Roy Schijns, vice president sales of ALK Technologies' PC*Miler product line, offers a useful distinction: "Routing is planning and navigation is execution. Or in other words, routing is what you do before you leave and navigation is what you do when you are in the truck."
And mapping? "The mapping piece is where the coolness function comes into play. Everyone likes to look at really detailed, color maps." Taken together, each of these elements contributes to a carrier's ability to deliver a load in an efficient and profitable manner.
In-cab navigation with full-color maps is fairly new, but effective routing solutions have been around for some time and represent a basic function of most transportation management systems. "Routing is about finding the shortest or most practical route based on all the input variables of distance and restrictions," Schijns says. This "most practical route" becomes the measuring stick for developing profitable routes.
"The basic premise of fleet management software is to reduce your deadhead miles by planning better," says Rick Halbrooks, vice president sales, McLeod Software. That planning means using software to develop routes that better reflect the actual mileage a truck will run on a particular load.
"Mileage is the basis of payment in the truckload environment," says Ben Murphy, vice president, optimization software for TMW Systems. When bidding on business, those mileage calculations need to be as accurate as possible.
Getting the most out of a routing module often means it should integrate with mileage data and a mobile communications system. Using data from sources such as PC*Miler, Rand McNally or other mileage products, a fleet transportation management system can crunch out the most practical routes for a truck to take. When it's combined with mobile communications and tracking systems, a fleet manager can monitor how the truck is progressing along its route.
Saving Miles - and Money
Taken together, these systems help fleets get a better handle on the two types of extra miles all carriers must contend with. The first is the difference between the bid mileage and the actual miles needed to pick up the load and haul it over the most practical truck route. The second type refers to the difference between the routed miles and the miles the driver actually drives.
"These deviations are what erode a carrier's margins," Murphy notes. "When a driver gets dispatched, the system will route through all the stops on that order and produce the most truck-worthy route that is as close as possible to the book route - the mileage the carrier will get paid on. Then once you give the driver a route, you can monitor that driver to make sure he stays on it," via the mobile communications system.
"Out of route miles are really critical. If a driver takes a circuitous route to a destination, it can cost a lot of money with fuel prices the way they are now," says Norm Ellis, vice president and general manager for Qualcomm Wireless Business Solutions.
Recent advances in management software include the ability to include preferred fuel stops along a route, and the routing system will take the driver right to the truckstop.
As Murphy explains it, the route line becomes a basis point along which fuel stops are plotted based on factors such as a carrier's fuel network, how far off the route a fuel stop may lie and fuel prices. "It creates an advantage for the carrier because it can take advantage of the variation of fuel prices along that route. Diesel can vary as much as a dollar a gallon coast to coast. Given the distance a truck can travel between fuel stops, optimizing these stops within the route can force a truckstop in Dallas to compete with a truckstop in Atlanta."
Not only do fleets want to reduce deadhead miles, but they also want to minimize the driver's unproductive time, such as the missed opportunities when a truck is late to the dock. "We've heard situations of a truck missing the window for delivery and having to wait hours for another slot to become available - hours that he could have been making money driving," says Amy Krouse, marketing director at Rand McNally.
Once a driver has been given a route, these systems can track any deviation from the route and alert dispatchers. Most systems allow the user to set parameters for such notifications. Realizing a driver may need to go off route for food or fuel, a dispatcher may set the notification feature to send an alert if the truck goes more than three miles off route. At that point, the dispatcher can contact the driver to determine why he is off route.
Reaching the Little Guy
Just as enterprise management systems are commonplace in larger fleets, routing systems are also used by virtually all the largest fleets. One industry observer estimates that for fleets of 200 or more trucks, the percentage using a routing package is probably very close to 100 percent, with the ratio dropping quickly for fleets below 200 trucks. One reason for this is that smaller fleets do not typically have the IT infrastructure necessary to run these systems.
But smaller fleets increasingly can take advantage of Web-based products that provide routing and other capabilities.
For instance, Xora, Mountain View, Calif., offers XRoutes, a Web-based routing system designed for local delivery and service fleets.
Mike Berger, director of marketing at Xora, says the product is designed for small to medium-sized businesses that are creating routes manually. The Xora system generates optimal routes based on factors such as how much cargo a truck can hold, arrival time windows, etc., and then divvies up the day's loads across the delivery fleet.
Once established, the routes are dispatched out to drivers' handsets and those drivers go about their routes. Throughout the day, this information is updated through the handset in real-time so dispatchers can see how they are doing in terms of schedule and make adjustments if necessary.
Xora's not the only Web-based solution out there. For instance, Prophesy Transportation Solutions launched a free online version of its commercial mileage software to cater to smaller over-the-road trucking companies. Prophesy webMiler Free provides point-to-point routing based on the most practical commercial miles. ProMiles also offers its mileage and routing application in a Web-based format.
The Future of Routing
The next step for routing systems will be generating routes based on predictive analytics.
ALK's Schijns says among the things customers are asking for is "real-time predictive modeling of routes and traffic flow. It's not just about the shortest point or the most practical route, but based on the time of day, what is the likelihood of there being congestion in certain areas and getting ahead of that curve by avoiding the traffic jam before hitting the traffic jam."
Xora includes TrafficSmart in its XRoutes product. TrafficSmart uses historical and real-time traffic data from a variety of sources to determine optimal vehicle routes. The system uses the historical data to predict traffic flow, while the real-time data can override the historical data for things like road work, road closures, detours, etc. In addition, Xora's Web-based maps provide a visual indicator of traffic flow, so if something unexpected, such as an auto accident, occurs while a vehicle is en route, the dispatcher can quickly communicate an alternate route to the driver.
Rand McNally's IntelliRoute software features roadwork construction updates, which alerts dispatchers to changes such as road widenin