. An ivory tower plan will only serve to frustrate staff with impossible targets, demoralise drivers with infeasible routes and lead to disappointing clients with late appointments or missed slots. You will also fail to see return on investment from your route planning project which really should be achievable within 6 months of going live for most operations.

Allowing for realistic factors such as driver or vehicle availability, expected traffic conditions or delays at customer sites eliminates the possibility of an entire plan having to be ripped up during execution and implementing unprepared changes on the fly.

A cyclical process

Circumstances change – and the factors affecting your business will evolve. Taking these changes into account and altering your plan to fit is a necessary part of the planning cycle. Regular reporting and analysis of actual performance vs. KPIs is a vital element which enables you to not only monitor day to day operations but further refine and adjust your transport plans.

The importance of re-evaluating plans, revisions, and operational feedback is a topic we’ll be devoting a separate article to in the near future.

If you would like to find out how Paragon’s range of routing and scheduling software modules could benefit your transport operation then why not get in touch with a member of our team. We’ll be happy to discuss your requirements in more detail.

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