Effective planning, route scheduling and customer responsiveness have always been critical ingredients for fleet organisations striving to achieve high standards of operational efficiency.
In the current environment, with the Brexit malaise contributing to a great deal of economic uncertainly, balancing financial constraints with quality standards brings these objectives into even sharper focus.
According to Webfleet Solutions research, almost half of UK van drivers (47 per cent) have claimed that daily job schedules ‘always or regularly’ put them under excessive time pressure. In addition, 50 per cent said time pressures result in them turning up late for job appointments.
As a consequent, companies must look to box smarter in their bid to improve workflow efficiencies. Here we consider some of the steps fleet businesses can take.
Efficient job dispatch – the telematics solution
Dispatching the most appropriate mobile workers to jobs requires accurate management information. This will range from data that allows the urgency and priority of jobs to be assessed to the location of employees and the flow of traffic en route.
Technology that can generate the requite information and enable smart job allocation can hold the key to efficiency in this area, helping reduce overall mileage and time spent on the road. Indeed, Webfleet Solutions research found that the principal motivating factor for businesses investing in new, disruptive, technology is to increase productivity.
Invariably, telematics systems will sit at the heart of fleet solutions. Integral, or integrated, routing and scheduling tools that add an additional layer of planning data, can then further enhance operational processes.
With such systems in situ, jobs or orders can be dispatched directly to drivers’ in-cab terminals, helping businesses respond more rapidly to customers as job requests are made.
Route optimisation: smart navigation to avoid congestion
The optimal routes for drivers may not necessarily be the shortest, but will be the ones that minimise fuel usage, idling and time spent on the road. After all, sitting in traffic is not just bad for productivity, it can also have a significant impact on fuel bills and carbon footprint – not to mention drivers’ mental wellbeing.
Smarter navigation and routing systems that incorporate traffic information will enable companies to plan around delays, with employees dispatched to jobs based on quickest arrival times, not simply who is closest to the customer. Up-to-date traffic information, automatically relayed to drivers’ navigation devices en route, can help to ensure the negative impact of congestion, and the associated cost burden, is mitigated.
Smart routing will not only factor in congestion, but also traffic lights, roundabouts and other obstacles, resulting in marked reductions in journey times. For HGV operators, truck-specific navigation will route vehicles around access restrictions based on their height, width, length, weight, and weight per axle.
Having access to such information can offer businesses a valuable competitive advantage.
From the static to the dynamic: routing and scheduling tools
By feeding accurate GPS location, traffic and journey data into smart routing and scheduling solutions, operators can benefit from improved levels of dynamic planning.
Schedules can also be tailored, for example, to complete high-priority and low-priority call-outs in the most efficient manner. If a worker is called to an urgent job on the same street where a regular visit is planned for later in the week, for example, it can make sense to complete both jobs at once, reducing the number of man hours wasted.
When delays occur, or traffic congestion threatens the timely completion of jobs, schedules can be more easily adapted, and jobs reallocated, in real time. Field workers no longer need to be contacted to be informed of schedule changes, instead, they can be automatically notified via their in-vehicle driver terminals. Navigation instructions will then be revised accordingly.
Customers can also be kept up to date with order progress and, in the case of delays, their expectations can be managed. Automatic email or text notifications can even be sent to them, making them aware of any changes to schedules as they happen.
An intelligent and efficient approach to logistical operations should support such dynamic planning systems.
Effective fleet utilisation must be a fundamental consideration – not only in terms of vehicle-job allocation, but also to ensure vehicles run at full capacity. A strategic fleet review might, for instance, call for downsizing to smaller vehicles.
Pallet networks can prove a cost-effective freight delivery option. The ‘hub and spoke’ model – which sees trunk vehicles distributing good to local hauliers from a central, national, freight hub – enables freight consolidation and efficient vehicle capacity utilisation.
Other options to improve workflow efficiency and productivity will include a focus on operational initiatives and processes such as backloading – having systems in place to ensure that when goods are delivered, new ones are picked up for the return journeys.
There’s an app for that! Connected tech for seamless workflow
The remarkable advancements in business tech has meant that both mobile and office workers can now benefit from a wide range of connected applications, designed specifically to streamline workflow and to process data using a single device or interface.
Apps are available, for example, that can allow drivers to conduct daily vehicle checks on driver terminals or tablet devices, enabling them to tick off each element on a pre-defined list before the details are automatically sent to the office for their records.
When completed, the driver’s workflow can be automatically loaded to their device, including navigation to each job destination. Upon arrival, the worker will automatically be sent full details of the job, ensuring they have the requisite information at their fingertips.
The burgeoning range of connected application and solutions means the precise needs of organisations, industries and customers can be met.
Minimising vehicle down time
Vehicle off-road (VOR) time can prove extremely disruptive, draining business resources while denting both productivity and service delivery. Business can ill-afford to ignore the issue.
Although vehicle downtime caused by planned maintenance is unavoidable, steps can certainly be taken to minimise accidents and breakdowns.
Ensuring vehicles are always kept in a roadworthy condition and are renewed at appropriate interval is paramount. Moreover, maintenance work should be undertaken pre-emptively wherever possible.
Telematics systems can help in this respect, monitoring engine diagnostics codes to give fleet managers or leasing providers warning when problems may be developing. Furthermore, integral solutions that help monitor and improve driving behaviour can have an important preventative role to play.
When breakdowns do occur, telematics can also underpin connected solutions that will automatically dispatch recovery vehicles to the correct location, helping to get drivers back on the road as soon as possible.