What is route planning software?

There are many tools that haulage and logistics operators can use to give their businesses the edge they need to thrive in an ever-increasingly competitive and regulated environment. This is especially important in a tough economic climate that makes it difficult to remain profitable and grow.

Digital transformation is at the core of setting up a business for success and growth in a world where consumers are becoming more demanding, wanting their orders quicker, with greater visibility of the entire process, and with lower tolerance for slow or sub-standard service.

Efficient and accurate transport planning, and specifically delivery route planning, is key. But route planning today isn’t what it used to be. It’s a far more sophisticated and automated process now and opens up tremendous opportunity to positively transform your business and day-to-day operations.

What is transport planning?

Transport planning is the planning needed to operate and manage facilities and services for transport operators. This helps them be safer, faster, more efficient, and above all, in compliance with strict regulations. Transport planning helps predict demand, enabling operators to plan and ensure that all resources are available to meet the predicted demand.

Transport planning is essential for all hauliers and transport operators to make sure their operations run effectively.

What is transport planning software?

Transport planning software are the computer applications that hauliers and transport operators use to plan every aspect of how they’ll move goods accurately, on time, and with the correct vehicles. Transport planning software can also be used to calculate which transport orders can be combined into one vehicle to save time and money. Modern transport planning software is highly sophisticated and does all the planning. The user can easily make adjustments as necessary, accommodating drivers and customers or making provision for unforeseen situations. Once the planning is done, the planner sends the plan to the on-board computers in the lorries.

What is route planning?

Route planning, also referred to as route mapping, is the process of working out the most efficient and most economical routes for drivers to take to get from one destination to the next, especially when they have to make multiple delivery stops. Route optimisation may or may not form part of route planning.

Why is route planning important?

Route planning and optimisation are essential to enhance productivity and profitability in your business, increase convenience for drivers, and improve customers’ experience of your transportation and delivery service. Here’s how:

Cuts expenses

High fuel and vehicle maintenance costs are a significant challenge for every transport operator. The cost burden is made worse by:

  • Vehicles idling in traffic, burning fuel
  • Drivers spending too many hours behind the wheel due to unplanned travel routes
  • Fuel wasted when drivers need to backtrack
  • Higher vehicle wear and tear on routes that are longer than necessary

Route optimisation helps businesses overcome these challenges. With route planning software, efficient route creation can be automated. The software algorithm creates an optimised route solution, and the operator can then make small adjustments as necessary before the driver sets off.

Improves customer service

Haulage operators can provide real-time GPS tracking for their customers. Thanks to faster deliveries and speedy response times, they can enhance business productivity and ultimately provide a better experience for the customer.

Helps to improve planning

Planning is vital if your business makes deliveries to multiple destinations in a day. You need to be on top of the different places that drivers need to go and stops they need to make. Better planning makes it easy for you to manage deliveries to multiple destinations.

Increases business productivity

Your business will have multiple tasks that need to be carried out daily. In turn, the list of destinations will also increase, bringing challenges with it. Accurate route optimisation software helps your business overcome these challenges. Creating an optimised route plan will help you reach more places in a day.

Increases safety

Sending drivers to destinations without any means of direction will result in significant waste of time and effort and increased levels of stress as they drive unfamiliar roads, sit in traffic, and navigate road closures and road diversions.

This can lead to frustration and anxiety as drivers face more risks on the road. Safety and remaining calm and in control are top priority, and this is only possible if they have clear routes planned.

What is route planning software?

Route planning software enables fleet managers to plan routes in advance, reroute in real time, and monitor stops. This helps to improve productivity and reliability. Unplanned or unnecessarily lengthy stops can be eliminated, fuel efficiency enhanced, and disruptions to customer service avoided.

The three main types of route planning are:

  • Dynamic route planning: Available assets are identified and rerouted as needed.
  • Multi-stop route planning and scheduling: For trips that require multiple stops.
  • Plan versus actual route comparison: This enables fleet managers to compare planned routes with real-time telematics data.

What are route planning methods?

There are multiple ways to plan your delivery routes. It depends on who you are and what your needs are. Let’s start by breaking down the methods that some people use right now.

Pen and paper

The oldest and most traditional method of route planning. It takes ages to analyse, plan, and share the route information with drivers.

And thanks to variable factors like traffic, weather, construction, customer satisfaction, and availability, it’s never up-to-date. The more customers and drivers you have, the longer it takes.

Excel (Spreadsheet)

Excel requires a lot of manual manipulation.

Efficient route planning cannot be done in Excel due to the lack of a map feature. It’s just a way to neatly compile routes and information, but nothing more.

Google maps

While it offers some great features, Google Maps cannot provide all the tools a haulier needs. Dynamic route optimisation isn’t possible either.

Google Maps only offers straightforward route planning with turn-by-turn navigation between two points.

Route planner app

Many modern route planning apps offer excellent solutions and features that fit users’ specific needs.

The benefits of decreasing the time it takes to plan routes

When planning time is cut down to minutes instead of spending hours on considering all the different factors to work out the best routes, it has many benefits for your haulage operation: 

Enables more efficient planning at the warehouse

Receiving orders for the following day sooner puts warehouse managers in a better position to accurately plan the labour required to pick the orders and load them onto trucks. 

Dispatching happens more efficiently

When dispatchers receive accurate route plans quicker, last-minute dispatch changes are less likely, for example when drivers are about to run out of driver hours. Dispatchers have more time to avoid last-minute crises and ensure dispatching and delivery happens without problems. 

Delivery times are reduced

Cutting the time required to get through a delivery cycle for a day leads to more satisfied customers as their deliveries happen within a shorter timeframe. It also ensures that drivers are more content as their deliveries are achievable and they can get home sooner. Considering the reality of the shortage of qualified drivers, it’s important to look after them so they won’t look for other employment. 

Cut-off times for orders are extended

Order cut-off times for next-day deliver depend on the time it takes to finalise route planning and how long it takes to pick order items and load them into trucks. The longer it takes to complete route planning and picking and loading, the earlier your order cut-off time needs to be on the day before. If you can save hours on route planning, you can extend your cut-off time by that same amount of time and take in more orders. 

Planners can use their time more effectively

The time saved when planners don’t have to spend hours planning routes can be used to focus on activities that are more important for the business strategically.

Benefits of route planning software

For small and medium-sized businesses, advanced route planning software offers performance and integration similar to what much larger companies have.

These so-called ‘invisible’ benefits, referred to as invisible because they aren’t initially obvious, become much more apparent over time. Advanced route optimisation software can transform a company.

Expected cost reductions typically range between 10 and 30%, and the expected return on investment (ROI) on the software is usually 3 to 12 months.

Benefits include:

Improved on-time delivery

Detailed and accurate route plans mean you are likely to deliver on time consistently and predictably. This gives your business the competitive edge it needs to thrive.

Increased customer satisfaction

More than ever, customers need hauliers to provide delivery services within tight windows. Route optimisation software enables you to plan routes that meet deadlines, give customers more accurate ETAs, and allow you to proactively communicate status of deliveries in progress.

Later order cut-off and picking times

Manual route planning can take hours. This means next-day deliveries need to be scheduled long before the trucks leave the warehouse or distribution centre. With advanced route optimisation software, multiple routes can be planned in minutes. That means order receiving windows can be extended.

Respond to unexpected changes

Your business needs to be able to respond to situations quickly and efficiently. Many businesses have been forced to pivot to home delivery and omnichannel fulfilment. Demand is becoming more difficult to predict, while the driver shortage will remain a challenge for the foreseeable future. Route planning software allows businesses to adapt quickly and in the most efficient way.

Powerful business insights

Any potential new clients can be assessed with detailed and accurate cost-to-serve estimates. The accounts department will have more accurate information, and the marketing team can plan promotions around seasonal surges.

The executive team can run ‘what if’ scenarios to determine different cost and service implications, such as:

  • What if we relocated to a more central distribution area?
  • How much will we save if we use smaller trucks?
  • What if we take on a client who has stores in neighbouring countries?

Route optimisation software can help businesses run scenarios to determine potential costs, time to market, and more, without having to spend any money.

Thanks to advanced route planning software, any transportation function in a business can become efficient, agile, and always retain the edge required to stay ahead of the competition.

Difference between static and dynamic routes

Static routes, also known as master routes, have fixed schedules. The stops on the route will always be the same regardless of the order volume.

Dynamic routes depend on the order mix and volume on the day with a unique route and stop sequence.

Types of route planning

Manual route planning

Manual route planning is the earliest and most basic form of route planning. Many logistics operations still use manual processes to plan their transport services. This means using pen and paper, or at the very least, a basic program like Excel to plan routes.

Automated route planning

Automated route planning uses advanced route planning software to automate these tedious processes. This enables planners to focus on other tasks, while only needing to make basic changes before the route is finalised.

What is route optimisation?

Simply put, route optimisation is the process of determining the best route for a driver to take. But, while route optimisation may differ for every company, basics such as efficiency, cost savings, and regulatory compliance are non-negotiables. What are the benefits of route optimisation? Let’s take a look.

Benefits of route optimisation

Since time is money, the first obvious benefit of route optimisation is that it can lower the operational costs of running your haulage business. Cost savings happen in several ways, but there also many other benefits:

Cut down on fuel spend

Optimising a driver’s router can lower their fuel usage. Fuel cost, along with driver salaries, account for up to 60% of the operational cost of a trucking mile, so it can make a big difference to a company’s bottom line.

Increase business income per driver

When delivery routes are optimised, you can control driver scheduling more tightly according to planned routes and expected hours. By reducing labour costs, you can increase your business’s revenue per driver.

Schedule drivers more accurately

Ensure that the proper number of drivers are scheduled. This ensures your business remains in compliance with drivers’ hours .

Reduce maintenance costs

Save on vehicle maintenance costs. Vehicles spend less time on the road, resulting in less wear and tear.

Monitor routes

Monitor vehicles in real time, enabling you to manage drivers and answer customer questions.

Reduce human error

Reduce the chances of making errors, as complex routes exponentially increase the chance of human error. Use the additional time to troubleshoot other issues or improve customer experiences.

Increase employment efficiencies

Changing from manual planning to route planning software, planners can spend their time on more business-critical management activities, including other ways to find cost efficiencies and improve customer service.

Improve safe driving

Routing and scheduling software can be set up so routes include fewer U-turns or left turns, which have been shown to pose more risk than making right turns or driving straight. Drivers can also simply focus on driving safely, without having to make route or stop decisions.

Keep customers happy

Customers who consistently receive their orders on time are more satisfied and as a result, more likely to be loyal to your company and bring return business.

What is truck routing?

Truck routing is the process of determining and building the best routes for lorries to take, namely ones that are cost-efficient, fast, and suited to the lorry. Route optimisation software looks at vehicle and road constraints, drivers’ working hours, traffic, bridges, and anything that could affect delivery time to help determine the best routes.

Routing can be done manually but is nearly impossible to achieve perfectly without the help of dedicated route planning software.

If you have a fleet that consists of more than two vehicles, it’s always best to use dedicated software.

How to plan truck routes using a route planner

Vehicle routing software solutions and truck route planner can map all the necessary stops along a route in just a few seconds. The best and most efficient route will always be chosen, saving users lots of time. Once planned, the route is dispatched to the selected drivers’ apps on their smartphones, tablets, or laptops.

All commercial vehicle and truck route planning requires dedicated software for optimal results. Truck or lorry apps for commercial vehicle routes, truck route planning software, fleet routing and scheduling software, delivery route planning software, a route management system, logistics route planning software, haulage planning software, or route mapping software – whatever the provider decides to call it – all work on the same principle.

Here’s how to plan a truck route in eight easy steps:

1. Build your fleet on the app

Once your haulage or logistics business has settled on a service, the first thing you’ll need to enter is the details of your fleet. This is a laborious but one-time process. Information that you might need to enter into the software includes:

  • Lorry brand, model, and engine size
  • Lorry height and width
  • Trailer length
  • Combined weight
  • Maximum weight per axle

2. Add regular delivery addresses

Once the lorries have been added, you’ll need to add regular customers’ shipping addresses. Most route planning software won’t cap the amount of addresses you can add.

3. Choose how you want to optimise

An optimised route won’t look the same for every company. A good route planner will allow you to choose how to optimise, including driver hours, fuel spend, shortest route, most efficient route, and more.

If your business operates a mixed commercial fleet, you would choose the mixed fleet options and have the software optimised according to the mixed fleet option.

4. Choose the start and end points

Next, you’ll have to choose where each route starts and terminates. This is a vital step in ensuring that the best routes are selected. This can include:

  • Round trip (same stop as start)
  • A designated start and end
  • Closest spot to the driver

5. Add rules

You’ll need to operate according to your business’s own constraints, customer requirements, and regulatory framework. You’ll need to add these in so that the software can work within the framework for your business. Additional settings include:

  • Time frames
  • Maximum travel distance
  • Maximum and minimum stops
  • Maximum and minimum packages per route
  • Order priority

6. Optimise your route

Once a route has been created, you can fine-tune and adjust it as you would prefer. This allows you to take full control of every route. Truck routing software allows you to make these changes in seconds, whereas manually optimising truck routes can take hours, wasting time and resources. Manual optimisation also increases the chance of human error, which can cause financial harm to the company and place drivers in distress.

Optimisation process for truck routes or commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) are more complex than regular route planning processes. Aside from vehicle load capacity, regulatory restrictions need to be adhered to as well. If trucks aren’t allowed on certain roads or parts of the city, the software will help drivers avoid these roads and areas. If you manually plan a route and fail to comply with these rules, you might end up with hefty fines and other legal implications, impacting your profit margins.

7. Dispatch drivers to routes

Once optimised, routes are then assigned to drivers. If the load or the vehicle requires a special skill that only one driver has, the correct driver can be assigned to that vehicle.

8. Track and monitor drivers and make changes

You can track the driver’s route progress on a live map as the driver navigates a planned route. You can also send changes or additional requests in real time.

The future of route planning

While online shopping has changed buyer habits, the largest shift happened at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. Businesses needed to adapt to modern consumer needs.

Businesses that haven’t made adjustments for this new scenario are being left behind.

Demand for last-mile delivery is expected to grow by up to 78 percent by 2030. While there are free services that make route planning easier, the true future of optimised route planning lies in dedicated, intelligent software.

1. Google maps

While Google Maps has been around for a while, it still isn’t a contender against dedicated route planning software. Google Maps does offer an option for quick reroutes by factoring in accidents and traffic snarl-ups in real time. So, it offers some basic functionality that drivers might need.

2. The internet of things

Internet of things (IoT) is an interconnection of physical devices that then transfer data between each point over the internet. Uptake of IoT devices should increase in 2022 and is likely to rise thanks to 5G networks.

IoT enhances visibility and real-time tracking thanks to sensors installed in vehicles. These sensors can track fuel consumption, wastage, and more, helping the business to save money.

3. Autonomous vehicles

Autonomous vehicles are increasingly being put on the road every day. While regulations aren’t yet set in stone, the use of autonomous vehicles will likely be heavily regulated.

Many large hauliers and transport operators have started investing in this new technology. While not intended to replace drivers, autonomous vehicles are designed to do the heavy lifting, allowing drivers to intervene as necessary.

4. Drivers will always be needed

Drivers set the standard for the business. They can and should never be replaced. That’s why the driver shortage across the UK needs to be addressed as a matter of great urgency and more drivers trained and hired that can help keep the economy going.

Every new piece of technology, whether it’s tracking, IoT devices, or real-time updates, are all aimed at helping drivers perform at their best and not be punished for every small mistake.

Proper driving habits can significantly impact fuel consumption in a positive way and cut the costs of vehicle maintenance.

What innovative providers offer

Allow you to manage expectations throughout the journey

Satnavs that integrate with a  transport management system (TMS) give HGV drivers truck-optimised routes to follow and ETA alerts to keep your team and customers informed.

Provide live ETA progress and exception alerts

When stops are sent to a navigation app ETAs can be raised as soon as the driver starts navigation. These ETAs can be sent by SMS or email to you, the relevant customers, and the contacts at collection and delivery sites. As the journey continues, the navigation app continually re-evaluates each ETA. If an ETA changes by 5 minutes or more, a new SMS or email is sent, keeping everyone informed, in real time, of the driver’s progress.

Get the right route for each vehicle

Routes are optimised using the vehicle’s dimensions, number of trailers, and whether you want to avoid difficult turns and toll roads. These settings can be saved at fleet or vehicle level in your TMS and passed to a navigation app to save time. Drivers can be prompted to check the settings before navigation begins and to change them if necessary, giving you full control of each journey’s specifics.

Simple, intuitive navigation displays and offline maps

Navigation displays can use standard map symbols, with 2D or 3D views and day or night themes and simulation modes can allow drivers to study a virtual route in advance.

Maps for different regions and countries should be downloadable to use offline when there is no internet connection, with automatic detection of downloaded maps that prompts the user to replace saved copies.

Spoken directions in different languages

Voice instructions, with turn-by-turn navigation, should be available in most languages, with text-to-speech and pre-recorded voice skins. Pre-recorded voice skins provide basic manoeuvre instructions such as “turn right in 200 metres”, while text-to-speech voices also provide spoken street names, for example, “turn right in 200 metres onto Northumberland Street”.

Add stops manually or send them from a mobile app for drivers

Drivers should be able to add the stops they need to visit in different ways. Manually, by doing a simple address search or by picking a destination from a list of saved addresses, or using a driver smartphone (mobile) app to send a single address or an entire route to a navigation app. The should also be able to rearrange the order of stops easily, for example by dragging and dropping them where they want them to be.