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Improving freight operations with lessons learned from “Groundhog Day”

Bill Murray with his co-star Phil in a scene from Groundhog Day.

Jim Endres is General Manager at Paragon Software Systems’ US headquarters in Dallas. Paragon develops and supports truck routing and scheduling software that helps businesses reduce transport costs by 10-30 percent through more efficient routing.  Paragon has more than 3,400 systems in use in more than 60 countries around the world.

Punxsutawney Phil has made his declaration – he did not see his shadow and it will be an early spring. But fleet managers wrestling with delivery routing might be wise to remember the lessons of the movie “Groundhog Day,” in which weatherman Phil Connors, played by Bill Murray, is stuck in the same day, played out over and over again.

As he repeats the same series of events, he learns to change his behavior based on the experience and foreknowledge his weird adventure affords him. He becomes a better person, gets the woman of his dreams and lives happily ever after.

In the real world, we don’t get the chance at a “do-over” of all or parts of our lives, but delivery operations present an opportunity to do very nearly that. Because, let’s face it, managing customer deliveries can involve repeating a series of more or less the same activities, day after day, week after week. 

While manufacturers are practiced in the art of running their repetitive processes in slightly different ways, learning from each run-through, until they’ve tuned production just right, few fleet managers even realize they have this golden opportunity.

Advanced truck route optimization software enables unlimited “do-overs” that lead to continuous route planning improvement. The secret is that, just as Phil gets the gift of re-running his day until he gets it right, this technology allows constant monitoring and adaptation in delivery operations in order to arrive at smarter, more profitable decisions.

Integrate the route planning and transport departments

So how can we leverage routing software to continually fine-tune truck routes?

First up is to make sure your route planning team is in lock step with your transport department. Planners can produce what they believe is the most efficient plan, but if dispatch decides it won’t work and swaps out drivers, you start to lose track of what “good” looks like.  When Phil decides to simply do anything he feels like, everything goes wrong and he ends up in jail. Transport plans that unravel are unlikely to land you in jail, it’s true, but they can create a whole lot of inefficiencies.

Without tight integration between those making the plans and those following them, it’s tough to achieve the happy ending you want: satisfied customers, minimal truck miles and maximum equipment utilization. These two functions cannot operate in silos.

Integrate truck route planning with route execution

To achieve continual route optimization, we need to merge route planning and route execution. Just as Phil constantly recalibrated to avoid the same mistakes, you need to constantly compare your plan with what actually happens on the road. 

Comparing planned versus actual requires that your truck route optimization software integrates with and accesses the detailed data from your in-cab telematics system. This integration creates a continuous improvement loop.  You capture what drivers are actually doing and use these learnings to update the plan.

Phil has his morning ruined when he steps into a water-filled pothole.  But, once he gets smart about changing things, it never happens again.

Likewise, by viewing route planning and route execution as two elements of a single process, you allow past delivery performance to inform ever-changing and increasingly accurate plans. Removing silos provides you with one version of the truth.

Make route planning accurate, and automatic

In a live planning environment, you’re not just tweaking the route plan based on what happened yesterday, but also on what happened last week, last month, last year…

Phil spends months, maybe years, incorporating what he’s learned into the next do-over. Route optimization software recognizes patterns that develop over time. For instance, every time a driver visits a particular location, the actual time he spends there is recorded in a database used by the planning group. If drop times regularly exceed the planned timeline, then the master data can be adjusted, and future plans will reflect this new normal.

The software is a lot faster than Phil, too. Instead of planners spending hours making sure every alteration to delivery demands has been painstakingly included, advanced routing software re-jigs your plan in minutes, freeing up time for more strategic tasks.

Truck route optimization: even the best plans change

The best route planning software is highly sophisticated, factoring in dozens and dozens of variables – from pickup and delivery time windows, through truck or driver availability, to historic stop times.  In theory, there shouldn’t be a need to change the route plan. But in reality, we know things change out on the road. That’s why it’s so important to have a route execution system that systemically flags deltas between planned and actual, giving route planners the data needed to improve future route planning and actual performance. If Phil had been given access to powerful algorithms that constantly figured out the ramifications of everything he did, he’d have broken out of Groundhog Day a lot sooner.

In “Groundhog Day,” a man gets the chance to play out the same day again and again, learning the lessons he needs, until he achieves the best possible outcome. In the same way, truck route optimization software allows fleet managers to create a continuous loop of route planning improvement for the most accurate, efficient route plans.

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