Walk before you can run

Walk before you can run

by Alexey Badjanov

Implementing route optimisation software is often promoted as being ‘easy’, but be aware that there are certain steps that need to be followed to ensure success. Here we address how you can guarantee implementation success quickly and effectively.

Empower your planning team to move with the times by successfully implementing automated planning and optimisation technology in your delivery or field-service business.

Many delivery and field-service businesses have failed in trying to implement an automated routing and scheduling solution. Why is this? Well, as a sport-addicted person, I would say it’s because they tried to run and even jump before they could walk.

Typically, when companies start a route optimisation project for the first time, they go straight to the fully-automated process; trying to get the most out of it as quickly as possible. In doing this, the technology appears to be complex, difficult to implement and manual planners maintain they can do better. And at this point there is sometimes the temptation to just give up.

But, if this were a sport they were taking up for the first time, they would listen to what the instructor says. Here’s what the automatic planning ‘sports’ instructor would say:

1. Step one: Learning to stand properly – plot your existing routes on a map
As a delivery manager or service planner, you have to see what the existing schedule built by your distribution team actually looks like. You need to be realistic – you can’t understand it in the spreadsheet or on paper. The lines in Excel don’t show if your routes are good or bad.

As a first step, put all vehicle call points on a map, and then draw the lines between them to see where your vehicles’ day starts and finishes.

Then consider some major KPIs to measure your fleet efficiency – overall mileage, overall cost, cost per delivery, etc.

Now you can stand – in fact understand.

2. Step two: Now you can learn how to walk – start building future schedules on the map
Make your schedule review process continuous – not just a one-off. Introduce your planning team to the right technology to build their computerised schedule easily. Again, it should be map-based and very visual. Try to move away from using a spreadsheet because it will take twice as long to copy the schedule from table-view to the map.

Keep your eyes on the KPIs and notice when the numbers go up or down – there are definitely some good reasons behind any positive changes. What are they? Different stop sequence or different assignment of drivers to territories?

Now, when you carry out continuous improvements, you can say you are walking!

3. Step three: Start to run – input intelligence into the system
Let your team add some basic rules into the system while building a schedule. For example, delivery time windows, driving and working time limits. Another good idea is to start using auto-resequencing functionality to ensure that all your vehicles are on optimal routes and don’t return to the same places several times a day.

At this stage, don’t force your team to always follow your system’s advice. Your planners may be extremely experienced in what they do; we respect that, and there may be some things they know better than any automated system. Let them make a choice and build a partnership with your system to achieve outstanding results.

4. Step four: Make the leap – switch to automatic planning
By now your mind will be open enough to accept the route alternatives that Maxoptra offers you. The trick here is in human nature. Until you have done steps 1, 2 and 3, you are not confident enough in your system to make the final leap to automated planning. This lack of self-confidence means you tend to search for objections and formulate reasons as to why the automated schedule will not be as effective as your manually created ones.

But, when you have followed steps 1,2 and 3 and are confident in the capabilities of your system and your ability to use it, you can easily accept new ideas and evaluate them fairly. So, now is the time to break existing boundaries and look at different, alternative solutions.

What if driver’s and/or field service technicians are reassigned to different territories, vehicles of different capacities chosen for certain deliveries, routes reversed?

Keep your mind open and see what can be done differently! The big question: Is it difficult to make these changes?

Changing existing habits is always hard. But remember, your company will gain from each new step (standing, walking, running or jumping). Sometimes another step forward may seem to be too challenging, especially for those who have complex operations or multiple planning constraints. So don’t rush; get the most from what you’ve already achieved and plan your next step carefully.

My team sees this pattern time and time again when reviewing customers’ success stories. We’ve noticed the biggest successes are achieved by those companies who:

a. Treat their planning team as a highly valuable company asset

b. Create a proper environment for future innovation

c. Respect existing experience and do not deny the power of knowledge already gained

d. Merge artificial intelligence of automated planning technologies with existing people skills

e. Do not expect that machines will totally replace human brains (which have been trained for years) – but will empower human brains to achieve greater things

We’ve also noticed how powerful Maxoptra is – being able to help at any stage, whether you are trying to stand, walk, run or jump!

Alexey Badjanov – Maxoptra Product Director, Magenta Technology
Tel: 0207 494 7510 alexey.badjanov@magenta-technology.com

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