Distribution by the Book
Automated routing helps Scholastic Book Fairs turn the page on inefficiency..
Scholastic Book Fairs, a division of Lake Mary, Fla.-based publisher and distributor Scholastic, logs a lot of miles delivering books to schools around the country.
The world's largest publisher and distributor of children's books, Scholastic distributes nationally to school-based book clubs and fairs, retail stores, schools, libraries, and television networks.
The company, founded in 1920, reports projected 2008 revenue of $2.2 billion and employs 10,000 people worldwide.
At Scholastic Book Fairs, schools and other organizations take delivery of books on rolling racks, giving children the opportunity to choose and read various publications. The events both expose children to books and serve as fundraisers for the host organizations.
Delivering books to more than 230,000 stops annually poses unusual challenges for the company's fleet of 298 trucks, which are dispatched from 65 locations.
One hurdle arises from the fact that most schools are located in residential neighborhoods, which requires routing schemes to consider more than just highways and main arteries.
Another of Scholastic's challenges is that drivers not only deliver the bookcases, but also pick them up and provide support for the book fair events, requiring multiple visits to the destination.
As recently as seven years ago, Scholastic planned its complex routing schedule through the efforts of 50 individuals pushing pins into maps.
"As business grew, we developed the need for an automated process," says Tony Smith, Scholastic Book Fairs' director of transportation and facilities.
"Our procedure became too cumbersome to organize manually across the country. Our approach wasn't optimized, and it didn't offer the efficiencies we needed."
Scholastic's pursuit of an automated solution led to four prospective vendors. The successful bidder was Oklahoma City-based Appian Logistics, which proposed implementing its Direct Route national routing system.
Designed to take advantage of new technology, operating systems, and hardware advancements, Direct Route optimizes routes based on customer locations and types, volume and time requirements, road network distances, vehicle costs and capabilities, customer time windows, work-time parameters, and dispatch parameters.
Getting a Read on Routing
"Our core competency is multi-stop, multi-route optimization," says James Stevenson, vice president of Appian. "For example, the solution can coordinate an order list with time windows, capacity, and different equipment restrictions that apply to certain trucks."
Scholastic looked to Appian to automate its entire routing process. "Our application is designed to optimize what Scholastic did manually," Stevenson adds. "It's not designed to replace current processes, but to make them more efficient."
Scholastic's biggest efficiency problem was underutilization of trucks. Direct Route automated loads and routing to ensure that each run carried the optimal number of books and cases—which doesn't necessarily mean the highest volume possible.
Over-utilization can also be a problem because overpacked trucks can lose efficiency by having to make too many stops in a single run.
The automation Direct Route introduced allowed Scholastic to reduce the number of people working on routing from 50 to 12, eliminating the inevitable variances of so many people planning routes.
It also helped consolidate the process so all field workers can access information from a central source.
"The program supports Scholastic's core initiative of centralizing the route planning function," Stevenson says. "Fifty people working on routing resulted in 50 different routes, which had a direct correlation to the bottom line."
Scholastic saw Direct Route as an opportunity to centralize dispatch operations. It gained the ability to more easily review recent routing decisions and learn from their results.
"I can now see how a particular branch ran its routes last week; the old, decentralized system prevented us from pulling all that information together," Smith says.
Training on the system was straightforward, and Scholastic tries to be proactive by keeping tabs on Appian and its various applications.
"We send employees to Appian's annual user conference," Smith says. "And we periodically invite Appian representatives to visit our facilities. When I came on board three years ago, we brought Appian into our routing center within the first six months to work with our routers to pinpoint inefficiencies."
Scholastic drivers have largely embraced the Direct Route system because it incorporates their input based on real-life experience.
"For example, some roads don't allow our class 7 trucks," Smith says. "So we have our drivers carry a form to identify those parts of the route."
The driver gives the information to the router, who updates the system. "We can set the system to avoid a specific route," Smith says, "even if it's just a half-mile section of road."
By incorporating such changes, the system combines driver experience with technology—a direct route to improved efficiency.