The Logistics of Elevator Rides

I presented at the LeanLogistics ClientConnect 2013 conference yesterday (more on that in a future posting), which took place at the Swissotel in Chicago. It’s a lovely hotel, with comfortable rooms and a great view of the lake, and something I had never encountered before: elevators with no floor buttons inside. Instead, you enter your floor number on a keypad in the waiting area where you would normally find the up and down arrow buttons, and a display on the keypad tells you which elevator to take (A, B, C, D, etc).

Although some of the other hotel guests were confused by the system — especially the woman who dashed into the elevator just before the doors closed only to find no buttons inside — I immediately realized what was going on: the system was dynamically “optimizing” the loading of elevator cars. In other words, as guests arrived at the elevator bank and entered their floor numbers in the keypad, the system dynamically allocated guests who were heading in the same direction (up or down) and to floors near each other into the same elevator car.

I did a little research at the airport while waiting for my flight back to Boston and discovered that the elevator system is the Compass Destination Management system by Otis. Below is a page from the company’s brochure that illustrates the Compass system versus the traditional one:

Source: Otis Compass Destination Management product brochure

Source: Otis Compass Destination Management product brochure

The logistics of elevator rides is not unlike the logistics of loading and routing trucks. In fact, software solutions already exist that dynamically optimize loads and routes as new orders come in (see, for example, Descartes Reservations).

The problem with this new elevator system is the same problem that companies face when they try to implement new technologies to transform existing processes: getting people to change the way they think and do things, especially things that they have been doing almost instinctually for years. In other words, change management. “I like the old fashion elevators better, with the buttons inside,” I heard one guest say to another. And another guest, back in January 2011, posted a review on Tripadvisor with the following subject line: “Great hotel but terrible elevator system.”

I believe a big part of the issue, which is often the case with change management, is that the benefits of the “new way of doing things” is not clearly communicated to people. So, here’s my recommendation to the folks at Swissotel: post the graphic above at your elevator stations so that your guests understand the beauty and benefits of logistics optimization in action.

Now, if only somebody could come up with a smarter way to board people into airplanes.

(Note: Descartes and LeanLogistics are Logistics Viewpoints sponsors).

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