Route planning

Are you still planning manually

Are you still planning manually

Technology has reached the corners of all of our lives, we all carry smartphones, shop online, etc. but a surprising amount of delivery routes are still being planned manually in small and medium-sized companies alike.

We are able as people to get very good at repetitive tasks, to spot patterns etc. but we struggle when it comes to ‘zooming out’, seeing the bigger picture and spotting less-than-obvious opportunities for optimisation which are only evident when all the relevant and available parameters are taken into account at once.

By automating routing processes that are currently manual – businesses are generally able to save up to 50% of direct and indirect costs (driver time, fuel costs, vehicle mileage, routing and planning teams, customer service calls etc.).

Planning and route optimization software for small business, particularly powerful cloud-based solutions pay back extremely quickly with returns vs. manual route planning and reliance on routing teams being seen as quickly as 12 months.

When people plan routes, they take into account things such as postcodes, ‘priorities’ of customers, driver knowledge of a certain area etc. Very rarely are we able to properly take into account capacities of vehicles vs. packages and other goods to be transported with differing weights, sizes, shapes etc.

So what is manual route planning and what does it look like practically?

Businesses that plan routes manually are usually highly dependent on one or a small team of people with entrenched working knowledge of distribution and particularly the geographical area in which distribution is taking place.

Without this key person operations quickly start to “fall apart”, the business “doesn’t know what they would do without him / her” etc. This person is the bridge between distribution businesses and their customers – they know what customers like, do not like, which drivers like certain routes vs. others, which vehicles are needed for certain job types etc.

The challenge is that all of this information is held in one person’s head and it cannot be used in any kind of repeatable or scalable way. Further, what appears optimal on the surface (a smooth curve on a map etc.) as a result of it having been done that way for many years is likely actually not optimal in practice when it comes to distance driven, driver hours etc.

Orders / tasks enter the process often as print outs or orders received via an order management system. At that point somebody, often the route planner above sorts through the orders, groups them into service areas, postcodes etc. and then adds any particular ‘special requirements’ or exceptions on top – many of these are anecdotal in nature i.e. this is a big customer and therefore we should visit them before 10am because the sales team said it would be a good idea.

Recurring orders are generally part of ‘fixed routes’ – a topic worthy of spending a bit of time on individually…

So what are ‘fixed routes’

Fixed routes are a sequence of drops / pickups which involves visiting the same locations on a recurring basis (i.e. daily, weekly etc.) – sometimes customers do not require visits and sometimes other tasks could be slotted into these routes.

The challenge is with ‘fixed routes’ is that optimisation opportunities between different vehicles, drivers etc. will certainly be missed and at any kind of scale this means that there is quite a bit of waste when it comes to miles driven etc.

That said, many businesses operate fixed routes as a key component of their customer service strategies with the same driver visiting the same customers and getting to know them etc. and as a result they consciously sacrifice some of the margin that they know is on the table.

The reality is that probably a balance between certain elements of a route being fixed and certain areas of a route being dynamic and adjustable daily, weekly etc. around the master plan would lead to the best all-round outcome for these types of businesses.

What about drivers? How do they go about executing these manually planned routes?

Often, lack of technology in the office (in terms of planning delivery routes) usually is a strong indicator for lack of technology in the cabs of vans, trucks etc. As a result drivers are usually provided run-sheets or pieces of paper on which they have the product that needs to be delivered and the location etc.

They will then regularly rely on their own knowledge to put the individual stops into an order that they feel is optimal and will start driving. When the driver is delivering the items along their self-determined route, there will in most cases be no visibility over where he/she is or how he/she is performing against their plan (i.e. will all these deliveries be able to be made on time?).

In some cases, businesses might be using simple route planning software that doesn’t take into account enough operational variables or spreadsheets which have been created by the routing and planning team (which generally are a continuation of the ‘knowledge in head’ phenomenon which we discussed above combined with a few constraints i.e. when should this driver end their shift etc.

Sophisticated cloud-based route planning software looks at a whole multitude of operational constraints and parameters all in one go (capacities, dimensions, product mixes, particular regulations, required driver skills or vehicle requirements etc.) and therefore allows for an always-optimal route to be produced (either from scratch, or through the tightening up of a master plan as it gets closer to the point of actual execution).

Further, sophisticated routing and scheduling algorithms are also looking into traffic, historical patterns around service duration at particular stop points etc. to ensure that routes are practically executable by drivers as well.

I get it… but I’ve been doing this manual planning for a long time and it works, is it really so bad?

While orders have been getting to customers and drivers have been showing up to work, executing routes etc. likely a lot of value has already been left on the table.

Some of the value left on the table might come in the form of:

  1. Inefficient decisions made by drivers – dropping X off before Y might seem like a good idea because your driver has done it this way for a long time and must know but there are a whole host of motivations which will likely drive the sequence of drops decided by drivers, few of which will have to do with which is the most optimal in terms of miles driven etc.
  2. Priorities being set on particular customers by sales teams – things occasionally go wrong with customers. Particularly if you are operating in an extremely competitive or commoditised industry, you might fear if you don’t agree to their every demand your customers might walk out of the door. The reality is that you likely will provide your customers the best service if your business runs efficiently and you are able to make money. As a result, it is likely a short-term sticking-plaster to change things around one customer… instead create a repeatable service value which takes their needs (and 100s like them) into account
  3. Driving blind and lacking insight – without any visibility over how drivers are executing plans and where they are on their routes it becomes difficult to keep customers informed when things inevitably do happen on the road. Also it becomes very difficult to learn from mistakes and spot areas for improvement. As the saying goes if it cannot be measured, it cannot be managed.
  4. Too much influence and control with too few people – one day the leader of your routing team will retire and as a result all of their knowledge will leave with them if you do not have a scalable and repeatable process in place.
  5. Inability to scale beyond a certain point - there are a maximum number of tasks that a manual routing team can handle without the assistance of sophisticated routing and planning software. This also translates to the customer service team who without visibility over what is happening in the field struggle to answer questions from customers (in terms of delivery times etc.) and the problem compounds

Could manual route planning be holding back your business? A team empowered with powerful tools which are able to be ‘tweaked’ or adjusted based on their knowledge is likely a winning combination when it comes to staying ahead.

Benefits of Automatic Route Planning

#1 Automated Route Planning

With automatic route planning, you plan multiple routes at once - daily and for future dates.

It’s less time-consuming than manual planning - it takes several seconds to a couple of minutes.

The software plans routes in a logical order.

So no more potentially inefficient decisions impacting the business.

The software raises the stop density for each route by grouping stops close to one another:


That reduces the distances between stops (thus reducing time spent on the road and the costs).

It groups the stops in a circle so the driver keeps going forward to reach the next location.

#2 Real-Time Visibility

Real-time visibility on the map is the transparency your team needs for continuous optimization.

It’s also another tool for providing a better delivery experience to customers. Since they stay in 

the loop, too.

The driver also has optimal visibility over their planned route.

You have access to details of the whole fleet:


Even more information is available when you pick one driver to view:


You have a clear overview of the driver’s route, or more specifically, over the following:

  • The route’s timeline
  • The order of tasks on the route
  • The delivery schedule (delivery windows and ETAs)

#3 Lower Delivery Costs

Automatic route planning is all about efficiency.

And efficiency leads to lower costs.

Software for automatic route planning efficiently assigns delivery locations to drivers and provides them with the most cost-efficient routes.

That lowers operational costs.

That also reduces the need for additional fleet drivers and vehicles, which reduces expenses.

Further, automated operations in route planning lead to better order accuracy.

Which means you have fewer errors in your deliveries that you have to correct. And spend money during that process.

#4 Advanced Data Analytics

Automatic route planning comes with using route optimization software.

And software such as eLogii serves that purpose and collects large amounts of data.

You can track KPIs over time. You can do so in real-time:


And you can view historical data:


You can determine a specific date range to analyze the KPIs you choose.

Some of the KPIs are:

  • Tasks
  • Routes
  • Route duration
  • Route distance
  • Drivers
  • Service duration
  • Vehicle utilization
  • Failed delivery reasons
  • Partially completed tasks
  • Late vs. on-time delivery
  • Lateness

Analyzing data through the dashboard is visually digestible.

#5 Bulk Delivery Management

Another benefit of automatic route planning is better handling of bulk deliveries.

You can upload orders through software for automated route planning. That instantly turns orders into tasks.

The software first needs to be integrated with another app for automated uploads, with bulk uploads via Excel sheets and .CSV files.

The software then groups the tasks accordingly and delegates them to drivers. It does so in a cost-efficient way using real-time and historical data.

It comes up with the most efficient route to handle delivery of a large quantity of material.

#6 More Operational Control

Better visibility = more operational control.

Software for automated route planning has an intuitive dashboard that gives you insight during your operations. Which you can even share with customers:


The dashboard puts you in a virtual control room where you can view your operational assets and observe the main parameters for your delivery.

The clear oversight over these details leads to better automated route planning.

Another thing you can control is vehicle maintenance by staying in the loop with key KPIs. The software will make it clear when a vehicle is ready for a checkup.

So while you can’t control the weather and traffic, you can keep an eye on other things.

#7 Dynamic Route Management

The delivery business is no stranger to sudden changes.

The aforementioned traffic is often hit with rush hour jams. And the weather can change suddenly.

It is important to have automatic route software that quickly addresses these changes.

Even after drivers have already set off on their routes.

That is why real-time visibility is reflected on the Driver App, too.

If you change the route on the dashboard, the software updates the app instantly, and the driver gets a notification on their smartphone or tablet.

That is great for adding last-minute orders.


What Is Manual Route Planning?

Manual route planning is the process of calculating a cost-effective route for a delivery fleet without the use of route planning software.

It relies on drivers’ knowledge for delivering the least time-consuming results.

Or it relies on that one key route planner highly knowledgeable about the geographical area.

Planning begins when orders arrive as printouts or via an order management system. Then the route planner sorts and groups the orders.

What Are the Benefits of Manual Route Planning?

The benefits of manual route planning can be summed up in one advantage - relying on human cleverness and emotions.

Making decisions based on that can sometimes provide the finesse in a delivery decision that the software lacks.

Especially if the decision is mostly about specific customer situations.

In most of the other cases, automatic route planning is more useful for route planning and optimization.

Can Google Maps Plan Manual Routes?

You can optimize routes with Google Maps if you’re familiar with the geographical area.

Google Maps has a planning capacity of 9 stops, and you need to reorder the routes yourself.

The app can be a good route planner if you’re a smaller business that doesn’t have bulk orders.

Otherwise, it’s better to use route optimization software.

What Is the Main Difference Between Manual Routing and Auto Routing?

The main difference is that automatic routing requires less time and effort while delivering results that will further save you money.

Manual routing doesn’t allow you to focus on core business processes and delivering customer experience.

It needs your attention so you can calculate an optimized delivery route and other results.

How Does Modern Route Planning Happen Using Software?

Modern route planners are software with complex algorithms.

They analyze and calculate many elements of a delivery operation - weather conditions, traffic jams, driver schedules, fleet vehicles, order dimensions, vehicle capacity, etc.

Both live data and historical data are used for these purposes.

The software then uses the information it then gets to deliver the most cost-effective delivery route.

See how it works in action

eLogii is an end-to-end cloud-based delivery management platform. Our powerful solution solves the biggest challenges of modern distribution and field service businesses, including route optimization, planning, and execution.

BOOK YOUR DEMO in less than 2 minutes. Fill out a quick form, and one of our experts will get in touch to show you how eLogii works in action. The demo will be tailored specifically to your business needs, and you’ll get a pilot period to test out our expert’s bespoke configuration for yourself.

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