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Automated Route Planning: Why Automation Changes Everything

Fleet managers are faced with new challenges every single day. Changing customer demands and shorter lead times have made route planning more complex than ever. Balancing competitive service levels and cost-efficient deliveries is a tough job these days, due to aggressive competition.

Automated route planning

Improving delivery performance in all aspects is necessary to survive and stand out among the competition. But businesses that remain attached to manual route planning are unlikely to see an improvement in speed, predictability, and accuracy of deliveries.

Manual routing should be a thing of the past. Sadly, this isn’t the case, as many fleet owners and managers still prefer manually planning the routes, failing to realize that manual route planning hurts the business’ competitiveness and performance.

Fleet managers and owners must ask themselves if it is really possible to plan routes using sheets and to provide customers with realistic and accurate ETAs. Is it cost-effective to assign routes according to the drivers’ preferences?

Manually entering details in an Excel sheet and having planners plot the delivery schedule for the next day may have once worked. But times are different, and manual planning is now a key contributor to expensive operational inefficiencies. We look at the major limitations of manual routing and explain why automated route planning is essential for your business’ success.

Manual Route Planning: The Main Disadvantages

Reduced Fleet Performance

Route planning isn’t as simple as assigning drivers to deliveries. It goes beyond that, as effective route planning must account for different variables.

Unfortunately, a human’s brain cannot juggle all variables needed for optimal route planning, especially when multiple vehicles are supposed to stop at multiple delivery points. Failure to account for various road variables means trucks going from one point to another needlessly, resulting in constant delays, missed deliveries, and disgruntled customers.

Competitive Challenges

Thanks to giants like Amazon, customers now want quick deliveries, real-time visibility on the packages, proactive alerts, and the ability to communicate with delivery drivers. Thus, businesses that want to thrive must possess the same competitive advantages that industry giants have.

Quick and accurate deliveries aren’t just for those that intend to go head-to-head with the likes of Amazon or Walmart. Other businesses will do well to offer the same delivery services of retail giants, too.

For example, a drug-delivery service provider must deliver the pharmaceuticals on time or the patient could miss taking his or her prescribed drugs. Likewise, a supplier of fresh produce will also reap benefits if it can show that it can deliver during the hours specified by the grocery store.

It will be hard to retain loyal customers if the business cannot deliver quickly or if it misses the customers’ preferred time windows. It’s also hard to win new clients when one doesn’t have KPIs showing that the business is capable of sticking to agreed delivery timeframes. Unfortunately, manual route planning cannot generate handy figures that would impress prospective clients.

Diminished Profits

Enterprises that aim to grow should brace themselves for more operational complexities. Having more customers is always a good thing, but growing the business and sticking to manual route planning is a recipe for disaster.

Sure, enterprises can always add more drivers and vehicles to their fleet as they grow their business, but are the additions necessary? Purchasing vehicles and hiring more drivers also means higher operating costs that can drain away whatever profits can be generated by the expansion.

Business expansion without an efficient route planner tends to end up in chaos. The dispatch team will be dealing with a larger volume of orders, drivers, and vehicles, while manually plotting the best routes and assigning drivers to delivery points. And chaos in operations always drags one’s profits.

Automated Route Planning Is Key to Operational Excellence

There are many factors involved in determining the most optimal routes, including truck and driver availability, customer location, quantities, dock restriction, delivery times, and maintenance schedules, just to name a few. Manual route planning simply cannot consider all these variables, but automated route planning software can. This means drivers can take the most optimal routes to ensure efficiency and accuracy in their deliveries.

One might have years of experience in manually planning and tracking routes, but the mind can only take in so much information all at once. On the other hand, a sophisticated route planning solution can deal with hundreds or even thousands of delivery points, drivers, and variables all at once, something that human dispatchers and planners can’t.

Providing drivers with efficient routes every single day means cutting down on fuel costs, which is the second biggest expense in fleet operations. Likewise, less distance traveled by the vehicles also means saving on vehicle maintenance costs.

Automated route planning is essential in maintaining loyal customers and acquiring new ones as well. A sophisticated route planner allows for faster delivery times and accurate delivery windows. Dispatchers can make last-minute changes according to real-time road and weather conditions, helping companies avoid costly missed deliveries. This helps create a seamless customer experience and generate positive feedback.

Here, one of the keys is leveraging your route planning and optimization process to generate accurate delivery ETAs for every stop on every route. Again, this is something that’s too complex to do effectively by hand, which is why it’s crucial to automate the process by leveraging Ai and machine learning to turn data from past deliveries into insights about future performance. 

An AI-powered routing solution can consider all of the variables we discussed above—in addition to things like historical traffic patterns, differences in driver speed and skill, service time variables for different service/product types, historical traffic patterns, and much—and use it to not just create efficient delivery routes, but to assign all the stops on those routes ETAs that are highly accurate and precise.  

This does more than just increase efficiency—it also increases customer satisfaction. No one likes receiving late deliveries (in fact, many consumers don’t like early deliveries either). And when you miss your time window, you’re much more likely to find that the customer isn’t at home to accept the delivery at all—resulting in frustration on both sides and significant redelivery costs. By contrast, when you make time window promises and actually deliver on them, you can earn the trust—and repeat business—of your customers, all while preventing the frustration that comes from timing-related delivery snafus. When you can automatically make this kind of precision and accuracy a reality, it can have a huge impact on your business. 

There are hundreds of variables that must be factored into route planning. Unfortunately, not even the most seasoned dispatchers or planners can account or plan for all of these variables every single day and at all times of day. And the complexity in route planning doesn’t end with these variables, as businesses also have to consider how their failure to deliver quickly and on time can impact customer satisfaction and expansion plans. It’s time to accept that manual route planning has come to its end and automation is the way forward.

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