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Fleet Fixer Upper: Does Your Truck Route Planning Process Need a Makeover?

Fixer Upper, Property Brothers, This Old House….  These and similar home renovation TV shows have led a huge number of homeowners to take out their toolbelts, and their wallets, to start home makeover projects, large and small.

This year, 76 percent of US households, about 96 million, will invest money to renovate, according to Lightstream’s annual home improvement survey. Of those, about 10 million homes will undergo makeovers costing $25,000 or more.

What’s all that have to do with projects to create more efficient truck delivery routes?

Absolutely nothing – and that’s the point!

Unlike all those enthusiastic homeowners, fleet operators are slow to invest in fleet route planning software that’s been proven to significantly reduce fleet miles, maximize truck and driver utilization, and deliver a return on invested dollars in 3–12 months.

To understand the source of this hesitation and what might encourage a transportation office to change, we decided to look at the exploding home improvement market and what motivates these enthusiastic homeowners to move forward.  Interestingly, we see some clear parallels between fixing homes and fixing fleets.

Here are the top reasons for home renovations, taken from various sources.

Change a tired old look

Homeowners start with a certain design, but after a while they get bored and look for something different. Perhaps they see something on TV or in a magazine that they’d like to try.

That motivation seems absent among many fleet operators, who seem content planning routes as they have for 20 years. Let’s face it, there’s comfort in “the way we’ve always done it.”  But there’s also risk.

In a transport office where delivery routes are planned manually, planning responsibility typically falls to one or a few people. These planners may have an intimate knowledge of, for instance, drop times at various customer locations. This allows them to estimate scheduled arrival times along the route – an important capability. But if that knowledge hasn’t been captured in a system, the information is useless to the business. When planners leave or retire, all that crucial intelligence leaves with them.

Improve worn out or no longer functional spaces

Families get bigger and smaller and home sizes and configurations that used to work are no longer functional.

Same with delivery operations. Territories expand and trucks and drivers are added to handle increasingly complex, multi-drop delivery routes. Add to that customers’ ever-increasing demand for more frequent, precisely timed deliveries. It’s a challenge worthy of a complete “down to the studs” makeover.

But instead of using advanced route planning software to tame the complexity, businesses use the equivalent of duct tape to continually patch their old-school tools and processes.  Pretty soon you end up with a tangle of spreadsheet macros and formulas that no one understands and can use – other than the person who developed them.

The alternative, of course, is to automate using fleet route planning software designed precisely for the purpose. Plans that now take hours, or even days, to develop with rudimentary, home-grown systems could be run in minutes, with far greater accuracy.

Sometimes you just can’t add an extra half-bath to a home’s existing configuration. Likewise, you can’t solve today’s complex delivery challenges using 1980s systems and solutions.

Fix things that are damaged and broken

Whether the cause is a catastrophic weather event or just a poorly constructed home, renovations are often triggered when walls and ceilings collapse. In other words, when the homeowners don’t have a choice.

There’s a parallel here with private fleet operations, and it’s not a pretty one.

Sometimes the decision to introduce technology to delivery route planning is made outside the transportation organization – after operations have gotten so out of control that fleet costs are rising faster than revenue or customers are leaving due to unreliable service. To avoid that scenario, you may need to take a step back and examine the potential of technology to assess and fix inefficient delivery operations.

For businesses serious about making a change, many fleet route planning software providers would, at no cost, take sample data from your operation and model the impact of planning the same routes with the benefit of sophisticated routing technology. Don’t confuse this with easy “free assessment” offers. Just as there is time and effort involved in a thorough home inspection, a detailed fleet analysis will require a significant investment of time by your team and the routing experts at the software company. But the results could be eye-opening and game-changing.

Customize a new space

No surprise, new homeowners want to put their own stamp on a newly purchased home. Similarly, our own research on common reasons for starting route automation projects found that the trigger is often the arrival on scene of a new executive. Most often these executives, hired to oversee logistics and fleet operations, have had success elsewhere using route planning software to establish highly efficient fleet operations. They seek to introduce similar tech-enabled processes in their new organizations.

But here’s the thing. You don’t have to be an outsider to enact change. You do, however, have to assume the role of change agent. That means thinking less like a tradesman and more like a general contractor that sees the bigger picture. Ultimately, you may need the courage to challenge the status quo and call attention to the dysfunction of outdated delivery route planning processes.

Increase value

Sometimes homeowners put money into home renovations to increase home value more than the cost of the renovation. In fact, that’s the business strategy of all successful house flippers.

The ROI on route planning software is the ultimate argument for its adoption. Typically, businesses moving from manual to automated route planning can reduce fleet costs 10–30 percent and see payback within months. For medium to large companies, six-figure savings are typical and seven-figure savings are common, over time, as businesses identify the waste inherent in inefficient fleet operations.

Where do the savings come from?

  • Reduced equipment and driver costs. When routes become more efficient you reduce miles, which requires fewer trucks and drivers.
  • Reduced fuel costs. Added bonus: as fuel expenses go down, so do CO2 emissions. Win-win.
  • Redeployed planning resources. Route plans for larger delivery fleets require analysis of millions of route permutations. With advanced routing software, you no longer pay people to do work a computer can do faster and better.
  • Fewer inbound calls to customer service. The right routing software can be programmed to automatically notify customers of ETAs and en route delivery status.
  • Innovative strategies. The powerful modelling capability of advanced routing software let’s you “test drive” strategies (a new warehouse location, a different fleet mix) to determine their cost-saving potential before investing in actual implementation.

Change starts with a vision

What’s the common denominator of all successful home fixer upper projects? A visionary. Someone who can see past a crumbling façade, dysfunctional layout, and decades-old styling to envision a beautiful space that works for a modern family.

While a truck routing makeover is a bit more mundane than tackling that 19th-century Victorian, it’s a critically important task that also requires vision. If your company is among the many private fleet operators that continue to plan routes manually, why not be the visionary that your company needs?

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