At most large- and medium-sized organizations, specialized software packages now handle vehicle routing and scheduling tasks that used to be performed by personnel. Fleet routing and scheduling, a process that in the past required hours or days to accomplish and involved the labor of multiple schedulers and dispatchers, is now achieved in a matter of minutes due to advances in software design as well as to great leaps in computer processing speeds. But small firms, organizations possessing ten vehicles or less, have been largely unable to capitalize on such technological advances primarily due to cost. Small firms have not lost out completely in this area, as free online routing resources abound. But the limitations of free online routing software put a ceiling on its benefits. And the cost of more sophisticated packages has gone down enough in recent years to justify exploration on the part of small firms. Depending on the size and profitability of the firm, the benefits of adopting a solid routing and scheduling software package may well justify initial costs.
The owner of a hypothetical five-vehicle parcel delivery service seeks a robust and cost-effective vehicle routing and scheduling solution. The authors of this paper play the role of technology assessment team, sizing up the problem, evaluating all potential solutions, and suggesting a single software package.
A full-time dispatcher currently builds the parcel-delivery company’s routes using the web version of Microsoft’s Virtual Earth. The dispatcher prints the routes the day before deliveries are due, organizes them by region and driver. Printed routes are given to company drivers by hand every weekday morning. Drivers use the printouts and detailed local maps for navigation. The process is deceivingly simple. In practice, dispatching takes a significant amount of time to implement, drivers lose a good deal of time rifling through paperwork, and costly routing and scheduling errors occur regularly. If even a single driver is out, for example, schedules must be rearranged on the fly. And manual rescheduling is often poorly executed. In such cases efficiency becomes the victim of expediency. The resulting decline in customer satisfaction is often dramatic, as is the rise in overtime costs. The current method also fails with respect to the use of historical data in routing and scheduling. Important factors such as driver performance, average delivery time, and average traffic congestion are not applied in any systematic way by the dispatcher. Only a software package could effectively keep track of such factors and systematically apply them to scheduling. Another key failure of the current system is in driver directions. Printouts guide the process. But drivers thumbing through printed directions are likely to get lost, or worse yet: to cause accidents. In order to lessen the likelihood of getting lost, to prevent driver injury, and to protect company property, the delivery firm’s owner is also considering in-vehicle guidance software. Finally, the software package that is chosen must not only facilitate scheduling efficiency, profit-generation, and driver safety, but should also allow for growth in terms of vehicles as well as in terms of schedule complexity. The firm’s owner foresees a fair amount of growth within the next few years. If business goes well, the size of the company’s fleet may double in the near future. And the new software system ought to be robust enough handle the growth while faithfully carrying out its other duties.
A Note on the Exclusion of ESRI and Microsoft Products
While we had initially intended to include Microsoft’s MapPoint and ESRI’s ArcLogistics in our evaluation, we decided early on that neither of these applications is appropriate for our situation. Both require the full-time presence of a GIS specialist. And in order to reap the full benefits of either, the hiring of a software developer would be necessary. Those are generally not options for the small business.
The firm’s technology assessment team considers the following outline as reflective of the firm’s priorities and it has used this outline as a guide to evaluating software packages:
I. Routing Efficiency
A. Software uses historical data for calculation of routes?
B. Multiple driver schedules created automatically?
C. Automatically accommodates schedule and route changes?
A. System automatically keeps customers informed of delivery status? Via what method (email, phone)?
B. Handles customer phone calls?
C. Offers customer web page for delivery status?
A. Software customization? Via scripting language?
B. Thin or thick client? Both?
C. Ease of installation?
VII. Training, Maintenance, and Customer Service
A. Training included with software?
1. Total training time?
2. Training method (video, in-person, self)?
B. Maintenence included?
C. Customer service provided with software? Method (phone, email, web chat)?
Findings: An Overview
The findings of our research have been divided into the same categories as those of the above outline. Significantly weak software packages have been removed from this formal comparison, though the data tied to those packages has been left on the attached spreadsheet alongside their stronger competitors. Software package strength has been judged by the number of positive responses to the questions of each category, by question weight (some concerns are simply more important to us than others), and by cost. The packages included in the comparison below are TransCAD, MicroAnalytics, MapInfo, InterGIS, Route Solutions, and RouteSmart.
Findings: Routing Efficiency
Inefficiency in routing methodology has led this firm to seek out a routing solution. The last thing we want to do is consider a system that is inefficient in any routing-related task we think important. We have decided on four categories under which to evaluate routing efficiency. First, our software package should include a routing engine that incorporates historical data in the calculation of routes. A system that utilizes historical data might take into account average delays along certain routes during certain times of the year, for example. Second, we desire a system that can create multiple driver schedules simultaneously. Simultaneous creation of schedules will save the dispatcher a good deal of time (not to mention headache). Third, the system we select ought to seamlessly accommodate schedule and route changes. Sudden schedule and route changes can be costly, and manual rescheduling only worsens the situation. The ideal solution will automatically reroute drivers after the user notifies it of a discrepancy. This should work in tandem with driver tracking and guidance (evaluated in the next section), as drivers will have to be alerted of changes in their schedule. Finally, the ideal software package will have either no limitation to the number of vehicles it can schedule or its limitation should be higher than any number of drivers we could hope to simultaneously schedule in a single day for years to come.
The use of historical data in routing appears rare if judged by the software packages we have evaluated. Most of these packages do no such thing. Only TransCAD and MicroAnalytics offer this feature. With the exception of MapInfo, the rest of the group redeems itself when it comes to the simultaneous scheduling of multiple drivers. MicroAnalytics, however, can schedule no more than 10 drivers at a time. While we have only five trucks, we are looking to expand in the future. A ten driver limit may not be conducive to our impending expansion. Route Solutions, the only other package that has a limitation on the number of drivers or vehicles cannot work with over fifty vehicles. Fifty is a much better number in this regard. As far as the seamless accommodation of schedule and route changes are concerned, Route Solutions and MapInfo are the only two on the list that force the dispatcher to manually reroute.
Findings: Driver Tracking and Guidance
As was mentioned in the introduction, driver guidance systems are useful in preventing auto accidents and the problems associated with them as well as in lessening the chances that a driver may end up lost. Tracking is also important as it can serve to prevent late deliveries and to boost customer confidence. Under this dual category, we have placed six subcategories: work progress tracking, work-status update types, driver-guidance software, driver guidance system cost, and two more categories tied to associated hardware. The ability to track work progress is important to us for a number of reasons: (1) it will enable the dispatcher to easily update customers with regard to status, (2) it will serve to boost driver accountability, and (3) it will enable the firm to gauge driver performance. In order for work-progress to be tracked, however, drivers have to have a way to update their delivery status, so we have included method as a category as well. Driver guidance software type and whether it comes at an additional cost makes a difference to us too. We would like for drivers to be able to adjust to the guidance system with ease, and we want to avoid overpriced systems. In addition, it is important for us to know what type of driver-guidance hardware will be necessary and what type of associated accessories are necessary. Some packages require only a cell phone, while others require a PDA or a laptop as well as the hardware necessary to safely support such devices in a vehicle.
Of the software packages reviewed, only MapInfo is unable to automatically track schedules and work progress, and of those that possess this feature all are updated via either call in or email. Driver guidance software is available for three of the packages: Route Solutions, TransCAD, and MicroAnalytics. As driver guidance software is very important this firm, this criterion may well remove those packages without guidance software out of the running. Moreover, two of the three packages that offer a guidance component, TransCAD and Route Solutions, charge an additional cost for the guidance software. But does that make InterGIS the winner in this category? Probably not, as they offer no visual map solution in this regard. Their directions are 100% text. As far as hardware is concerned, InterGIS only requires a device that can receive text, Route Solutions requires a PDA or a laptop, as does TransCAD. Both Route Solutions and InterGIS will require the purchase of PDA or laptop carmounts too.
Findings: Ease of Use and Multi-User Capability
Two major considerations software are ease of use and the number of users the software can simultaneously support. A feature that makes a software package less problematic is to have everything displayed within a single screen. This makes for less confusion by not having to flip back and forth between different windows. Any GIS software should be able to provide a visual map presentation, and a good GIS should have customizable map views. Some GIS packages may have a web-enabled portion. Also a web-enabled software package may have the prospect of not having to install a standalone application on each PC. Lastly, multi-user capability is a concern. All of these characteristics can provide for ease of use and/or multi-user capability.
TransCAD has many of the same capabilities as ESRI’s ArcGIS. They have a single screen display, customizable map views, multiple tools, can incorporate, raster, vector, and tables. TransCAD has standalone applications since they are not web-enabled. Caliper does not support an SDE database like ESRI, so a multi-user capability is not one of TransCAD’s characteristics.
MapInfo again has many of the same capabilities as ESRI’s ArcGIS. They have single screen convenience, customizable map views, and visual map representation. Where they are different however, is that they are web-enabled. So each user does not have to install a standalone app to be able to view the routes. Again MapInfo is not multi-user capable.
MicroAnalytics has the positive traits of a single screen convenience and customizable map views with up to 90 different options settings. They do have a visual map representation and quick and accurate map viewing, but not necessarily real time. It is not web-enabled so each PC would have to have a standalone application installed, and this software package is not multi-user capable.
InterGIS has the convenience of a single screen, customizable map views, and visual map representation, all the essential characteristics a GIS should have. InterGIS is a standalone application. InterGIS also is multi-user capable. Both of these are commendable qualities since it is efficient to have more than one person working on a task at one time, and the “real-time” viewing allows them to make instantaneous decisions dependent upon how the traffic is moving or how the route for the day is progressing.
Route Solutions has the convenience of a single screen, customizable map views, and visual map representation, again, all the essential characteristics a GIS should have. InterGIS has the desirable quality that it is a web-enabled application so each subsequent user would not have to install a standalone application to view the data, or make changes to it.
RouteSmart has the convenience of a single screen, customizable map views, and visual map representation. This is because RouteSmart has complete interface capabilities with ESRI’s ArcView. RouteSmart also has the ability to support multiple users at once. These are all desirable traits allowing for greater flexibility and ease of use.
The type of reports that the software puts out is an important aspect since the company has to be able to use and archive these reports with existing information. The amount of sophistication that the software has in regard to these reports is as follows: low (only a set number of reports), medium (set number of reports plus some customizability), and high (customizable to the point the point where training may become necessary). Another useful quality would be if these applications had web access for the drivers to upload reports or to create reports and send them back to the dispatcher.
TransCAD outputs their reports in JPG format (maps) and text directions. Their sophistication is at a high level since they can export to ArcInfo, Atlas GIS, AutoCAD, Defense Mapping, Digital Line Graph, ETAK MapBase, Excel, Intergraph, MapInfo, Ordnance Survey, and Tiger/Line files. The only way to access their reports from the web is through email.
MapInfo creates text directions and has the ability to have web access applications for the drivers and the dispatcher(s). They can also export JPGs of maps, but other than the web access little sophistication is present in the type of reports that can be exported.
MicroAnalytics claims that their software can output many types of reports, and can interface with already existing reports like driver sheets and other pre-existing report types. This gives them a high sophistication level since the software they provide is flexible enough to conform to pre-existing report types. As for web access the software can interface with order entry systems to download customer information for smooth entry.
InterGIS is very customizable, which provides the user with great sophistication in regards to output. They do not have web access to these reports which is a pitfall. The high level of customizability is good for advanced users, but may provide some obstacles to novice users.
Route Solutions does have some options in regards to reports. The sophistication is moderate, meaning they have a few template reports but also the ability to make customized reports. They do have web access to these reports, and this is good so that drivers and out-of-office personnel can access these reports without being hooked up to the in-house server.
RouteSmart has access to all kinds of reports that are generated from ESRI’s ArcView. ESRI outputs reports that are web accessible, and this allows for distance users to access these reports.
Findings: Our Customers
Ensuring that customers receive delivery updates and parcel tracking is critical for service quality, as preventing customer dissatisfaction is a prime concern in this business. Methods of automatically providing customers information on their delivery status include email, web, phone (inbound and outbound) updates. Ideally, the software package we utilize will provide something in this area also.
Only Route Solutions and MapInfo do not update customers automatically of delivery status. Of those that do, most offer (outbound) phone and email options. RouteSmart, the only exception, offers a customer web portal as well. RouteSmart and InterGIS software can receive customer calls too.
Findings: Installation and Customization
Over the time span of owning the software many items are important to note. When the software is first installed, how easy is the installation? It is also helpful to note if the software is thick client, thin client or both. This means that if the client is “thick that it performs a large part of the work locally, of if it is thin it does little more than link the user to the server” (Longley et al, pg 23). After the software has been installed, it may be helpful to have some level of customization in the software that you purchased, whether it be external (built-in options), or internal (scripting languages). As a company matures their needs may mature as well and here is where some customization may be needed.
TransCAD has a simple set-up, with telephone and internet support available to ease the installation. With the support available it shouldn’t take very long to learn to use the software which also eases the burden of installation. TransCAD is a thick client since it is an involved process to create these routes with the databases being actively queried and modified within the software. If needed TransCAD does have customization abilities, with scripting languages Visual Basic, Visual C, C++, or any other application macro language (ex. Excel).
MapInfo does not seem to have an easy installation process, with many parts to set up, and a little bit of training seems necessary after the installation. Although the MapInfo Routing J Server is itself a thick client, operating much the same as TransCAD, they also have a thin client option Envinsa, in which requests are sent to an out-of-house server and routes are sent back. The only customization available for this software is primarily for the internet done with XML, CCOM and other internet scripting languages.
MicroAnalytics claims that their software is easy to implement and use. I assume this would require no training and an easy installation. Again they have thick client software as all calculations would be done within the program, and not queried in another application. There does not appear to be any customization available for this software. This would make it fine for a company starting out, but after a while the company may outgrow this software (with respect to their needs).
InterGIS does allow for customization, but only with a proprietary scripting language (“RouteScript”). This provides a problem because it means that the staff would have to learn to program in a new language, and if they chose to change software in the future, all the customization would not be transferable as no other package would support this language. InterGIS does have the admirable capability that it can perform as both a thin-client and a thick client software. Another pitfall that InterGIS has is that they have a difficult installation requiring lots of customization. This is not a great quality, since it will cost more money to provide support and training for the software.
Route Solutions does not have the ability to be customized. This limits the sophistication of the software and the ability of the software to grow and adjust to the consumer’s needs. It is considered thick client software, which means that Route Solutions works with the data in the program and not from a separate database.
Findings: Training, Maintenance, and Client Service
There are three factors to take into account when implementing routing software for end users. These factors include the following: training for the end user (dispatcher), maintenance for software updates and customized applications, and customer service when encountering problems.
TransCAD software provides documentation and help online for any operational problems that may occur with the software. Training is also provided by documentation manuals and other literature. Maintenance for software issues and customized applications is available for 60 days. Furthermore, customer service is provided over the phone and via email.
MicroAnalytics offers a year’s worth of customer support via email. Training involves several levels of software maintenance and customer service specialty classes. Top level classes involve one seat at a course or at the “Inter-nation Truck-stops” user conference every year plus technical support via telephone, fax, or email. Elite classes provide access to “Truckstops” training courses or participation in the user conference with one year of free updates and technical support.
MapInfo makes training available with view-on-demand and regional seminars. Training is provided by tradeshows, conferences and user groups. Software maintenance is brought by telephone and online support contacts. Customer service is also available online and over the phone.
Route Solutions only makes training available by providing instruction manuals and online instruction. Software maintenance and customer service can be accessed via email and over the phone.
RouteSmart Solutions, utilizes training videos and individual consulting for instruction. Customer service is available via email, phone, and the web. Furthermore, software maintenance is offered based on individual customer needs.
Cost is a tricky issue to cover. Most companies do not post this information online, and when you call them while identifying yourself as a student, they often do not give you any priority with respect to calling you back. However cost is one of the most important issues to weigh, since how expensive the software is does not necessarily mean that it is better for your company.
The only company that posted their information online was Caliper’s TransCAD. They included an order form on their website that listed the price of their different license levels and a few optional accompanying datasets. They have the Standard Software License for $9,995 (and discounts are made for subsequent copies) that includes a single workstation license DVD that includes telephone technical support and free upgrades for a period of one year from the date of delivery. They also provide a Base Software License for $2,995 which includes a single workstation license DVD that includes telephone technical support and free upgrades for a year from the date of delivery, but does not include the TransCAD Procedure Libraries. Finally, for $19,995 you can purchase a Turnkey Software License that includes the first copy of TransCAD software, plus database preparation and conversion, on-site installation, and one day of training. As for the optional accompanying datasets they list the Latest ZIP Code Boundaries Data CD (Updated Quarterly) for $495, 2000 US Census Block Groups for $195, 2000 US County Subdivisions (Minor Civil Divisions and Census County Divisions) Data CD for $195, and 109th Congressional Districts for $295. While these are the only data sets lists I am sure that Caliper offers more sets than that since they include a space for other datasets on the order form.
Another giant in the GIS business, MapInfo, has a package for routing that they called Routing J Server. Since this is a server package the server package is a separate charge from the base software needed to run it. The server package costs $2,800 and then depending upon the needs and expertise of the company, there is two levels of a base package: the cheaper alternative (MapBasic - $795) assumes that we have expertise in the area and our own data to put into it, and the more expensive one (Map Extreme Desktop Developer - $6,000) is for those with limited experience dealing with this kind of software and for those with little or no data of their own to put into the software. As for additional datasets, MapInfo offers StreetPro for $3000 for geocoding purposes, or Mapmaker with StreetPro for $4500 for geocoding purposes and this package also includes landmarks, water bodies, and other entities of that nature. As a side note MapInfo also Operate Envinsa which is a web services platform that creates routes for you. For $5,000 per year you get up to 100,000 transactions to calculate routes, and there are no costs to build an interface to this server.
Next we have MicroAnalytics who have a routing software package called TruckStops. They offer their package at only one level for $9,500. For $1,500 they offer a support package which includes a representative giving support in person. For another $1,500 the offer an interface module to PC Mileage which is an optional module that allows direct communication between the software system and industry recognized mileage calculation applications. Lastly, for an additional $1,000 you can get EZLocate which is access to geocoding service.
InterGIS has an overall price of $15,000. This does include customer service costs so the implementation and subsequent problems are handled at no cost. However, this does not include training costs which are additional but unspecified. If there are any additional costs, they are unknown.
Route Solutions only costs $2,000. While this is a lower price it is because they are a relatively newer company and a moderately small business. This price does include customer service, but there is not any training cost associated since there is not really any training to speak of. The additional costs that accompany this software are MapPoint/Streets licenses for the drivers, and also there are driver hardware costs.
RouteSmart does not provide services for small businesses. They say that our business model is too small to even consider. Therefore, they would not give us any pricing information.
Our selection methodology assigns a certain point value to each question in our list of concerns and assigns a relative weight value to each category. Answers to individual questions have been assigned values between one and six, one being the lowest possible score and six being the highest possible score. Each general category has been assigned a weight. And the greater the weight, the more valuable we consider the category. All weight values together equal 1. Question scores have been multiplied against their category weight values and have been added together to generate an overall score. Category weight values are as follows: