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State of the art.

State of the Art

Over the last six years, scores of distribution companies have learned how to reduce delivery expenses, improve customer service and enhance driver productivity through the use of microcomputer-based truck routing and scheduling systems. These computerized systems have proved powerful tools, allowing routers to analyze a host of strategic routing alternatives to make better decisions faster than before.

Today, thanks to advanced microcomputing systems, a new generation of routing software has emerged, providing even greater capabilities. Taking advantage of these new developments, Roadnet Technologies has introduced Roadnet 5000, which uses the powerful OS/2 operating system to furnish users with a high degree of speed and functionality.

Jim Staton Distributing Co., Greensboro, NC, is among the first companies to use the new program. Jim Staton III, vice president, comments, "It runs faster and has made our throughput faster due to the new features.

"Users of the original, MS-DOS based system who choose to make the move to OS/2 will feel comfortable with the new version," he says, "because the user interface is very similar."

A distributor of beer, wine and sparkling waters within a 10-county area in central North Carolina, Jim Staton Distributing used the MS-DOS version of Roadnet for about two years before becoming one of the OS/2 version's pioneers.

The company services a total of approximately 1,400 customer, including a mix of retailers and food service operations. It delivers an average of 250 to 300 orders daily, typically sending out 15 trucks a day.

One of the chief benefits the company originally derived from Roadnet was a reduction in the amount of time required for the routing process, Staton says, a goal which has been further augmented by the OS/2 version.

"Our warehouse supervisor is also our router," Staton relates. "Before we got the system, he routed manually, and the job took a total of four to five hours each day. He would get the first set of invoices by 11 a.m. and work on them intermittently until 5 p.m., when the last orders would come through. Because he was splitting his time between routing and warehouse responsibilities, the supervisor couldn't give his full attention to either job," Staton observes.

"Now the whole routing process takes just an hour or less," Staton observes. "The supervisor start it at about 4 p.m., and generally has all the routes finished by 4:45 p.m. And he can give each job his undivided attention."

According to Staton, Roadnet has enabled the company to take control of a tough time windows problem.

"About 40 percent of our customers require their deliveries within a very narrow time frame," he says. "So we set up certain fixed stops at the beginning of the routes for chain customers. Then we let the system dynamically route the rest. These other stops are also arranged by the program to meet most time windows according to the priority assigned to each customer, and the program alerts the router to any missed time windows so he can adjust stops to meet them if necessary."

As a result of these features, Staton says, "We now have very few customers refusing orders because the driver didn't meet a time window. Before we installed Roadnet, those returns were a major problem."

All of the important features in the original system have been retained in the latest version, Roadnet says. In either version, the company reports that Roadnet lets users download customer and daily order information from their mainframe or host computer to the PC on which it runs. The system combines this information with other data entered by the router such as the number of trucks available and starting times for each driver. The program then develops a preliminary set of routes designed to minimize transportation costs while maximizing response to customer service needs, like delivery time windows. Once these have been completed, the system displays a summary of vital statistics on each route. The router can then further edit the routes, fine-tuning them to balance loads most effectively, or meet other objectives like moving a stop from one route to another because it needs to be delivered by 8:00 a.m.

Among other information, the program provides feedback on the effect of any changes made, showing how they will affect load size, projected run times, miles-per-route and costs-per-mile, per-stop and per-piece. This feature enables the router to experiment with "what-if" scenarios, so he can make informed decisions on which solutions provide the best overall results for each day's unique set of routing problems.

After the final review has been completed, the information is uploaded to the host system to generate pick lists, loading documents, invoices and update other files as needed.

The system also provides a host of reports including breakdowns based on travel time, service time and fixed costs for a given route over any time frame; a driver performance report which lets managers measure each driver's performance against system projections; a resource utilization report which analyzes percent of capacity used, route times, and cost projections over various intervals; customer delivery cost, which shows the costs incurred to service each stop and meet time windows; and detailed driver itineraries and manifests.

Roadnet's original MS-DOS version makes these routing and tracking capabilities available to users at an affordable price, a Roadnet spokesperson says. Companies are able to recoup their investments in the program through reduced vehicle, fuel and labor costs in as little as a year and sometimes less.

The original version is also subject to the constraints of the MS-DOS operating system, including a limit on memory to 640K bytes maximum, and the necessity of running applications one at a time. These and other features have placed some strictures on the program's ability to handle distribution networks beyond a certain size, and have limited the speed of the routing process.

With the new Roadnet 5000 version, which uses the OS/2 operating system, more features have been added.

One key difference between the MS-DOS version and the latest OS/2 based system, a Roadnet spokesperson notes, is that Roadnet 5000 is no longer confined to a maximum of 640K bytes of memory. It can use much larger amounts of RAM, up to 8 megabytes. This expansion allows Roadnet's new version to handle larger distribution networks involving many more customers and orders than could be efficiently handled by earlier versions.

The increased capacity, coupled with more "forgiving" memory handling capabilities of the OS/2 operating system, also create a more stable system that is also more powerful.

Roadnet 5000 also benefits from the OS/2 operating system's high performance file system, which is faster than filing systems in MS-DOS programs. This feature further speeds up performance and response time.

According to Roadnet's spokesperson, these and other features of the new system provide the potential for an increase of up to 20 percent in processing speed on many of the program's applications.

The immediate benefits of these increased capacities are that they allow Roadnet to offer improvements to its self-geocoding system and to provide a highway network travel-time model for the first time. This dramatic new release surpasses traditional road networks which require the manual connection of links and nodes to form a highway network.

Roadnet uses a system of geocodes to identify and pinpoint each customer location or stop by latitude and longitude. These geocodes are used by the program to compute travel distances and run times through a complex series of algorithms which take into account not just simple distances between stops, but additional factors such as natural barriers and customer defined road speeds.

The increased capacity of the OS/2 system allows Roadnet to augment this approach with a sophisticated highway network, which plots customer locations in relation to the actual road network. The system includes major roads, enabling the program to calculate travel distances along interstates, major highways and main roads according to the actual roads travelled. The system utilizes its algorithmic mode to calculate travel times and distances for off-network travel on subsidiary roads and streets.

While users of Roadnet's original system report that it is accurate in forecasting travel distances and run times, Roadnet 5000 offers an additional degree of accuracy in certain situations.

"We've noticed a difference particularly in routing rural areas," Staton says, "where most of the travel is along major highways but the road systems aren't necessarily laid out straight as the crow flies."

Probably the one feature of the OS/2 system that will have the biggest initial impact on users is its multi-tasking ability, Roadnet says. This permits Roadnet 5000 users to work on more than one application at a time, instead of being limited to single, sequential processes as in MS-DOS-based programs. This feature alone will provide significant time savings in the routing and scheduling process.

For Jim Staton Distributing Co., this feature has made a significant

difference in the way its routers can operate the system, Staton comments.

"The program itself runs faster," Staton notes, "but another major difference is that our throughput is quicker, because the program's multi-tasking abilities allow our router to perform several tasks at once. For example," he explains, "the router can download additional orders from the company's main-frame, or upload a set of finished routes to the mainframe, at the same time that the system is processing another set of routes.

"Before," Staton says, "the router had to shut the system down each time he needed to do a file transfer, then reboot and log on to get back to the routing program," Staton says.

The ability to handle file transfers without exiting and going back into the program has proved a particular time-saver in handling late orders which need to be integrated after the regular cut-off time, he adds.

"It's eliminated a lot of lag-time in the processing," Jim Staton notes. "The system's multi-tasking capability, combined with a print spooler feature, also speeds up the printing of reports.

"The big difference is that the system is completely tied up during printing," Staton says. "So the router can start printing the manifests or other reports, and then go back to the routing function to work on late orders or other tasks.

"Despite the additional capabilities," Staton reports, "Roadnet 5000 is just as easy to use as the original MS-DOS version, if not easier. The difference in training time between the two versions for us was almost zero."

For Staton, the conversion was facilitated by a background in computers and the expertise of the company router. "It took just about a day to convert from our original system to the new OS/2 version," he continues, "but even for users with less knowledge of computers the changeover should not be difficult." According to Staton, Roadnet has improved customer service, by providing accurate estimates of when drivers should arrive at each stop.

"We get a few calls each day from customers who want to know whether they are getting an order and when it will arrive. Now we can just pull up the route summary and tell them which driver will be there and when."

Although Staton has not compared miles travelled before and after implementing the system, management knows routes are being assembled more efficiently from the driver's responses.

"Before Roadnet, we used to get a lot of complaints from drivers that the trucks were not routed as well as they should be. They found they were criss-crossing town a lot, going back and forth on the same streets several times and passing stops that they had to come back to later in the day. We now get fewer complaints, and the drivers are spending less time travelling."

Another key benefits, Staton adds, is the improved control over its crew that the program provides.

"We have a better handle on how long it should take drivers to finish each route. And because they fill out the Roadnet manifests with their arrival and departure times at each stop, we can check their real times against the system's projections to find the source of the discrepancies.

"We don't hold this over their heads," Staton adds. "Rather, the system has provided a fair way for drivers and supervisors to focus attention on the true source of the problems."

Instead of just assuming that a late driver took an unauthorized break, for example, the supervisor and driver can go over the manifest to see where and when problems occurred.

"Then we can discuss with the driver what happened. Possibly there was an accident on the road that caused a delay, or a customer couldn't check him in right away when he arrived. By approaching the situation this way, instead of it being a negative thing, we can use the program to build a level of trust between the driver and supervisor," Staton observes.

To these benefits, the new Roadnet 5000 package adds greater speed and flexibility, as well as the promise of further enhancements to come. The package is available to new customers and to present Roadnet users as an upgrade. In addition, the company will continue to offer and support its original MS-DOS versions.

PHOTO : According to Roadnet Technologies, the new OS/2 operating system furnishes users with a high degree of speed and functionality.

PHOTO : Roadnet says that the new system offers users multi-tasking ability. "The program itself runs faster," says Jim Staton of Staton Distributing Co., "and another major difference is that our through-put is quicker, because the program's multi-tasking abilities allow our router to perform several tasks at once."

PHOTO : A sample Roadnet 5000 screen

Carol Casper is a writer with Rosse & Associates, a marketing and communications firm that works with Roadnet.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Business Journals, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Roadnet Technologies Inc.'s introduction of Roadnet 5000
Author:Casper, Carol
Publication:Modern Brewery Age
Article Type:Product Announcement
Date:Jan 20, 1992
Previous Article:Trading up.
Next Article:Making the switch.

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