Delivering a product to a customer after an order has been taken seems to be, on the face of it, a basic process. However, as we all know it can be full of complications and frustrations, for all of those involved in the process, resulting in late deliveries, or even worse lost deliveries and perhaps even lost business.
The use of technologies like routing and scheduling, vehicle tracking and proof of delivery solutions to assist in improving productivity and efficiency are not new concepts.
Nonetheless, many businesses would tell you such solutions potential is often not fulfilled. Disparate technology is often brought together in an attempt to provide a joined up solution, often with limited success or significant implementation effort. The usability of such systems either tactically or in the provision of management reporting information then involves too much operational overhead, doesnt provide the right level of information or put it in the right context.
With growing commercial, economic and social-corporate responsibilities being brought to bear on transport and logistics operations, an increasing number of companies are looking for more integrated solutions to improve their productivity and fleet utilisation, increase customer service, reduce overheads, streamline costs and minimise their fleets carbon footprint, whilst making sure they are legally compliant and operating at the highest levels of safety.
Companies are finding the concept of a single one-stop-shop transport management solution increasingly appealing. A mix-and-match approach might well be undertaken whereby customers build a solution from separate components, often in a number of phases to meet their business priorities. Increasingly, though, companies are looking for end-to-end transport planning and management solutions, all with the stated aim of being able to manage their distribution operations more effectively - requirements that can be summed up as faster, leaner, cheaper, safer, greener.
Fundamental requirements of any such solution include:
- Routing and scheduling Optimal planning of routes to best meet customer expectations and fleet utilisation.
- Resource management and availability planning Centralised visibility of driver shifts and hours, allowing for streamlined resource allocation to routes based upon availability. Linked to this should be any Working Time Directive (WTD) and driver hours compliance management and reporting.
- Supporting this, digital tachograph integration into vehicle tracking technology so as to seamlessly pass working and driving information into the overall system is an increasingly popular request.
- Fleet and maintenance management It is attractive to many customers to have an integrated module managing document & fleet administration, reducing paperwork and overheads, ensuring ready VOSA compliance and maximising vehicle uptime, utilisation and fleet cost visibility. Again, such information can then feed availability planning and route allocation.
- Vehicle tracking for route and schedule adherence Typically, this might include customer pre-advice notification and real-time traffic Information. Automatic vehicle location is not simply about understanding where your vehicles are; most crucially it is about understanding both in real-time and at de-brief, the performance of a vehicle against the optimised plan, so as to not only provide enhanced customer service, but to also understand where and how productivity can be further improved.
- Proof of delivery and task management. Electronic proof of delivery delivers proven benefits in terms of improved accuracy and reduced administration overhead, as well as improving customer service. Features like integrated sat-nav and driver communications can further increase efficiency and productivity. Of course, once the driver is armed with a hand-held device to support POD, other applications can easily be added for example, to support routine vehicle inspections or to capture information such as odometer values and working hours, all of which can be fed back in to back-end management systems.
- Driver and vehicle performance monitoring. It is not surprising given the current economic climate and the focus on environmental impact and corporate responsibility that safe and economical driving is absolutely in the spotlight. Indeed, a majority of companies now implementing transport management systems include CANBus/FMS integration specifically to enable driving safety and economy to be monitored and, of course, then changed as appropriate.
- With such solutions, vast amounts of data are produced and then captured on a minute-by-minute or even a second-by-second basis. The usefulness of any such systems is in presenting the right data to the right people at the right time, and in such a way that they can drive continuous improvement with no additional operational overhead.
The most effective transport management systems offer real-time exception management, thereby only providing alerts when there are significant exceptions to the plan as determined by the operations policies and procedures.
Driver leagues and targeted de-briefing Easily identifying when and which drivers are exceeding, meeting or falling below operational targets is key to achieving improvements in safe and economical driving. The availability of red-amber-green (RAG) driver league tables that drill down into detailed de-brief information, coupled with an easy to digest summary of performance against plan, route, delivery, driving style and WTD/drivers hours compliance is absolutely fundamental to achieving on-going improvements.
Standard reporting tools are also important enablers that allow a business to conduct more detailed analysis and shape longer-term operations strategy. Ideally, this process should be supported by a simple set of standard KPI and trend reports - a tool that enables companies to build there own reports, preferably using OLAP database standards and export methods for easy integration with back-end MIS systems.
Drivers and the way they operate offer the greatest potential to affect change in any distribution organisation. A successful business is built around good people and efficient and effective processes and systems. Its worth concluding by saying regardless of the proven benefits of any technological solution, the most successful implementations are those where a robust change management plan is in place, where the drivers and staff who make things happen are engaged throughout and, of course, share in the benefits that change accrues.