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Dynamic scheduling – keeping the customer satisfied

In today’s ‘customer-is-king’ environment, dynamic scheduling and real-time monitoring of the plan have become essential tools in differentiating service levels

Since dynamic scheduling first appeared on the transport scene a decade or so ago, both operators and software suppliers have learnt a lot more about, well, the dynamics of it and its role in driving efficiencies in the business.

Conventional route optimisation and scheduling systems tend to put all the orders or jobs into the pot and optimise the route at the latest possible time, whereas dynamic scheduling first works out the number of potential delivery slots through the day or week, taking account of known delivery resources, then fills them as orders or jobs are received.

It should be said that any kind of day-to-day scheduling may sometimes be described as “dynamic” to distinguish it from fixed-route scheduling. The latter is where you take a known, recurring delivery requirement and plan regular routes for it for weeks or months ahead. These definitions have been around a lot longer than just the last ten years.

The distinction we’re drawing in this article is a more specific one that applies just to dynamic scheduling; it’s between the “schedule once per shift” approach and incremental scheduling, where everything stays flexible for as long as possible.

Both types of day-to-day scheduling are often enhanced by real-time telematics systems, which monitor planned against actual events on a schedule or route basis and feed the data back into scheduling engine. This can help ensure that routes and timings are based, for example, on real travel times and viable unloading or job completion times in a continual improvement loop.

Now the highly flexible form of dynamic scheduling has entered a new phase. The growing importance of customer service in the already complex task of job and delivery planning is a key stimulus. Already well understood by supermarket home delivery operators and some parcels companies with their one-hour delivery slots, the importance of the “delivery promise” to customers is now being appreciated by a wider range of businesses.

One result is that emphasis has switched from the delivery itself to its integral part in the fulfilment process, starting with the placing of the order. It demands greater integration of systems, most notably between CRM and the transport or scheduling offices.

“The conflict between customer service and transport efficiency is as pronounced as ever,” says William Salter, Paragon’s managing director. “By integrating order management with route optimisation and delivery scheduling, companies can streamline their home delivery or field service operations, significantly improving customer service at the same time as controlling costs, increasing fleet utilisation and cutting carbon emissions.”

The need to meet customer delivery promises is helping increase demand for dynamic scheduling, says Anthony Monro-Martin, a director at TranSend. “Companies want to plan but they also want the ability to make changes. Dynamic routing is essential, as it enhances the ability of the team to be proactive in managing time windows.

“Interest in dynamic scheduling is being driven by the need to provide customers with the right information at the right moment of need,” says Stuart Brunger, head of business development at Magenta Technologies.

“The concept was identified by Maribel Lopez in his publication The Future of Mobile is Right Time Experiences. This need to provide right-time experiences is driving business need to combine mobile data with big data processing and analytics to store, analyse and convert numerous data sources into context that is related to the customer, the market or a situation.”

Even when delivery windows are not time-critical, customers expect delivery promises to be adhered to, points out OBS Logistics’ Matt Turner. “Increasingly it is customer service staff who handle enquires about deliveries, not the schedule planners. CRM staff, for example, will use the order or job number to check the ETA or actual delivery time using data.”

There is sometimes an information gap between the transport office and customer services staff, he admits. “This is a challenge – sometimes a cultural one – but it can be overcome.”

Plan versus execution

Dynamic scheduling is also about monitoring the execution of the plan, and making adjustments accordingly. “It’s one thing to have an efficient plan, but another to ensure it is achieved in practice by tracking it in real time,” points out Paragon’s William Salter. “Delays to a schedule can occur for many reasons, but whatever that is, customers now expect to be kept informed.”

Live monitoring of schedules with software such as Paragon’s Fleet Controller can help companies significantly improve their customer service achievement, he says. “A vehicle tracking system will tell you where your vehicles are, but this is not sufficient. Staff also need to know whether the vehicle will reach its next destination early, late or on time, and if it’s necessary to call customers on the list to advise them of time changes or delays.”

The real-time data enables companies to respond efficiently to problems or delays that arise; to ensure delivery schedules remain legal and achievable; and to maintain efficiency levels as the picture changes during execution.

Analysis of events is a key to unearthing hidden inefficiencies for continuous performance improvements, advises Salter. “Even small pieces of data can help the produce more realistic schedules in future. You can identify recurring inefficiencies such as when a delivery always taking thirty minutes, yet only fifteen are scheduled. Those additional fifteen minutes can make the rest of the schedule unachievable.

“Is the delay something within your scope to change? Which customer sites are regularly keeping your drivers waiting, causing added cost for you and late deliveries for your other customers. For example, are staff not ready to accept the delivery when the vehicle arrives?”

Solving routing and scheduling problems with a computer involves complex calculations, so it is no wonder that we often end up with a plan that “sort of works”, but is flawed in a number of ways, comments Stuart Brunger.

“How easily can you measure execution against a work schedule. How good was the work schedule in the first place? Why were illogical journeys scheduled? Why were two vehicles sent to the same street at the same time?” Telematics is an essential source of real-time information on which the planning engine can take decisions, he says.

The key is to manage by exception, says Mary Short, director and founder of Mapmechanics, the company behind the Truckstops routing and scheduling system. “Focus on what is not happening that you planned and why. The key is to identify the twenty per cent of measures that a business can take to improve its efficiency and customer service levels that will deliver eighty per cent of the benefit.”

Vehicle tracking company Trakm8’s chief executive John Clark calls real-time monitoring of the plan “jeopardy management”. As he puts it: “It is an important ingredient in dynamic scheduling. By integrating routing information with traffic data from the Highways Agency, future deliveries can be monitored to ensure they keep to the predefined schedule. This ensures good practice in customer service as it enables automated real time messages to be sent to the customer, keeping them up to date with the time they can expect their delivery to arrive.”

Taking the plunge

Software suppliers admit that some companies are still reluctant to embrace automated scheduling systems, whether dynamic or conventional. What are their concerns? Customers can get scared by complexity, says Stuart Brunger.

“SMEs often have a fuel-saving goal that leads to poor planning, which in turn can actually undermine that aim – for example, if the delivery person has to exceed the speed limit to make an on-time delivery. Telematics can actually uncover the need for a planning system.” His advice? “Don’t get left behind by your own biases, and be prepared to look at business processes and operations differently.”

Matt Turner thinks businesses are reluctant to relinquish the flexibility that their conventional processes offer. “Businesses want flexibility in their operations, and conventional route optimisation systems operate to a cut-off time, which can mean it may be difficult to make late adjustments to the schedule. The attraction of dynamic scheduling systems is that there are no set routes, and planning is based around order-intake.”

Dynamic scheduling can also reduce traffic office head count, he points out. “One planner can now handle 40 vehicles, whereas before more would be needed – possibly one dedicated to simply chasing delivery notes and so on.”

Cloud versus in-house stand-alone

Demand for dynamic scheduling solutions looks set to give new impetus to the “cloud versus stand-alone” software debate. Dynamic scheduling has traditionally been the preserve of larger fleet operators with the in-house resources to implement a solution and manage the integration between legacy systems.

Cloud-based SaaS solution are making dynamic scheduling both possible and more widely affordable. However, they won’t suit every company, say the experts. Much, it seems, depends on the starting point, the level of integration required and size of company.

Cloud-based software can give smaller, more agile businesses the opportunity to leap-frog older players in their sector, says Stuart Brunger. “Dynamic scheduling is a great way for any size of organisation to improve its customer satisfaction levels significantly. P our multi-agent technologies were only used in bespoke solutions for big fleet operators, but once we made them available to all via the cloud, new customers could easily expect to enjoy fleet operating cost savings of ten to twenty per cent.”

To be truly effective, scheduling needs to be part of a fully integrated location intelligence platform that provides end-to-end visibility of the entire order booking, delivery, service and location process. That’s the recipe of Sergio Barata, general manager of Telogis EMEA. Stand-alone solutions are a step forward, he agrees, but he points out that integrating different systems can still be fraught with difficulties.

“Cloud-based solutions provide access to a full mobile resource management, routing and dynamic scheduling solution for organisation of all sizes, not just those with huge IT budgets. In-house solutions are expensive to procure and maintain, whereas the cloud/SaaS delivery model ensures a turnkey solution with accelerated ROI.”

While agreeing that some companies want a solution provider who will do everything, Mapmechanics’ Mary Short points out that other companies will already have invested heavily in some of the components of real-time planning and monitoring. “So they will want other point solutions they can integrate into what they have already deployed.” She also points out that when it comes to more complex scheduling where numerous permutations have to be taken into account, automated routing and scheduling can deliver additional benefits.

An important consideration is server security, says Turner. “Everyone assumes the host company has sufficient server capability, but it’s data your business relies on, so check. A good SaaS provider understands about resilience, security and databases, and won’t object to your questions.”

Partnerships and collaboration

Whether its cloud-based or in-house, another key trend is collaboration between solution suppliers to offer best-in-class integrated solutions. Routing and scheduling specialists such as Paragon already partner numerous vehicle tracking companies to capture real-time route-execution data, and Paragon has teamed up with fulfilment specialist Axida for its HDS dynamic scheduling solution.

Using modern technology with open APIs (application programming interface calls) is making integrated solutions easier to implement, says Brunger, and it brings other advantages, too. “It is the least risky proposition because you are dealing with experts in the field who are collaborating on a long-term basis.”

“Teaming up with complementary technologies is the way forward,” agrees Mary Short. “Mobility is a fast developing sector, and collaboration ensures we can offer the latest technologies to our customers. Mapmechanics now works with companies with mobility platforms such as Verilocation who are expert at despatching routes to mobile workers whatever device they may be using.”

Operators are questioning whether they actually need to track the vehicle, or whether real-time data captured from the ePOD application running in a mobile device can provide more detailed information about the delivery, Mary Short comments. “Capturing data from this source can be an interim measure in obtaining more in-depth information about the operation than was previously available to planners. “

Data cleansing

Whether hosted or in-house, businesses that rely on automated optimisation of schedules must ensure the rules followed by the scheduling engine are correct and that the data inputs are up to date. “Scheduling engines such as Truckstops are very obedient,” points out Short. “For the scheduler to come up with the optimum route, you have to give it all the possible data. If you skip an item, or take short cuts, the scheduler can’t do its job properly.”

Rules are essential, she says, but operational knowledge also still counts. “For example, a in a business where the rules are based around fulfilling the agreed delivery promise, the result might be sending out two separate trucks to meet a 9 am delivery window at different locations. But is the delivery promise a true reflection of the customer demand, or could one or both customers actually be more flexible in terms of time-slot? What other rules could the scheduler obey? There is where customer knowledge comes into play.”


Keep it simple

“A lot of companies don’t need a full routing package,” says Anthony Monroe-Martin, a director at TranSend. “SMEs with ten to twenty trucks are more concerned with questions such as size of load, capacity of vehicle, and when an order needs to be delivered.

“A user-friendly basic scheduling system can help make efficiencies and offer more order decision support system than a conventional scheduling engine. We can provide software, for example, in which you just need time windows, routes and customer locations. Users can look at the order list, decide which orders to allocate to which routes, then use the asset capacity to create a basic list. Unallocated routes can be done via drag-and-drop.”

Vehicle tracking company Trakm8 has also moved into the wider schedule management arena. Its Trakm8 Logistics is designed to integrate with a company’s existing order intake system. “The solution benefits customers as it enables them to streamline their scheduling whilst minimising paperwork and administration time, and still improve customer service,” says chief executive John Clark. “Jobs can be allocated automatically to the nearest branch with stock, and outline routing done before the vehicle starts the delivery journey.”

This keep-it-simple approach also works with larger networks, says Monroe-Martin. “You devolve planning down to the local depot, where staff can make changes to take account of varying circumstances and local knowledge.” The business model of monthly licence fees also helps adoption, because there is no up-front cost, he points out.


Turning up the heat on fleet efficiency

A switch from fax-based communication with engineers to a mobile workforce management software has enabled specialist heating service provider Somerset Gas to cut fuel costs, improve on-the-job communication and increase customer satisfaction levels.

The company provides heating services to both domestic and commercial properties across the south of the country, and increased demand made it evident that its fax-based system of job allocation was no longer adequate – not least because it wasted an hour of engineers’ time very morning, whilst they waited for schedules to be produced and received.

Additionally, the logistics of managing and distributing jobs and coordinating incoming job requests throughout the day was becoming more complex. To optimise the work of its team, the company has deployed Masternaut’s mobile workflow management suite.

The solution has been integrated with existing customer relationship management systems, allowing customer service supervisors and managers to communicate with the engineers on the road and with customers. Managers can now monitor engineers in real time as they travel between sites, arrive on site and complete the job, while engineers can communicate remotely with the head office to cut down on unnecessary driving time and reach customers more promptly.

Customer satisfaction level has increased by 2 per cent to 97 per cent, according to the company’s quarterly customer survey. The finance department has also benefited, as jobs can now be assessed on the profitability of a task, taking account of an engineer’s salary, location, skill set and so on. Meanwhile engineers can now complete more jobs in a day, increasing revenue; and engineers are not travelling unnecessary miles.

“Our clients are demanding faster service and better ways to communicate what we do,” says business manager Joe Lewis. “The mobile workflow application is a huge incentive for any of our potential clients to place their business with us.





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Digital Task Management

© Spice Court Publications Ltd 2017
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