Most fleet managers looking to switch to automated routing technology, or upgrade from an existing system, are pushed for time and already running at or beyond full capacity. So, when shopping around for fleet routing software, it’s good to be able to greet prospective vendors with a list of questions that will get you quickly to the heart of which system is right for you.

Here are seven questions we suggest you ask fleet routing software vendors while at the research or shortlisting stage.

1. Can it adapt to my unique operational requirements?

Some software may require you to remodel your whole supply chain to take full advantage of the software. This slows down adoption and can prevent a project ever going live. Ideally you want highly configurable software that enhances the performance of your operating environment – without any custom development. This allows for maximum benefit without the need for associates to change long-standing practices.

2. How will it affect other internal processes in my business? 

The good news is that implementing sophisticated fleet routing software will not only save you money on transportation costs; it will also improve other business functions. For example, if you can achieve a route plan quicker than before, that may mean you can firm the plan later in the day. That, in turn, might mean you can accept orders later from your customers, giving a competitive advantage.

This is one of the considerations where it will really help if the software vendor can give you current customer references; a company from your industry or a comparable sector, who are willing to give you good information about what advantages they gained (and what problems they encountered).

Installing fleet routing software is often part of a much wider change management process designed to improve customer service, or increase operational efficiency. Getting a view of what that looked like to another company’s transportation operation can be highly useful during your research phase.

3. Can it change with my business?

Does the software scale? Is it flexible? Any system you invest in needs to be able to meet both existing and future requirements.

While this may seem obvious, often you’ll find requirements emerge during the evaluation process that you simply didn’t consider before, or didn’t know the technology could handle.

The chances are that your operations will change over time. In fact, installing a route optimization tool may well result in unexpected benefits emerging elsewhere in the business, prompting operational changes to increase financial savings, or improve customer service.

Further, most businesses experience change of one kind or another, because of both internal and external factors. The flexibility to evolve the solution as operations grow is important, whether it’s new functionality within the software, or the ability to take account of a new DC, more trucks, more customers, new markets, new regulations, or rising customer demands.

What about enhancements to functionality? Does the software vendor take requests from you and other customers, and make them available to all? Don’t forget: a good software provider will enhance the solution based on customer feedback.

4. Is it a comprehensive solution?

Is the software just a plug and play with limited functionality, or does it extend beyond pure route planning? For example, can it aid with high-level strategic planning? Can you manage different vehicle types, pickups, backhauls, Hours of Service and network planning?

It’s very important to understand the full range of options available with the software package you’re considering. You also need to establish what comes as standard and what will cost you extra.

5. What technology platform does it use and how will the software integrate?

Most likely, you will already have supply chain management systems in place, such as order management or warehouse management software. Having established what existing systems you have that require integration with a potential new fleet routing system, you can then ask the potential software vendor to help you understand what is involved.

Find out what infrastructure you need in place in order to install the new software. This could be the spec of either the server, or the laptop required for the planner(s). You can then ensure you have all costs factored in to the total cost of the project.

Your company may have a preference for deployment options so it’s also worth asking potential vendors how their fleet management software is deployed.

6. Will you be there for me tomorrow?

The days of spectacular booms and busts may be over (for now), but it’s still important to know that your software vendor is financially secure, so they’re going to be there one, five, and ten years down the road, as you continue to need support.

Another, trickier, aspect is independence. Fleet routing software vendors have a habit of getting acquired by larger technology companies. Then, what may happen is the parent company is no longer focused on fleet routing – it’s just another tool in their tool box. That can result in declining investment in updated technology and ongoing customer support.

Finally, and most importantly, ask about support resources available during and after implementation to ensure project success. Software without great training and support is likely to give diminishing advantages, even becoming totally unused “shelfware.” If you are implementing routing software for the first time, there is no substitute for working with an experienced consultant with many, many successful implementations under their belt.

7. When’s the demo?

One, final, but very important element to the process of assessing potential fleet routing software vendors is the part where they show you how it would work for your company. Ideally, you can give the software vendor some of your data and watch as they demonstrate the changes their software will make. Use that live demo to ask very specific questions relevant to your operating environment, such as “How would you _____?” and “Is it possible to do _____________?”

How each vendor answers these real-world questions is possibly the best indicator of whether they have the knowledge and the software to handle your requirements.

A demo should also suggest where the best opportunities are to make changes and drive efficiency

Lesson from the Boy Scouts: be prepared

Don’t go into a vendor selection process thinking the work is all on the vendor’s side. You’ll get the best feedback from vendors, and the best results, if you are prepared and think through all the relevant issues – from functionality to systems integration to training.

Good luck out there, and don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions!

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