Despite all of the advances in route planning technologies, most logistics organizations still see a wide discrepancy in the results that their planners produce. Some planners consistently generate route plans that are lower cost, better utilize resources, and deliver the best customer service. Considering that these planners are using the same route optimization technology, how can this be? The problem is most likely not the optimization technology, but the approach to transportation planning. Robotic process automation (RPA) is one of the technological advances that helps to make every planner perform at the level of your best planner.
For all but the simplest route planning problems, creating the best plan is not as simple as loading data and hitting the “optimize” button. Instead, the best planners go through multiple steps to generate optimal results. Some multi-step planning approaches include: 1) filtering and assigning complex deliveries to the limited set of resources that can handle them before assigning the rest of the deliveries and 2) using multiple optimization techniques sequentially to squeeze out the best results.
The more competent route planning organizations do a good job at documenting and enforcing planning best practices. Even these organizations, however, still see inconsistent results, with planners spending too much time manually executing the planning process and elongated training cycles for new resources. The more complex the planning process, the greater these challenges. This is where RPA can make a difference.
Robotic process automation is a technology that has emerged over the last several years to automate business processes and it has a direct application in route planning. RPA technology creates “bots” that can automate processes, manipulate data, invoke optimization technologies and interact with other systems. Essentially, RPA can model the steps that best planners take to produce superior results for all planners.
Besides consistently superior plans, the benefits of RPA-based route planning are numerous:
- Bots are “always on” and can plan continuously and over a longer horizon to maximize planning results
- Bots reduce the overall planning cycle and possibly the required planning resources because they are presented with an optimal plan and only have to focus on exceptions
- Bots can automate and streamline the planning process to reduce planning latency, which makes logistics operations more responsive and agile
- Multiple bots can be deployed simultaneously to scale to large/complex planning environments
- Bots can constantly communicate with execution systems for better control of logistics processes
- Bots foster centralized route planning, which can not only improve overall transportation productivity and consistency but also focus planning resources on higher value problems and continuous improvement
Consistently getting the best results across route planners has always been challenge for logistics organizations. Robotic process automation is allowing route planning organizations to maximize their effectiveness and perform at levels that are not possible to reach by humans alone. How is your organization using RPA? Let me know.
As Executive Vice President, Marketing and Services, Chris Jones (CJones@descartes.com) is primarily responsible for Descartes marketing activities and implementation of Descartes’ solutions. Chris has over 30 years of experience in the supply chain market, including the last 10 years as a part of the Descartes leadership team. Prior to Descartes, he has held a variety of senior management positions in other organizations including: Senior Vice President at The Aberdeen Group’s Value Chain Research division, Executive Vice President of Marketing and Corporate Development for SynQuest and Vice President and Research Director for Enterprise Resource Planning Solutions at The Gartner Group and Associate Director Operations & Technology for Kraft Foods.
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