Along with just about every aspect of our lives, delivery operations and the businesses engaged in them have been turned upside down by the Covid-19 pandemic. On the other side of this crisis, we will return to “normal” but what will normal be? The same as before or a changed environment – a new normal?

As we emerge from the huge challenges of Covid-19, delivery operations will be hampered by the fact that we don’t know how soon demand or supply patterns will return to pre-Covid-19 levels, and whether this will happen in carefully managed phases, or more rapidly. We may find some of the changes in consumer buying, such as an increase in home delivery, or keeping cupboards stocked up with monthly visits to large, out of town stores, will become permanent. We have no idea when pubs, restaurants and fast food restaurants will once again be operating at full capacity.

The ability to adapt to the new normal requires businesses to think through what those scenarios might be, and then model potential responses. Businesses need to decide on the best approach for each scenario, and be ready to pivot to whichever scenario unfolds.

During the first few weeks of Covid-19, we have seen amazing examples of transport operations rising to meet supply chain or delivery challenges head-on. Within our own Paragon community, a customer that delivers industrial gases pivoted so it was able to deliver a month’s worth of medical oxygen in three days. Another customer that runs a chain of currently shuttered department stores has loaned its distribution facilities and assets to a supermarket chain under pressure to keep food shelves full, as far more of us than usual eat 3 meals a day at home. In the wider businesses community, stories abound of food wholesalers switching to home delivery direct to consumers after their restaurant and pub customers were forced to close up shop, and distilleries that used to make and distribute spirits to bars and restaurants instead making hand sanitiser and delivering it to hospitals and other locations where it is urgently needed.

These businesses have something in common – they have been able to use data and the visibility that this data provides to understand their capacity to cope, to respond quickly to a need for more drivers and vehicles. This has helped them to efficiently meet the demands of their customers and communities. And it will help them again as we eventually make our way back to normal over the coming months.

The Covid-19 crisis has shone a light on companies’ business continuity. Few could have envisaged the scenario we now find ourselves in when stress testing their transport operations, but Covid-19 has highlighted the importance of every fleet operators’ strategic planning capabilities. We must learn from this so we get things right in the next few months and beyond.

Preparing for the new normal in fleet operations

1. Strategic modelling to plan for different scenarios. Companies can use the “what if” modelling capabilities of Paragon route planning software to plan for any number of outcomes, including reverting to pre-Covid-19 volumes with fewer drivers, suppliers or distribution centers.

Using this function allows you to model situations based on such questions as:

  • How many drivers will I need when the Working Time Directive rules are enforced again?
  • What will my delivery network look like when 50% of my customer locations are open for business again?
  • What happens if a resurgence of the virus shuts everything back down?
  • What deliveries can I complete if I have to close one or more of my distribution centres?
  • What driver and vehicle combinations do I need if I have to increase my home delivery services by 50% permanently?

The future becomes less scary when you’ve modelled possible outcomes and understand the resource implications. For this modelling to be accurate, you need to use real-world data from your operations. Critical data sets include delivery locations, vehicle capacity, driver hours, availability and skills, and product volumes. As we emerge from the current crisis, the companies that have mapped out future scenarios and have an action plan for each will be at a significant competitive advantage.

How we can help: If you would like to talk to Paragon about how you can more accurately model any of the what-if scenarios that might confront your business in the next 12 months, get in touch. Our experienced team of support consultants can help.

2. Plan-from-anywhere capability. Fleet operators have learnt the importance of planners being able to work remotely while sheltering in place. Temporary licences have allowed planning teams to operate as normal. If a staged return to work follows, then route planning must continue to be easily shared, with Team A being able to see what Team B did last week, or simply carrying on with everybody planning remotely.

How we can help: A number of customers have signed up for temporary extra licences to assist planners working from home. Obviously, if you need more temporary licences or even workbenches to share plans with other members of the team, then let us know.

3. Increased visibility will become the norm. The ability to share accurate, daily reporting across the transport operation and beyond becomes even more important as we return to normal. With the right reports automated each day, the impact on the operation and customer service levels can be reviewed, and action taken as soon as issues arise. With the right reporting mechanisms in place, this level of visibility can be achieved regardless of where your team is located. For example, KPI reports monitoring costs and customer service levels can be set up and automatically distributed every morning ready for review.

How can we help: Our support consultants can help you set up reports, if you’re unsure how to do so. We can also give you some ideas about the types of KPIs you could be monitoring. If you are not currently able to carry out planned versus actual analysis and think this is something your business might be interested in investigating, then speak to your Account Manager, or get in touch.

4. Evolving your day-of-delivery processes: For existing users of Paragon’s proof of delivery software, fleXipod, you will know that the system allows fleet operators to quickly and easily edit forms to change the data captured on a daily basis, and to change face-to-face delivery protocols to keep drivers safe. For example, drivers can be asked if they and their families are safe each day, and any exceptions immediately flagged. Requests for signatures can be replaced with photographic evidence that a delivery has been completed.

How we can help: Read this more detailed blog for ideas about how fleXipod can be used to manage your drivers during this period of change.

5. Agility in the face of routing changes. Armed with the right data and systems, businesses have been able to pivot from running fixed-route “milk runs,” delivering predictable volumes, to dynamically routing deliveries to meet fluctuating demands. The ability to move between the two as we progress through the stages of recovery will help fleet operators efficiently return to normal. The dynamic approach might well be best for now. If your business model changes significantly as a result of the Coronavirus, or volumes remain more varied for the rest of 2020, then you may decide to stick with dynamic route planning a little longer.

Agility will be key to getting through the return to normal. Some operations have significantly contracted during the lockdown period, while others have had to ramp up home deliveries or collaborate with competitors. Thinking about the types of vehicles and driver skills you need for each scenario will allow your operation to proactively manage its way through the rest of this year and into 2021. The ability to respond to legislation as and when it changes, for example a return to standard drivers’ hours restrictions, is also important.

How we can help: We have helped a number of customers navigate new ways of route planning over the last few weeks. Get in touch if you would like to talk through how we can help you, too.

6. Planning at an individual resource level. With drivers and warehouse staff off sick or self-isolating along with other members of the family, it is crucial to know when staff are available, and to have the ability to plan accordingly, at an individual resource level. For businesses that offer a range of installation services alongside their products, you will need to know when those services can be resumed, and how many appropriately skilled staff you have available and when. As your operation emerges from its pandemic status to the new normal, it is critical to be able to plan accurately. Otherwise you risk furthering the economic damage to your business, with trucks sitting empty or delivery plans that fail to combine the right drivers with the delivery skills needed to complete them.

How we can help: Incorporation of driver skills is available in standard Paragon routing software. We can help you upgrade to the latest version of Paragon and show you how to use this functionality. To find out more about named driver planning, Paragon customers should speak to their Support Consultant or Account Manager, or get in touch and we’ll point you in the right direction.

A new world of agile response

We all have business continuity plans that are written and filed away. Now, we have access to real-world crisis data. That means the ability to look back over the pandemic period, and model different responses that would have helped you cope differently or better, and will help you do so in the future. What-if modelling and scenario planning give you realistic and actionable business continuity plans that are ready to deploy quickly when unexpected change hits.

None of us know what the new normal in distribution operations will look like. But the best time to plan for that new normal is right now. Leveraging your route planning software to proactively model for the different scenarios that could occur will allow you to develop a flexible game plan that will help you get through the rest of this year and beyond.

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