Tale of routes planning
I remember planning courier routes over a fold-out, large paper map, laboriously assigning couriers to postcodes, and finally drawing route boundaries with a permanent marker on an even larger wall map. This was the final version. At least until the number of shipments increased, and with that increase, new couriers arrived, and the planning needed repeating.
Today, dispatchers have various tools for scheduling activities related not only to standard deliveries or parcel collections but often to additional activities performed once they have reached the customer. The market offers a wide range of applications that are supposed to bring tangible savings (e.g., in transport costs) and improve the work of dispatchers responsible for organising the drivers' work.
In today's article about what to look for before making a purchase decision of a route planning system.
Don't buy a pig in a poke...
...check with which clients with a similar profile to your company the bidder is already working. Even if you find well-known companies in the reference list, it is worth contacting their representatives and asking about the following:
- challenges in implementation,
- goals and whether they have been achieved,
- how the process will provide the additional functions that the vendor should program or configure.
It is also a good idea to spend time with a member of staff who works with the route planning system daily - if you are talking to a company that is not a competitor to your company's industry, of course.
Don't play around with the demo version...
...test it properly. I know. I'm sure you've seen a vendor demo where the scheduling process was smooth, the address 'pins' were where they needed to be, and the delivery order was optimal, but.... this was different from your company's data. Accessing the system into which you upload your data will answer many questions, and there may be all sorts of uncertainties. And very well, because that's what this stage is all about. Testing is worth sharing with your colleagues in the dispatch team, as this will provide varied and valuable feedback on whether:
- data import with orders is straightforward,
- the user interface and parameter configuration are intuitive,
- the declared functions work as required.
Is the subscription cheap? That's great, but...
...it is often only some of the costs you will incur. You will search in vain for cheap quality products, and additional features are provided quickly. That's why it's worth asking for a contract proposal once you've received a quote. Make sure you're not buying the proverbial "cat in the bag" and test the system robustly on our data when the bidder seems to meet your company's expectations.
What to look out for before signing a contract:
- What are the additional costs beyond the subscription, i.e., usage and development fees for new features?
- Are/what additional costs when exceeding the number of orders or users?
- Is the configuration of parameters we change regularly on the software manufacturer's side, and is there an additional charge?
- What is the time to resolve a software failure from when the problem occurs?
- Is the number of operations the system will perform within a specified period? For example, scheduling a minimum of 1,000 addresses within 5 minutes is particularly important when routes are planned just before drivers leave or when routes need to be re-planned due to vehicle breakdowns or driver absences.
- Does the manufacturer confirm the development of new features specific to your company?
These are a selection of the more essential aspects that should be formally defined before the first routes are planned in your company using the new system.
Many admit that the Dispatcher module, or, if you prefer, the route planner, is the heart of a transport management system. In addition to the best-planned routes, they are communicated to couriers for accomplishment. A mobile application should support managing deliveries, pick-ups, and other activities, so it is a must-have tool. I will write about it in the following article.