Need-to-Know Route Planning Basics That Can Make or Break a Business

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Whether you run a large or small business, you’re probably looking for ways to save time and money. Effective route planning is one of the best savings opportunities for delivery and field service companies. 

Route planning involves calculating the most efficient route between cities. You might be thinking, “that seems pretty straightforward!” Here’s the thing, it’s more complicated than you think. 

When the number of destinations on a route grows, the calculations get more complex. In just fifteen cities, there are over 87 billion possible round trips. This is not as simple as typing a single address into Google Maps and selecting the shortest round-trip route. 

Finding the shortest possible route with multiple destinations while starting and ending with one common point is known as the traveling salesman problem (TSP). The term was coined in 1930. You may think the issue has been resolved by now, but it’s still a significant complication for businesses across the country. Fortunately, there are route planning solutions available that are easy to implement.

To navigate to the sections that interest you the most, see below:

What Is Route Planning?

Route planning answers the question, “how do I get from point A to point B?” However, it’s not that simple. There’s a lot more that contributes to effective route planning.

Route planning (also referred to as “route sequencing” or “route mapping”) often involves more than one destination. It can encompass as little as one stop and back again, or it can be as complex as tens, even hundreds of destinations per route. 

Route planning solutions use advanced algorithms to find the most efficient and practical path to complete the task. An effective route planner will easily meet your workforce, management, and last mile needs.

What Is Route Planning in Logistics?

Logistics companies are responsible for moving a client’s goods from one place to another by operating short-haul or long-haul routes. Whatever the route type, there are complexities involved, such as equipment availability, material handling factors, or specific skilled personnel requirements. It gets more complicated as logistics companies have to account for regulations on how many hours a driver can operate a vehicle or the transfer of product from one type of transportation to another, e.g., air to truck. 

Building routes to meet all these requirements that are also efficient is a difficult task. But maintaining efficiency is essential for logistics businesses to keep vehicle fuel costs and wear and tear low while maximizing driver output. In other words, fewer costs and more profit!

For logistics businesses looking to maximize output, minimize expenses, and improve customer experience, route planning in transportation is the key to a successful operation.

5 key benefits of route planning in logistics

Route planning is critical for logistics businesses and offers multiple benefits.

1. Automation

Some companies rely on manual route planning processes such as studying past routes and individually plotting destinations. This process is time-consuming and leads to poorly optimized routes. Utilizing automation in the route planning process means analyzing information in real time. This means more effective problem-solving that is faster in critical situations. Automation helps businesses save both money and time. 

2. Real time visibility

Real time visibility of your fleet allows for delivery monitoring, meeting customer expectations, and decreasing operation costs. Live insights mean businesses are never out of the loop, and issues can be handled as they arise.

3. Decreased fuel consumption

One of the biggest expenses for a logistics company is fuel. With proper route planning, fuel costs are dramatically decreased by ensuring that the most efficient routes are taken.

4. Greater delivery productivity

In a world where same-day delivery is the norm, route planning is crucial for a business’s delivery operations. Route planning with a real time component also makes it possible to stay on top of delays and communicate them effectively to customers.

5. Seamless multi-drop delivery

Multi-drop delivery is a staple of last mile delivery businesses. It’s largely made possible with smart route planning. Grouping customers on the same route for one vehicle is accomplished with a click of a button rather than painstakingly typing in each address manually and analyzing the distance between them. 

What Is Route Planning and Monitoring?

Route planning involves strategically building routes designed to make the most of limited resources while ensuring all tasks are correct and on time. Route monitoring works in tandem with that goal by recording the activity log on those routes. 

Let’s say a route is set for a driver. Instead of setting the route and crossing your fingers, route monitoring lets you watch the driver’s progress as they go. 

It’s an easy way to keep tabs on your fleet and look out for traffic delays, breakdowns, or other unexpected deviations from the plan. 

Route monitoring empowers business owners to make decisions in real time. This positively impacts the performance of their fleet and their customers’ satisfaction.

5 Key benefits of route planning and monitoring

Route planning and monitoring work hand-in-hand. Combining the advantages of both, you get the best control over your fleet and the best possible results. Let’s not forget these great benefits:

1. Real time status updates

Rather than flying blind, route monitoring gives fleet managers a birds-eye view of their drivers. This allows them to deal with challenges as they arise.  

2. Geofencing

Well-planned routes only work when drivers stick to them. When your route monitoring solution offers geofencing, you’ll be notified should one of your drivers veer from their assigned route. 

3. Planning

When fleet managers fully understand every driver’s progress, they can better allocate resources and maximize each driver’s availability. That means better fleet utilization, fuel consumption, and results for your business.

4. Elimination of inefficiencies

There was a time when frequent phone calls were required between managers and drivers to deliver updates and adjust plans on the fly. With software offering active route monitoring, inefficiencies like that are easily eliminated. 

5. Positive customer service 

If you know where your drivers are, you can also give your customers the convenience of knowing. Route monitoring gives you accurate data to include in email or SMS updates with an accurate ETA to your customers.  

Why Is Planning a Route Important?

Route planning helps companies run more smoothly. This smooth sailing doesn’t just affect business owners; it affects managers, drivers, and customers. Planning a route effectively can dramatically improve a business’s performance, help cut fuel costs, and maximize driver output. Everyone enjoys a better experience with route planning. 

It also makes it easier for fleet managers to oversee their drivers and manage any issues that arise in real time. Finally, it makes clear communication with customers easier.

Many organizations leverage route planning and optimization to identify areas where changes are needed within their operations to improve results. While a route plan will get you from point A to B, an optimized route will take into count all possible variables to get you to the destination faster and more efficiently.

Here’s a typical use case for basic route planning: Company ABC needs to make deliveries to ten destinations using route planning for two drivers. The company uses a basic mapping tool to manually plot out a route for each driver based on proximity. The deliveries are made but not necessarily in the most efficient way.

Here’s a use case where route optimization is utilized: Company ABC has ten deliveries to make with two drivers and needs to optimize their routes based on schedule, vehicle availability, and geographical requirements for the most efficient possible routes. Using automated route planning software, they create a plan incorporating all the necessary factors to accomplish the deliveries and allow the drivers to complete their routes in less time and with fewer fuel costs.

As you can see, route planning and route optimization are different but go hand in hand. While it’s easy to plan a simple route, optimizing it for maximum efficiency is much harder. Businesses with an eye on efficiency utilize delivery route planning software to identify areas for improvement and determine how to make those necessary changes. 

How to Do Route Planning 

A well-planned route doesn’t just come together by chance–it takes a thoughtful approach and consideration of many different factors. Without specialized software, people use maps and their familiarity with the area to plan a route, or they may use online mapping tools that plot destinations but fail to optimize routes.

Online tools like Google Maps or MapQuest might be effective options for planning a road trip route or a simple delivery schedule. Still, the limited number of stops (10 for Google Maps, 26 for MapQuest) and the lack of route optimization capabilities are less than ideal for businesses looking to maximize efficiency.  

For business owners running a delivery or field service operation, you’ll likely benefit from using dedicated route planning software built specifically to handle the needs of logistics organizations. 

You can use multiple tools to get the job done, but here’s what you need to know in the planning process if you want your route plan to be effective. 

Plot all of your locations on a single map

It starts with the basics. Compile all of the destinations your driver or drivers will need to visit. Then plot them on a single map using your delivery route planner. You’ll begin to see which locations are close in proximity and could potentially be grouped together. 

Factors to consider: As you plot your locations, remember that while two locations might be close, it doesn’t mean they’re best suited to be grouped in sequence. As you map out your route, things like one-way streets or special delivery requirements, like timing, can come into play. 

Account for how long each stop will take

Each stop on a route comes with different time requirements. For example, delivery to a busy commercial plaza could require a longer time allotment than a residential delivery in a low-traffic suburb. The time involved will also vary greatly based on the service provided—such as delivery or installation, curbside drop-off, or in-home placement. 

Factors to consider: As you lay out the locations on your map, carefully consider the time required for each stop. This will help you appropriately allocate resources and ensure you’re not creating a route that can’t be completed in the required time.

Consider special situations

Many delivery companies and field service providers recognize that few jobs are exactly the same. Some stops on the route may require special equipment, skills, or knowledge that must be accounted for in the planning process. 

Factors to consider: Consider whether any stops require special equipment, e.g., forklifts, vehicles with wheelchair access, etc., and see if those stops can be grouped together. In the case of time window requirements, try to line up deliveries or service appointments to accommodate the other. Make sure each unique situation is provided for in the plan, e.g., a catering delivery of hot food will require a different approach than that of cold food.

What Is the Best Route Planner to Use?

The best route planner for the job depends largely on the case. If you’re planning a route for a road trip or only need to map a route occasionally, you might be able to make do with a minimal software solution like the AAA route planning TripTik software, Google Maps, or the MapQuest route planner. 

On the other hand, if you’re a business operator looking to maximize your business’s performance while enhancing the bottom line, you’d likely benefit from implementing a full-service solution like OptimoRoute that offers a wider feature set. 

There are many different types of route planning. The best route planning software varies based on your individual needs. 

Is there a free road trip planner? 

Many free online route planners with multiple stop functions like AAA, MapQuest, and Google Maps can be used for planning a road trip–even if they don’t offer unlimited stops. 

That might be a problem considering one of the most common phrases people search for online is “free route planner with unlimited stops.” While there aren’t any free road trip planners with unlimited stops widely available, the previously mentioned options should suffice for a simple road trip. 

What is the best free route planner?

Popular free route planner app solutions include big names like Google Maps and MapQuest. Still, some users are disappointed with the lack of features, especially those looking at route planning software for small business purposes.

When hunting for the best route planner free of charge, consider your primary needs and ensure the software you’re considering meets them. Here is a route planning example. If you’re looking for truck routing software, you’ll likely want to ensure that the software you choose offers geofencing, real time updates, dynamic routing, a user-friendly mobile app for drivers, and the ability to plan for height and weight limits, road limitations for large trucks, mandatory rest break tracking, etc. In a specific case like that, finding a free route planner that ticks all the boxes might be challenging.

Can Google Maps do route planning?

Google Maps has over 150 million monthly users, so it’s no secret that it can be used for planning a route. The perks of Google Maps are that it’s a completely free route planning system that offers a street view option in most locations, offline mode for areas with low cellular connectivity, and hands-free navigation with voice directions. 

Even though Google Maps is capable of route planning free of charge and is a popular choice for everyday users, it leaves much desired for professional use. Unlike software built specifically for businesses, Google Maps only accommodates limited stops, doesn’t always prioritize the fastest route, and has few of the functionalities we’ve outlined as highly useful to professionals.

Can MapQuest do route planning?

MapQuest is capable of route planning and offers a free route planner app, but there are limitations. If you’re an infrequent user with relatively simple needs, e.g., only one driver with few stops, it might get the job done. As the list of requirements gets longer, it’s more difficult for MapQuest to keep up. 

Businesses looking for effective route planning need to control inputs like delivery time windows. They often require real time updates that they can use to manage their resources and communicate status updates to customers. MapQuest doesn’t offer these features. Therefore, it might do the trick for personal use, but making it work for professionals is a stretch. 

Best Route Optimization Software

If you manage a fleet of delivery vehicles, a field sales team, or logistics, you will notice significant operational efficiencies by utilizing route optimization software. With better route planning, fleet-based businesses can save more time and fuel while delivering better customer service.

The big question is…which software to choose? What is the best route optimization software, free or paid? There are hundreds of options to choose from, so the best place to start is to determine the features you should be looking for.

At a basic level, route optimization software should help drivers spend less time on the road, increase the number of stops they can make daily, save route planning time, and reduce fuel and vehicle maintenance costs. 

On a more advanced level, these are some of the key features you’ll want to look for:

Automated planning

Imagine reducing your time spent on route planning from hours to seconds. Automated planning allows you to simply import a list of your destinations, click a button, and have the most efficient routes mapped out for you. The best route planners adjust and reschedule your routes as changes occur from moment to moment, automatically sending notifications to customers, drivers, and dispatchers to keep everyone on the same page. 

Custom inputs

Whether you have vehicle specifics, e.g., loading ramps, refrigeration, etc., or time-based requirements, an effective route planning solution will allow you to easily optimize routes and schedules by allocating assets where needed.

Real time tracking

Utilizing real time data eliminates the unknown. Using route planning software that offers real time tracking allows you to keep track of your drivers, view ETAs, and deliver up-to-the-minute updates to customers. It also allows managers to make informed decisions when challenges arise and adjust routes in real time to handle things like a driver calling in sick or last-minute orders.

Mobile friendly

The best route optimization software, free or paid, should offer a mobile-friendly solution. That means an app for drivers or field service workers to receive and send important updates. A well-developed app will offer proof of delivery tools like the ability to capture digital signatures, photos, and notes.

API integration

You want to ensure your systems speak to each other seamlessly. That means choosing a route planning software free of headaches (or as few as possible). A large factor to consider when minimizing hassles is finding a solution that offers an easy-to-use API that supports end-to-end integration with your CRM, POS, ERP, FSM, or any other system you have in place. 

Analytics

There’s a lot of data to be analyzed in building, operating, and optimizing your routes. Without the ability to sort that data efficiently, you can’t take advantage of potential insights that help you improve the efficiency of your routes. That’s why you’ll want to choose a route optimization software that generates and sorts route data to identify areas of opportunity and determines where to make adjustments. 

Customer feedback

Getting customer feedback from your clients should be easy, and the best route planning solutions automate the process. With the automation of customer feedback, customers are prompted to give feedback once the delivery or service has been completed. That gives businesses another data point to improve their operation. 

The bottom line

There are lots of route planning solutions available these days. Your most important task is to identify the individual needs of your business and the must-have features to make your life easier.

Once you’ve pinpointed the features necessary for your business, explore some of the most reputable solutions on the market and consider taking advantage of them.

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