The Art of Route Optimization for Fleet Management: Machines vs. Humans

Posted by Guru Rao

Route optimization for delivery management software began as an advanced feature, became an industry standard, and has now evolved into an art.  When done correctly, it’s an exquisite partnership between your delivery ecosystem and your dispatch personnel.  Let’s look deeper into the benefits of this coexistence for your fleet management business.
The transportation management software space is quite crowded.  And in this crowded space, any TMS provider worth their salt will preach the values of optimization. At the most basic level, optimization is simply math and science-based algorithms that will help shippers build perfect routes or loads.

Is the Perfect Consistent Route Build Attainable?

No.  Route Optimization is a tricky business consisting of hundreds of thousands if not millions of concurrent calculations, hundreds of variables and limited time.  It is a game of time with only incremental benefits and extremely difficult gains once you’ve hit a certain threshold of iterations.  Route Optimization is not static; rather it’s dynamic or continuous.  In fact, a route is at it’s most optimal state when it’s first created and planned by the system because for the most part it’s based on assumptions in a point in time.  From there, it’s downhill.  As time progresses, the route continues to become less and less optimal.  Why?  Because time continues and variables introduce constant change.  The customer is not available for pick up or drop off of shipments, customers change delivery appointments, mechanical failure, detention or wait delays, traffic/accidents, capacity…the list goes on and on.

On the flip side, there is the 20+ year seasoned dispatch veteran.  They have been around the trucking or freight business for years AND they know their service areas, service times, fleet capacity, customers, traffic patterns, impacts to weather like the back of their hand.  Some would say that these folks give optimization engines or machines a run for their money.

Most would be right.  Because, where most optimization engines fail to manage ongoing change and variables, humans excel because of creativity, grit and need.  The unfortunate problem with seasoned dispatch veterans is that they are a dying breed and hard to find and recruit.

But what if…route optimization and human dispatchers coexisted in a form of art?  Science and math meets creativity, grit and need?  This is the next leap in route optimization and the heart of our approach towards building the best routes or loads.  A hybrid approach that creates a foundational route built from a specific optimization algorithm, while also allowing dispatchers to modify or adjust the shipments or stops within the route.  The very nature of a hybrid is flexibility.  Regardless of how the art of optimization is performed, it needs to allow dispatchers and machines to perform ongoing changes to routes over the course of their lifecycle…constant optimization.  While this approach still requires dispatch management, there is less dependency on dispatcher knowledge because of machine assistance.