Selecting a Load and Route Optimization System
It doesn't matter if you utilize local route and delivery carriers or nationwide truckers to move your goods. Load and route optimization software systems offer an efficient way to find the best delivery routes and schedules. The key is knowing how to get to the right vendor and picking the best system for your business. John Blanchard, transportation practice leader for ESYNC, a consulting and systems integration company, offers these 10 tips for selecting a load and route optimization system.
1. Know your business needs. There are several types of route optimization. Local route and delivery and nationwide truck are two very different challenges that require different solutions. Rarely will one software package attempt to solve both, and those that do sub-optimize one or the other or both. You need to examine your needs before shopping for vendors.
2. Take time to understand the design approach of potential vendors. The degree to which a vendor's approach to solving your specific routing problem matches your needs plays a significant role in the level of success you experience. Some problems require a complex approach, employing very complicated stacks of programming, while others are better solved by simple rules-based engines.
3. Examine the vendor's origins. You will find that drilling down past a vendor's marketing materials into its past will pay dividends in your quest for the right system to meet your specific needs. Gaining a detailed understanding of what led to the birth of a particular solution will provide clues as to how good the match is for your organization. Each industry vertical and area of focus brings with it different nuances to the route optimization challenge. Vendors usually focus on one or more of these verticals when they develop their solutions. The degree to which this focus is aligned with your business will contribute to your success.
4. Look under the hood. Make a concentrated effort to understand the method by which the math is actually done. Don't stop at the user interface or even at the marketing-level information the vendor provides. Make sure that someone in your organization, or a third party, evaluates the flexibility and limitations of the science behind the software.
5. Think long term. Consider your load and route optimization needs now, as well as into the future. The software you select should have the appropriate level of sophistication to meet your short- and long-term needs. If you think all you will ever have to solve is a multi-stop truckload problem, then a system that solves only this problem is fine. But if you look out five years and see the potential to do continuous moves or multi-mode and multi-leg optimization, then consider a more complex solution.
6. Determine how much execution help you will require. It is important to understand not only your planning requirements, but how you will execute the plan once it has been generated. Some organizations have legacy and/or package Transportation Management System applications already up and running when they look for a routing package. Many companies do not. If you fit in the latter category, you should focus on vendors who offer robust execution as well as planning. If not, then be conscious of the ease with which an optimization engine can be integrated with your existing systems.
7. Consider both inbound and outbound. While most routing and optimization systems have mathematical approaches that work for both inbound and outbound, there are differences. The number and types of constraints that need to be modeled for inbound are significantly different from those needed for outbound shipments. Vendors in the marketplace have varying competencies when it comes to doing both inbound and outbound. If you have control of planning for both inbound and outbound transportation, you should look for a system that was designed with both in mind.
8. Look for innovation and passion. When you start to talk to vendors, pay attention to their attitude. Listen to what they have to say, but more importantly how they say it. The enthusiasm or lack of enthusiasm with which they deliver their message is a key factor. Ask as many detailed questions as you can about what new projects the vendors are working on and their vision of the future. This approach will help you avoid getting involved with a vendor who is not innovating, and therefore, not in a position to keep your solution current.
9. When all else fails, ask around. Get outside council and learn from others' successes and failures. Talk to peers who have installed route and load optimization systems in the past and leverage their knowledge. Don't be afraid to approach competitors who have undergone similar initiatives. The worst they can do is clam up. Consider using a third party to assist in selecting a system. This approach can fast-track the process and help avoid pitfalls.
10. Practical is as practical does. The scientific, mathematical and programming skill sets required to develop robust route and load optimization systems are way over most of our heads. System developers have often spent years obtaining and honing their skills at places such as MIT, and other universities. This often, but not always, means that they don't have as good a feel for practical considerations driven by real-world operations.Look for a vendor with balance on its development team. The best companies have great scientists and great logisticians.