Operational planners have an important but unenviable role within transport companies. Every day, under stressful conditions, they must try to put together a planning puzzle that has been thrown into disarray, taking into account the requirements of clients, vehicle restrictions and the wishes of drivers. The field of tension in which they operate gets larger by the day: more variables, shorter time slots, more criticism from drivers and a lot of pressure on capacity utilisation. Sooner or later, it all goes wrong and even the best planners can no longer cope. They’ll leave, and you won’t find a new planner right away. How do you prevent that from happening? What support is needed to keep the work of these 'heroes behind the scenes' attractive and manageable?
Operational planners are the grease of a transport company. They take care of the contact with drivers, charters and clients, and they’ll resolve issues during the day. A broken down truck? A planner supports the driver, makes sure that help arrives and arranges an alternative for the trip. Delay at a loading dock? A planner informs the client, consults with the driver and assesses the impact on the rest of the planning. He checks that the driver's driving and breaks are not in trouble and arranges for an alternative truck for the connecting trip or journey. Driver sick? A planner checks for which trips the driver was scheduled and sees if another driver is available. Perhaps another driver has to be called in from his day off; an unpopular call to make and a last resort, but a solution MUST be found.
Drivers have personal preferences
Planners are getting into a jam. Their role is in danger of becoming so complex and stressful, there’s a real chance things can go wrong. What is going on? First of all, there is the growing number of restrictions they have to take into account when trying to solve a problem. What type of truck and trailer can be used on what trip? Which driver is allowed and/or willing to drive what truck? Drivers all have their personal preferences for working hours, trips and trucks and, when you start (re)planning, you better take that into account. Not because drivers are spoiled, but because the workload can become too much for them. They will immediately take it out on the planner, with whom they are working. Transport planners must therefore have a high tolerance. If there are problems, they are the ones who have to deal with the consequences. They must try to remain neutral, because they are the deciders of who gets to drive which trip.
Occupancy rate versus driver satisfaction
An operational planner has several goals to pursue. Most important is to ensure that orders scheduled for the day are actually fulfilled. The challenge is that he also has to steer for another goal: the utilisation rate of the trucks, trailers and drivers. Although the planning for this has been done beforehand - on a tactical level - transport is known for planning changes while executing in daily practice. An operational planner therefore constantly has to put out fires and simultaneously ensure that the capacity utilisation rate remains as high as possible. This is hardly an easy task, especially if you also want to keep drivers happy. After all, very strict timelines in a planning means higher yield. But: very strict timelines in a planning also means greater pressure on drivers. And... very strict timelines in a planning lead to more risk of something going wrong and having to call in more drivers. A very complex balance.
Specific requirements for vehicles
As a planner, you find yourself in a field of tension where even more tension is added every day. Clients and society are making higher demands on transport companies. Shops and DCs must be supplied more frequently and Just in Time (JIT), causing loading and unloading bays to be occupied more often. More specific requirements are being imposed on vehicles, such as in emission zones (ZEZ) in which only electric vehicles will soon be allowed to drive. Road congestion is already higher than before Corona with more incidents. The driver shortage is getting worse and existing drivers are - rightly - going to make more demands on their work/life balance. Higher fuel prices and costs for materials are driving up costs for transport companies, so the pressure on capacity utilisation will also only increase.
There comes a time when it becomes impossible for a planner or a driver to manage all this: timely responses, overseeing everything, keeping everyone informed and complying to all regulations and conditions. The human brain simply cannot cope with all these variables. It will become increasingly difficult to meet this growing demand.
Timelines of assets and drivers
A transport planner needs to be relieved of their worries and supported digitally in order to be able to continue to perform their task properly. At Simacan we have some ideas about this, a few of which we would like to mention here. First, we stress on the importance of a realistic and feasible plan in advance. We often see insufficient account is taken of traffic density, driving hours and breaks for drivers or other restrictions at a tactical level. As a result, operational planners are faced with an impossible task from the onset. They have to try and rectify poor and unfeasible planning.
In addition, it is important that planners have tools at their disposal that give them real-time insight into delays and their consequences. For which follow up trips is a delayed truck scheduled that day? What is the schedule of the driver? Will their breaks or plan to play soccer in their freetime be jeopardised? It would be even better if the tool could automatically reschedule and provide suggestions on how to avoid a potential problem.
Coordination with chain partners
Another task that Simacan can considerably lighten is communication and coordination with chain partners. With Simacan's smart execution platform, carriers, charters, clients and client’s customers have a real-time view of the progress of trips and know exactly when a truck will arrive at a location. If a trip is delayed, the trip supervisor or planning & support no longer need to inform the receiving party because the latter is already informed via Simacan. In DCs, shops or factories, arrival displays can be hung up so that everyone can see when the next truck will arrive. Via a chat function similar to Whatsapp, the planner can provide further explanation and indicate whether the delay will result in a claim. The latter occurs when a carrier has to incur additional costs through no fault of his own, for example when a loading dock is not available at the agreed time slot. Communication with stakeholders often costs a planner a lot of time and can be made more efficient and effective with Simacan.
Defusing a ticking time bomb
Planners are invaluable to transport companies, the unknown heroes. Unfortunately, they have a job that has become extremely complex over the years. Their job has become more one of a route supervisor. The detailed knowledge of planning constraints, stress resistancy and the emotional skills required for this job are no longer achievable by the human brain, it leads to the inevitability of errors. This means an increase in costs, and when major errors are made customers can become dissatisfied, or... a planner quits, and the training of a new planner will take quite some time. It's a ticking time bomb that you as a transporter, can no longer ignore. But with the help of digitalisation and the right tools, it can be defused.