An intelligent routing engine is one that can be configured in multiple ways, to meet multiple delivery models, including on demand and scheduled delivery.
What to look for:
- Software that can run optimization several times a day, or several times an hour, making it ideal for supporting multiple commercial and operational needs.
- A routing engine that determines which orders go together in the same run, then plans the route based on these priorities as well as your operational constraints.
There are hundreds of different hard and soft constraints that can be taken into consideration. When looking at route optimization tools, it’s important to check whether there are a set list of constraints, how flexible this list is, and how the constraints are prioritized against one another.
The best route optimization software will not only include multiple variables, but give business the choice of how much weight to give each variable during optimization.
Hard vs. soft constraints
A hard constraint is a question with a clear yes/no answer, one that the routing engine treats as a mandate before deciding on how to route the order. For example, if trucks past a certain weight are not allowed on a bridge, they will be routed through another road. If a grocery order can’t be left in the vehicle for more than an hour, then the order will be delivered on a route within that time frame – or moved to another driver, and another run, where the hard constraint can be met. This helps grocers support the cold chain, but it is also relevant for delivering anything whose quality is affected by time spent in transit.
A soft constraint is one which a routing engine treats as a preference, and tries to apply whenever possible. It’s often the soft constraints which separate the ‘acceptable’ route from the optimal route. Businesses can set soft constraints around parameters like fleet, time and cost considerations, such as preferring to deliver with fleet X (the less expensive fleet, or the one with the best rating) over fleet Y, whenever possible.
- Hard Constraints – strict requirements
- Soft Constraints – preference
- Custom parameters – variables that the business adds for consideration
Soft and hard constraints are typically combined to determine the optimal route. For example, when an order cannot be delivered within the requested delivery time window because the refrigerated truck does not have the capacity (hard constraint), the business may choose to deliver it as close as possible to the requested time window (soft constraint).
Customer parameters – Many businesses want to plan routes based on customized parameters that most route optimization software does not include. For this reason, until recently, many large enterprises attempted to create automated route optimization in house. Today, there are platforms which support the ability to add custom parameters which the routing engine can take into consideration when routing orders. For example, a business may want to take the customer’s lifetime value into consideration.
Variables and business Rules for route optimization to consider can include:
- Driver Variables – The number of drivers, maximum time on the road, maximum distance from the starting point, driver working hours (including regulatory restrictions); driver break times; driver skills (for example, assembly or installation)
- Data received from the OMS/CRM/Scheduling system – This can include availability and priority
- Order Variables – Prep, staging or loading time; the package size; hot, cold, or fragile storage; requires a specific certification; requires age verification – for example, selling alcohol;
- Vehicle and Road Variables – Estimated time on site; the number of vehicles; vehicle type; vehicle capacity (weight and volume); capability (e.g. the ability to lift loads); fleet runs (on a recurring route); cost
This list is broad, and not every variable here will be necessary for your operations. However, it shows the breadth and depth of variables that exist across orders, customers, vehicles, drivers and fleets that you may want your routing system to take into consideration when automatically planning routes.
Traffic patterns and road restrictions
Traditionally, a route planner app would take traffic patterns into consideration, but often this would be supplemented by experienced dispatchers and their on-the-ground knowledge of hourly, weekly and seasonal traffic behavior. Routing software can have preset traffic patterns identified, in order to automatically plan different routes based on traffic considerations.
Similarly, many route optimization solutions do not take road restrictions into consideration. These can be legal restrictions such as roads with weight limits, or paths restricted to bicycles. However, there can be individual business restrictions to traveling through a certain area – for example, traveling through a dangerous neighborhood. These variables require a great deal of customization in order to fit the demands of a specific business.
Routing and truck navigation
Large trucks used in commercial transport often face unique routing considerations. Heavy commercial trucks may not be allowed to drive on some roads and require routes designed around their weight, model or delivery volume.
A good route optimization system will take highway and route regulations as well as vehicle variables into consideration. This prevents companies from accidentally planning a route which trucks cannot travel, thereby avoiding rerouting while a truck is en route and the subsequent massive (and massively expensive) delays.
Integration with other systems
Many of the variables defined above will only be available on a delivery platform that includes, or integrates with, systems such as OMS, CRM and scheduling systems. Most route optimization systems lack these integrations and therefore cannot optimize routes based on order or customer data.