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Route Planning Software

Route Planning software is used by transportation and service dispatchers, fleet managers, and courier drivers for optimizing their multi-stop trips.

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Route Planning Software Buyers Guide

Route planning software is a type of software that allows businesses to plan and schedule routes in the most efficient manner possible, making the best use of a vehicle during a multi-stop delivery run. It can also be known as route optimisation software, as that is essentially what it does. This type of software can factor in a wide range of variables when plotting a route and organising the order of stops.

Some of the core features typically found in route planning software include the ability to automatically plan a route with multiple stops, make modifications to the parameters of that route, and factor in multiple vehicles when determining the best routes to take. Route planning software will usually have the facilities to manage territories, dispatch, and drivers. Some solutions will also feature performance metrics, allowing an organisation to clearly see which areas of its logistics operation may need looking at more closely.

The use of route planning solutions offers many benefits to a logistics company, not least of which is the reduced costs. These savings come from shorter running times, lower fuel costs, and even longer-term savings on maintenance frequency. Another benefit is the ability to give customers a more precise delivery window.

Being primarily a software solution for logistics operations, route planning software has a number of related categories, such as inventory management software, and fleet maintenance software. While not all of the software an organisation needs to run a logistics operation smoothly will seamlessly integrate with each other, many related functions can often be linked across different software solutions.

There are many things for a business to consider when looking for a route planning solution, including the size of the fleet that the software will be planning for, and the ease with which it will integrate with any related systems that are already in place. The feature set included is also a key consideration. The features included can vary from one solution to another, but certain core features can generally be found in all examples of route planning software. Some of these features are listed below:

  • Geofencing features allow for notifications when a driver has left their route or territory.
  • Fast routing and re-routing means the user is not left waiting when planning a new route, and that re-routing on the fly is possible when new factors come into play, such as unexpected traffic due to accidents.
  • Driver management features allow a company to keep detailed profiles for each of its drivers, one advantage of which is ensuring that any planned routes factor in a particular driver’s daily duty hours.
  • Territory management features enable a company to set clear boundaries for certain drivers, vehicles, or dispatch locations, which is then factored into any route planning that takes place.
  • Dynamic routing can handle a large number of variables when planning a route, including multiple vehicles, drop-offs, driver duty hours, changing traffic times, and more.

What is Route Planning Software?

Route planning software is designed to make route planning more efficient and, thus, more cost-effective than it would otherwise be. Like many things in business, route planning is a process where many small efficiencies can be gained that can very quickly add up to a substantial improvement overall. That substantial improvement translates to reduced costs, more efficient operation, and a higher quality of service to the customers and clients.

Logistics is an increasingly complex area of business that involves factoring in many variables beyond the basic shortest path from one place to another. To get the most out of a logistics operation, software needs to factor in things like traffic—including the changing traffic of various times of day—intersecting routes, territories, driver hours, and much more. Every additional variable that route planning software can account for can shave a little more expense from the cost of running a logistics fleet, which translates to substantial savings when dealing with large fleets.

Modern businesses turn to route planning solutions to maximise the efficiency of their fleet, but also to provide the best possible service they can to their customers, whether those customers are recipients of parcel deliveries, clients waiting for a service technician to arrive at their home, or any other form of business that involves a fleet operation. This type of software can often be integrated with related software systems, such as fleet maintenance software and inventory control systems, which allows a business to bring automation into the fold, further improving on the efficiency of their supply chain and logistics operations.

What are the benefits of route planning software?

The benefits of route planning are primarily focused on reducing the cost of running a logistics operation by increasing the efficiency of all aspects wherever possible. These improvements have a knock-on effect that doesn’t just improve the business’s bottom line but can also improve the service delivered to customers. Some of the more specific benefits associated with using route planning software in logistics and fleet operations include:

  • Advanced route planning facilities: The foundation of a good route planning solution is, of course, its ability to carry out advanced route planning. More than simply finding the shortest route between two destinations, modern route planning software should accommodate many stops, factor in dynamic elements such as traffic and road accidents, and consider an entire fleet and all routes when determining where best to send a vehicle.
  • Faster route planning ability: Beyond the superior ability to plan routes over traditional solutions, the matter of speed is also relevant. Modern route planning solutions can plan routes far more quickly than older software options or manual methods and, because of that, they can also be used to make changes to the route on the fly. This allows logistics operations to react dynamically to changes in the environment, such as sudden traffic due to a road accident or deliveries being cancelled. Reduced travel time and mileage: One of the direct results of improved route planning is reduced mileage and less time spent travelling overall for drivers. This has many knock-on effects, such as reducing spending on fuel and making it possible to make more stops in a given time period than would otherwise have been the case.
  • Reduced customer service costs: Advanced route planning typically results in far fewer missed or late stops, which in turn means fewer situations where customers will be in contact to enquire about a delivery or complain about a missed stop. Though indirectly, this leads to reduced customer service costs.
  • Reduced fleet maintenance costs: Another indirect benefit of improved route planning is the reduced maintenance costs involved in running a fleet. The maintenance and repair of vehicles are intrinsically linked to the amount of use those vehicles are getting. While the pure cost of maintenance is unlikely to go down as a result of using route planning software, the number of revenue-generating actions (such as deliveries, technician callouts, etc.) that can be made in between service intervals will be higher. This results in an effectively reduced cost of maintenance.
  • Improved service to the end-user: Having better route planning and improved accuracy, in addition to reducing costs and ensuring delivery windows aren’t missed, also enables companies to offer better service to their customers. For example, the highly accurate route planning provided by software like this makes it possible to provide more accurate delivery windows. Additionally, the ability to track data dynamically means that a company can keep its customers updated in real time in the event of changes.
  • Better supply chain sustainability: The environmental impact of supply chains is under more scrutiny than ever, and companies are understandably looking to improve the sustainability of their operation as a result. Improved route planning reduces the number of miles, fuel, and maintenance costs for a given number of stops, which in turn reduces the negative impact on the environment. In other words, creating a more efficient logistics operation is better for the environment.
  • Access to a range of data: As with most modern business software solutions, one significant advantage of route planning software is the ability to collect and analyse large amounts of operational data. This data can be used to determine seasonal trends, identify weak points in a logistics network, and much more.

What are the features of route planning software?

The features of route planning software are mostly focused on improving the route planning facilities of a logistics operation, with all the benefits being a knock-on effect from that initial goal. Where route planning solutions differ from more basic route planners is the ability to consider the whole logistics operation, rather than just a single vehicle. When route planning software makes calculations, it will factor in every vehicle operating in the territory. Here are some of the most common features of route planning software:

  • Dynamic routing: Route planning is not just about finding the fastest route for a given vehicle. Businesses running a logistics fleet will have several vehicles, sometimes making a variety of stops, such as pick-ups, deliveries, and service calls. Dynamic routing enables the software to find the most efficient combination of routes for the whole operation, factoring in real-time constraints such as road works, traffic, driver absences, vehicle breakdowns, and any other event that could affect the planned routes.
  • Geofencing: An efficient logistics operations manager needs to stay on top of their operation, since the higher the level of efficiency, the more disruption a simple event can cause. Geofencing allows the software to draw an imaginary boundary around a given vehicle or driver's route. That vehicle or driver can then be monitored with GPS tracking, and dispatch notified if the vehicle goes outside of the allotted boundaries. This allows dispatch to immediately get in touch with the driver, find out what the problem is, and get the vehicle back on track.
  • Fast route optimisation: Route planning solutions don’t just offer advanced route planning facilities; they are also generally designed to deliver those routes quickly. This isn’t particularly important when planning routes at the start of the day, for example, but things can change rapidly, especially in a complex logistics operation. Being able to quickly adjust routes to compensate for unexpected problems should be a feature in most route planning solutions today.
  • Simple data handling: The size of modern logistics operations makes traditional methods of handling data impractical—if not impossible. Things like entering customer addresses manually into a route are just not feasible or efficient, which is why modern route planning software usually provides a number of tools to make it easier to handle this kind of data, from importing to integration and automation.
  • Integration: Logistics is an area of business that interacts with many other areas, including things like supply chain management, fleet management, and inventory control. That is why many software providers are continually working on the level of integration their route planning solutions can provide. Working seamlessly—or as close to seamlessly as possible—allows for the automation of certain routine tasks and exchange of data, which in turn results in more time-saving and efficiency improvements.
  • Territory management: Part of advanced route planning involves the ability to manage territories, ensuring that vehicles at a particular depot don’t get sent on routes that pass into other territories where there is a different depot in place. Territory management features allow businesses to define and manage their different areas to avoid any overlap.
  • Driver management: Driver management is also a common feature in route planning solutions. Being able to keep a detailed profile on drivers not only helps when it comes to things like staff appraisals and disciplinary matters, but it also allows the software to account for things like duty hours—legal limits on the number of hours a driver can spend behind the wheel in a single 24-hour period—when planning routes.
  • Analytics and reporting: Analytics and reporting tools are becoming an essential inclusion in any modern business software and route planning is no exception. Analysing data trends can help when making important business decisions, as well as informing future logistics operations policies.

What should be considered when purchasing route planning software?

When purchasing route planning software, it is important for the business to consider the scale of their operation and whether the solution will be up to the task of managing an operation of that size. Of course, there is also the opposite to consider—some operations are more modest in size, and those operations will likely benefit financially from choosing a software solution that is geared more towards smaller companies. Some of the more specific considerations that should be thought through when purchasing a route planning solution include:

  • What size fleet can the software handle? The first thing to consider is the size of the fleet that the software can manage. If a given software solution cannot handle a fleet as large as the one the company is running, it would be counterintuitive to purchase that solution. On a similar note, if the software solution is designed to handle a fleet much larger than the one the company has, it may be better to look for a smaller—and less expensive—solution. That being said, a company should consider its future needs and scalability. For example, a company with a fleet of 100 vehicles should probably not get software with a 100 vehicle cap because then they will need to upgrade or change their software if they want to add more vehicles in the future.
  • Does the software provide customer-facing features? For logistics operations that deal directly with consumers—such as delivery companies and couriers—it is worth finding a software solution that provides customer-facing features, such as the ability for customers to track their parcel in real time or leave instructions for where to leave the parcel at the delivery address. These features not only improve the quality of service being delivered to the customer but hopefully also reduce the number of customer service enquiries since customers will not need to contact the company for these reasons.
  • How does the solution handle data? Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions will typically place the responsibility of the data storage on the software provider, but, for businesses, it is still worth checking if they are satisfied with any data storage policies. After all, they may not be legally responsible if data is improperly handled by a service provider, but they will still take the PR hit.
  • Is the cost worth the advantage? A cost-benefit analysis should be carried out with any significant purchase or change of operation in a business, and this is no different. For a large business using old software or more traditional manual methods, there will almost certainly be a huge benefit from switching to a modern route planning solution. Things get a little less clear when dealing with a company that already has route planning software in place or a smaller company where the gains provided by modern route planning solutions are not as significant. In most cases, this software should provide worthwhile benefits, but it is certainly worth making sure before purchasing.
  • Does the software provide integrations? As mentioned above, route planning software will need to work in tandem with a number of other logistics software systems. Finding a software solution that integrates smoothly with the software systems already in place within a business will make the transition smoother. It will also improve the overall running of the operation by helping to build an integrated tech stack.

The most relevant route planning software trends are mostly focused on improving the efficiency of a logistics operation by using smart technology such as artificial intelligence (AI). With the foundations of the software already in place, this area of software development is more about incremental improvements than substantial change. Below are some of the main trends to look out for in the realm of route planning software:

  • Increased use of artificial intelligence: Route planning solutions are already making use of artificial intelligence, but that reliance is likely to increase as the AI methods become more effective. AI can analyse data and find the optimal routes for a logistics operation quicker and more effectively than traditional software or humans, and the nature of the technology means that it will only improve with use.
  • Self-driving vehicles: Route planning software developers will be planning for this shift in logistics operations, and it is likely that this type of software will start incorporating the functionality to manage self-driving fleet vehicles soon.
  • More automation: Route planning on this scale is all about efficiency—every small improvement that can be made enhances the efficiency of the overall operation, making for a better service, lower costs, and higher profits. Developers will be looking to automate as many tasks as they can going forward, reducing the need for human oversight wherever possible.