How the Role of a Planner is elevated through Automatic Route Planning
Posted by Nathalie Göbel on 16/11/2022
When it comes to automatic route planning, a common misconception is that the role of a planner becomes less important or even obsolete. We are often confronted with this misconception at the beginning of implementation projects, when planners jokingly say things like: “Well, it looks like you don’t need me anymore”. Although these statements are usually laughed off, there lies a certain seriousness behind these words as well. So you might be wondering to yourself: is it true? Is automatic route planning really a threat to the planners’ job? Let’s first dive a bit deeper into what the role of a planner traditionally looks like, and then we’ll explain how this changes when automatic planning is brought into the equation.
Making the transition to automatic route planning
The biggest difference between manual and automatic route planning is that automatic route planning eliminates the need to plan (or drag-and-drop) the routes yourself. As manual route planning heavily relies on knowledge (of the customers and their preferences in particular), geographical insight, experience, and the ability to take all types of restrictions into account, it is a highly time-consuming job to put together a feasible plan.
When making the transition to automatic route planning, the role of the planner changes. A plan can be generated in minutes instead of hours, enabling the planner to make multiple plans, compare and influence the algorithm to attain the most optimal result. In addition, the planner can use this extra time to focus on other important things that were previously not given sufficient attention due to lack of time.
When the planner spends much less time “laying the puzzle”, and more time “optimizing the puzzle” we could say the planner’s role becomes more analytical. On a day-to-day operational level, the planner has the ability to act fast and make important decisions to steer the planning software in the desired direction. In a high pressure and dynamic environment, speed is of the essence. Suppose a driver calls in sick on the morning of execution and his route needs to be redistributed over other routes. With an automatic route planning solution in place, reoptimizing the plan is done in seconds enabling the planner to evaluate the KPIs and make manual adjustments if necessary. After all, the planner always stays in control of the software.
Aside from the operational side of things, the planner will have an increasingly important role on a strategic level. Whereas extensive geographical knowledge becomes less important, expertise and feeling for the possibilities with software and IT systems becomes crucial. When the planner is able to interpret the data and translate this to valuable insights, this becomes input to support management in making tactical and strategic decisions. For example, what if we had ten extra vehicles of type Y. What would be the effect on the planning?
Garbage in, is garbage out. A crucial part of automatic route planning is good data. If you feed the software with high quality input, the software will provide you with high quality results. Of course, after implementation this data needs to be kept up to date and if implemented correctly, the planner could be asked to manage the source data. Consequently, the planner has an important role in not only protecting, but also elevating the quality of the organization’s data to a higher level.
Guiding sales and customers
Most customers want to have their order delivered within a predetermined time window. Sales often quickly accepts an order and later asks the planning department if this is feasible. But the planner could ask sales how strict this time window really needs to be, as this has a huge impact on the transport costs. If the planner sees that moving the time window up an hour has a significant impact on the cost, why not discuss the alternative time window with the customer?
Just because you are planning automatically, does not mean you cannot take personal preferences into account. The planner's role in this is to correctly translate driver preferences into parameter settings, so they are respected in the plan. For example, driver A prefers to have overtime on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and driver B prefers to only drive with vehicle type Y. When the planner is able to take this into account and deliver a high-quality plan to the drivers, they feel better supported by their organization which is especially important given the stressful circumstances they often work under.
It has become clear that the role of a planner has become far from obsolete when choosing automatic route planning. Although it changes, we see that planners experience this change for the better. From originally doing the same repetitive tasks every day, to now gaining new technical knowledge, acquiring increased analytical skills and having more human interaction on the job, the planner is elevated to become more of a consulting figure within the organization.