There are many route optimization software solutions on the market. These tools help plan your truck routes to meet delivery deadlines with the least amount of time, miles and fleet costs.
Some tools are basic, out-of-the-box solutions suitable for less complex operations. Others are flexible, more advanced packages that deliver greater functionality for more complex distribution operations.
With so many options available, it can be hard to find time to explore all the solutions on the market. You should first determine whether your business needs a basic or advanced package. You can then dive deep with a more select group of software providers.
Below are a series of questions that can help you decide what’s best for you. If advanced route optimization software capabilities seem like overkill for your operation, you may be fine with a more basic package. But if those are the features your business wants or needs, a more sophisticated solution may be necessary.
All software is different, and some may straddle the line between basic and advanced. This Q&A generalizes based on our knowledge of different options. You’ll still need to research individual software packages in detail to find the perfect fit.
Is your transportation operation simple or complex?
If you dispatch a fleet of less than 20 vehicles from a single depot then basic routing packages might be suitable for you. But if you’re above that number and must consider complexities such as product compatibility, then an advanced solution may make more sense.
For instance, if you are delivering food with a mix of frozen, chilled and ambient products packaged in both totes and pallets, an advanced system can model compartments and incorporate product dimensions in order to identify the right truck for the job.
Do you prefer a SaaS model for software purchases?
Many of the more basic routing software solutions are Software-as-a-Service (Saas) products offered through a cost-effective, pay-as-you-go monthly subscription with no long-term contracts. Advanced route optimization software can be offered as SaaS or an on-premise model that requires a one-time, up-front investment for the software with modest annual support fees.
How important are accurate route times to your customers?
Basic packages may not have critical parameters built into the master data. For example, rush hour travel can make trips two to three times longer. When routes don’t consider such real-world factors, accuracy, reliability and customer confidence are compromised.
With more advanced fleet routing software, algorithms have greater focus on plan accuracy so it’s possible to hit tight delivery time windows. Factors such as rush hour driving speeds, construction zones and average unload time for specific customers (based on historical averages) are part of the master file on which the plan is based.
How important is ease of use to your software choice?
If system users include both operations and office personnel, basic packages could be the best choice since the interfaces and program operation tend to be simplified. Training is minimal or provided via self-study.
Advanced route optimization software is designed more for people who work in transportation operations, where the primary interest is in understanding the functionality and how certain features can drive efficiencies. These users require routing software training led by experienced instructors.
Do you want to configure the software interface and screen layouts?
With basic routing software packages, the out-of-the-box configuration handles most needs. The software is fast and easy to deploy, but these benefits depend on a uniform user interface that can’t be easily changed.
Some users prefer to configure the software to support existing processes or even the terminology they prefer to use. Many advanced routing packages are configurable so users see exactly what they want to see on the screen, with custom layouts and field names. The advantage of adapting the interface to the user’s current working environment is that it reduces resistance to the new approach to route planning and scheduling.
Is route optimization software mission critical for your business and will you need live support?
Basic packages provide solid online support, FAQs, and chat. They often don’t offer live phone support and phone support is usually not available 24/7. This could be a problem if route planning is crucial to day-to-day operations. Downtime may result in losing a day or more of delivery. With advanced software, users have access to help desk support to address problems in real time. Some providers even have 24/7 support options.
Will you need consultants to work closely with you on setup and installation?
Basic cloud software does not typically come with expert consulting support. With advanced packages, a consulting team assists with installation, implementation (including account-specific configurations) and user training. The same software experts can provide ongoing advice on getting the most from the software, day to day.
Do you need the software to accurately assign specific drivers to routes, considering time or skill constraints?
Some software may not allow driver-specific data to influence the plan. Plans may need to be altered by dispatch because specific drivers are unable to execute the assigned route. A resource-level route planning capability, available in many advanced routing solutions, can consider an endless number of driver parameters and create a route plan, with driver assignments that adhere to any limitation, such as:
Do you need real-time information on the progress of your drivers against the plan?
Most basic packages don’t have any execution capability so you have no idea if your drivers are adhering to the plan. Advanced route optimization systems often include execution capabilities where the route planning and in-cab telematics systems are connected and you can monitor plan versus actual progress in real time.
Do you want to use the software to run strategic what-if scenarios?
This is a higher-level function not available in basic packages. Advanced routing software allows you to analyze any number of what-if scenarios, providing the actual cost and service implications of specific strategies using your actual data. These strategic exercises may include questions like:
As your business grows in size and complexity, route optimization software offers amazing potential to reduce the time and costs associated with planning and executing daily routes and schedules. The key is finding the right software for your specific requirements.
Free trials are available from some of the basic SaaS packages. Most advanced software providers, like Paragon from Aptean, offer a free data modeling review where a sample of your data is loaded into the system and you can see how important tasks would be completed. During that modeling exercise, you’ll see how ROI on the routing software investment could be achieved within a few months.
There are many route optimization software options out there for companies looking to get more efficient. Feel free to contact the routing experts at Paragon from Aptean with any questions — even if you’re in the early stages of your evaluation process.
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