Volume 43 Number 11
Computer Ware: The Route Not Taken -- or Routing Redux
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As a water treatment dealer, do you find yourself spending too much time working on routing issues? Do you suspect there’s a better way to train new route drivers and make ongoing changes to your routes? Do you think you could greatly improve your routing efficiency if you started from scratch and totally re-routed all your customers—only you never get started because the task is too overwhelming? Today, there are a number of tools that can help you with these tedious tasks. Combine them with the best of your current routing practices and you can get a better handle on your routing challenges.
Water treatment dealers have two areas where efficient routing affects their level of customer service and their bottom line— “product delivery” routing and “service work” routing.
Mapping it out
Mapping/routing programs (like Delorme X Map and Microsoft MapPoint 2002) are up to date, accurate, easy to use and inexpensive. These programs enable you to look up and view or print a color map for any street address. This software can easily create and print your daily routes on a map (highlighted in color), which links all stops in order from start to finish. If you prefer, you can have the software suggest the best route for the stops you have entered. The suggested route can be edited to accommodate special conditions that might necessitate changing the suggested route stop sequence. An example would be a customer requiring a p.m. delivery, which the software had routed as one of the day’s first stops. That customer’s route sequence would be changed so that the customer would be delivered on the inbound rather than the outbound portions of the route, therefore ensuring the required delivery time. Your routing/mapping software program should be able to interface with your accounting/delivery software to import your daily routes in truck and stop order.
These programs have interfaces with GPS (global positioning systems). Such systems use hardware to capture signals from satellites to pinpoint an exact location on the Earth’s surface. The armed forces have been using GPS for years. This technology is now relatively inexpensive and readily available. Maybe you’ve rented a car with a GPS or seen the ads for General Motors OnStar System, which is GPS-driven. Using a GPS system can enable you to map and route your stops even in areas without a street address. You can also take the GPS hardware in a delivery truck and use it to create a route, or you can download a route into a GPS device and send it with your driver. Then the GPS will guide him by displaying exactly where he is, and where he needs to go through the day’s deliveries. Some of these programs allow you to record voice direction to correspond to the visual route map, adding to the ease of use for your route delivery person. Many visual mapping programs run on specially designed GPS hardware, while others have interfaces to personal digital assistants (PDAs) like the Palm Pilot or laptops. These on-board GPS devices have the greatest value for “new” or “fill-in” drivers.
Fishing out routes
Today, Grace’s new drivers leave the dealership with a map of each stop and a GPS screen on the dash of the truck. The GPS unit beeps at the driver when it’s time to turn, shows him where he is and displays how to get to the next stop. New drivers only use the GPS unit in the truck until they’re familiar with the routes. Once that happens, the unit goes back in Grace’s fishing boat.
This might sound sophisticated and expensive but you can purchase a set-up like Grace’s for about $700. The software used is Street Atlas by Delorme and costs about $50. Another one, MetroGuide by Garmin, goes for about $150. Grace also uses Garmin’s Street Pilot GPS unit with a cost of about $500. He said there are less expensive units but their screens are very small. Or, you can spend $1,400 and get one with color but Grace doesn’t feel that’s necessary. From there, he suggests a good way to learn how to use the GPS is to try it in your car. Once you’ve mastered it, you’ll be able to show any new route drivers how it works. Then, new employees will have a tool to help them become part of the “team” more quickly.
Perhaps you have a large service business and several trucks going out each day on installations, service calls, recurring maintenance and product delivery. You schedule each serviceman’s day, projecting the number of stops for each one. Since your serviceman might never have been to this customer before, giving him a route, directions and maps for each customer’s service address should be a big help. If you’re using customer management software to manage your service business and create service “work orders,” you should be able to import the addresses of a day’s scheduled service calls into your routing/mapping software. Then create routes, directions and maps for the scheduled “service calls,” which you give to them along with the “work orders.”
In addition, how would you like it if you could import your “delivery customer” list into a software program and it would automatically reroute them into more efficient routes? Would you like to be able to type a new customer’s address and have the software tell you the best route, truck and stop to assign for that customer? This type of software is called “route efficiency software.” It’s relatively expensive, but cost justifiable, especially for large companies with high “customer turnover” rates. Smaller companies, and those with a more stable customer base, might find it beneficial to analyze and redo their routes once or twice a year. If you’re one, you might want to contact one of the manufacturers who offer a yearly “route efficiency software service.”
This “route efficiency software” is very sophisticated. It looks at many different factors to build new, more efficient routes. It looks at the geography and customer delivery requirements or restrictions and then uses complex algorithms to analyze factors that affect route efficiency, including drive time (considering speed and miles) to get from the warehouse to the first stop and from the last stop to the warehouse; product delivery time (considering speed and miles between stops), and projected product delivery time (average of product delivery time for each customer). This software has proven to be an extremely powerful tool, and has consistently resulted in more efficient routes, which increased deliveries per stop and decreased miles between stops.
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