For businesses with smaller fleets, route planning software can be a powerful resource-management tool, reducing fleet costs by as much as 10–30 percent. In order to achieve those kinds of efficiencies, however, route planning must work in harmony with dispatch operations. This is not always as simple as it sounds.
Many smaller businesses still rely on rudimentary route planning tools or Excel spreadsheets to figure out the best routes for drivers to complete multiple deliveries across different locations. The planning function is often in the hands of a single member of staff who might be wearing several different hats. While completing the planning task, that person has to keep in their head a huge number of factors. They don’t just need to know customer locations and delivery time windows, or driver and vehicle availability. They also need to keep abreast of driver skill sets and availability, customer sites that require longer than average unloading times, average road speeds, low bridges and myriad other considerations that have a real impact on whether deliveries arrive on time, using minimum miles and time.
Whatever the size of your business, drivers and vehicles are valuable resources that need to be managed as efficiently as possible. However experienced and smart your planner may be, he or she probably isn’t able to juggle hundreds of parameters perfectly to produce the most efficient plans. You’re asking a human brain (or brains) to do the work of a substantial computer. If you are entirely reliant on one person then there is always the risk that the person or people responsible for planning can go sick, or on vacation, or leave the business. Then, all that in-depth, crucial knowledge goes with them. Putting in place route planning software is the best way to mitigate this risk to your operational efficiency and to maximize your ability to provide excellent customer service.
Whether planners are absent or overworked, smart route planning software addresses these issues by providing a centralized point for all delivery-related information, as well as powerful algorithms that can crunch huge amounts of data in seconds.
But getting the most from this technology is far from a case of set-it-and-forget-it. You could create an efficient, robust and achievable plan, but if it doesn’t get dispatched and executed out on the road, inefficiencies will creep back in. Not only are you throwing money away; you’ll probably find your customer service levels are suffering too, because deliveries are late or missed. Additionally, if the planning is based on incomplete or inaccurate information, your plans are unlikely to be achievable or efficient. Either way, your ROI on route planning software will suffer.
If the person or people responsible for dispatching drivers on planned routes receive a plan that doesn’t already have allocated drivers, there is every chance they will need to make changes.
With the resource-level planning capabilities of advanced routing software, the plan handed from route planner to dispatch is already populated with the available drivers taking into consideration vacation time, medical appointments and shift patterns. There is therefore no need for dispatch to change the plan. Instead they can focus on making sure drivers leave promptly, and on gathering any anecdotal feedback from drivers – such as habitual delays at customer location A – to be fed back into the planning process for continuous improvement.
In order to make the most of your investment, it is absolutely essential that route planning and dispatch – whichever way you divvy up those two functions – work together in complete harmony.
If your operation is already using vehicle tracking then you can go one step further and track the performance of your drivers, to make sure they are following the plan out on the road. Drivers should be confident that they have been allocated a plan that is accurate and achievable because their actual shifts and customer demands have been factored into the plan. Tracking driver activity against the plan, in real time, allows dispatch to see that the plan is being followed, and helps dispatch or customer services proactively communicate with the customer if any unexpected problems arise, removing pressure from the driver.
To ensure route plans are continuously improved, it is essential that any salient information from drivers, such as a problem at a customer’s receiving dock or an issue with a particular road, gets fed back into the route planning process.
This ensures that the plan will factor in real-world feedback such as the maximum size of truck that can be used safely at each location or arrival windows that are acceptable to each customer. In some cases, these may be wider than you think. Getting this type of feedback direct from the driver ensures that the transport planner always creates highly achievable plans with fair and accurate stop times.
The fact is that today’s advanced truck dispatch software can be as smart as the data you provide it. With resource-level route planning, detailed data on each driver’s hours, skills and preferences can be incorporated into the system and used to create plans that intelligently assign drivers to the routes that make sense. But if that data resides in multiple places outside the system, including the heads of dispatchers and drivers, route plan quality will suffer. If dispatchers have to pull it apart to allocate the drivers that are actually available, or drivers simply decide they know best and abandon the plan five minutes out of the yard, your investment in route planning software will be largely wasted.
When plans consider every detail that impacts truck and driver assignments, there’s less of a need for people to “second guess” the plan. Route planning and dispatch functions can then merge into one, easily managed, harmonious whole, focused on creating the best, most optimized route plan possible; a plan that continually adapts to what’s happening on the road.
The result: one truly integrated transportation operation, harmonized for resource management efficiency.
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