RouteSmart INTERSECT 2022: Intelligent Planning for Efficient Operations

RouteSmart Technologies, a provider of route optimization solutions for newspaper, postal/parcel, public works and utilities clients (and a Talking Logistics sponsor), introduced a new tagline recently: “Intelligent Planning for Efficient Operations.”

In coming up with the new tagline, “we challenged ourselves to dig deeper and talk about our core values and how our clients benefit from our focus on safety, efficiency, innovation, and relationships,” wrote Doug Hill, RouteSmart’s VP of Marketing, in a blog post announcing the new tagline.

These core values and client benefits were on full display at the company’s INTERSECT 2022 conference in late April. The agenda featured many informative presentations by clients and partners, including Smith Brothers Farms, Zula, District of Columbia Department of Public Works, SWANA, Integrated Skills Ltd., Esri, HERE Technologies, CarrierTrack Technologies, Bestrane, and Navosoft LLC. 

The last time I attended INTERSECT was in 2019, which was also the last time the conference was held in person due to the Covid-19 pandemic. So, not only was it nice to learn and network together in person again, it was also interesting to see how much has changed in just two years — not only with the technology, but also with customer challenges and requirements too.

As always, it’s impossible to recap every presentation from the two-day conference in a brief blog post. Therefore, consider this just a partial list of my key takeaways from the conference.

RouteSmart Highlights

Is route optimization a growing market?

In his opening presentation, Larry Levy, EVP and COO at RouteSmart, highlighted how the company will have almost twice the number of employees by the end of this year compared to 2019.

Back in 2019, the company began transitioning all of its industry-specific solutions to the cloud and leveraging API technology to access its routing engine. Today, all routing happens in the cloud via its Routing as a Service (RaaS) offering.

Speaking of cloud, RouteSmart uses Amazon Web Services (AWS) as its cloud computing platform, and “we have invested a lot to maximize speed, not just on hardware, but on how the solution is architected,” explained Levy.

A big test came on December 7, 2021. On that day, as reported by CNBC, “Amazon’s cloud-computing arm experienced a historic outage, which brought down many popular websites and services” — including Amazon’s own delivery operations. “I’m an Amazon driver and the outage is also hitting us and we can’t make deliveries, so we’re just playing karaoke,” posted a driver on Twitter.

RouteSmart’s operations and customers, however, were not affected. “We initiated our disaster recovery plan, moved from Virginia to Oregon servers, and we continued optimizing delivery routes for our clients,” said Levy.

Sign Here, Here, Here, Here, and Here

Across the software industry, the move from on-premise applications to the cloud, as well as the embedding of third-party apps and content into solutions (e.g., maps), has changed the scope and nature of customer agreements. Michele Cohen, Esquire, Principal at Miles & Stockbridge, shared how RouteSmart has worked to simplify and better align its customer agreements with how the solutions are now offered and supported. 

This is a topic I never really thought about before. Most companies, except for very large ones, don’t have an army of lawyers to read through very long agreement documents, with links to addendums and other embedded third-party agreements. As a small business owner myself, I am sometimes overwhelmed by the length and complexity of legal documents I receive from clients, banks, and other entities. I try to read and understand it all, but in some cases, I just sign and trust the other party will do what’s right.

As noted earlier, “focus on relationships” is one of the inspirations behind RouteSmart’s new tagline. The work they’ve done to make their customer agreements clearer and more concise (especially for small companies) is a great example of how innovation is not restricted to software developers; lawyers, sales, and customer management can innovate too!

To Meander or Not?

Let’s say you have customers on both sides of the same street.

Do you service them in one pass — that is, drive down one side of the street and have the driver cross the street to service customers on the other side? Or do you service them in two passes — that is, you service customers on one side of the street first, then drive down the other side of the street to service customers on that side?

The answer is it depends. As Kewal Shah, Operations Research Analyst at RouteSmart, explained in his presentation, “The decision to meander (serving customers on both sides) should be based on information on street types and traffic.”

If the road is a highway (Class 1, 2), which typically has heavy traffic, meandering is obviously not applicable. If it’s an arterial road (Class 3, 4), meandering might be possible depending on the traffic, but there is a medium to high penalty for doing so (explained below). The best case for meandering is a local road (Class 5), which typically has light traffic and a low penalty.

Okay, what is a penalty? “Meandering, even if done on local streets, has some cost and consequences associated with it,” says Shah. 

For example, there are some hidden service times, such as:

  • Time taken to walk across the street
  • Time spent waiting for traffic to clear
  • Extra walking if the street can only be crossed at the crosswalk
  • Time spent on stealth left maneuvers if driving in and out of the driveway

And, of course, safety risks — e.g., risk of collision while backing up from a driveway and unsafe street crossings while carrying packages.

Without going into all the details, the key takeaway is that RouteSmart’s solver can take all these factors into consideration and decide whether to meander based on street type and density of service locations; it can also change the travel direction to minimize the number of customers meandered and minimize the time spent meandering those customers (which has positive safety implications too). 

To meander or not? Seems like a simple question, but when you understand all the factors involved, you realize it’s really a complex question — and why you need an optimization solution to answer it intelligently. 

Smith Brothers Farms: Quick Expansion Despite Significant Challenges

Last September, James Kostoroski, Director of Logistics at Smith Brothers Farms, was my guest on Talking Logistics. At the time, he shared how the pandemic had significantly increased the organization’s customer base in a relatively short period of time.

“Pre-COVID we had about 52,000 customers and 51 routes,” said Kostoroski. “Now we have almost 70,000 customers and are making 50,000 deliveries per week with 70 drivers and a mix of large and small routes. We went from adding 50 new customers per day to adding 500 per day during the peak of the pandemic. Initially, this was great because we had the tools and software to route these additional 300-500 customers per day. The problem is that you can only put so many customers per route before you break the route. That was the challenge. How do we keep taking the new business without breaking our underlying operation?”

At the conference, Kostoroski gave an update on how the company has continued to take on new business and customers without breaking their underlying operation. I can’t go into all the details, but it’s sufficient to say that it involved data analysis, modeling, and optimization — along with a bit of ingenuity. For example, Kostoroski used demographic data by zip code to simulate/predict signups of new home delivery customers, and he used that info to create initial route partitions. 

“The reason my bio is so short is that I’ve been busy working the past 2 years,” joked Kostoroski. Many in the audience could relate. When it comes to home delivery, the work and challenges never end. 

Final Thoughts: The Next Frontier 

On my morning walks to grade school, I would pretend to be an astronaut, jumping in zero gravity over the sidewalk cracks, my backpack filled with oxygen. Some mornings I would ride my rocket ship, evading asteroids and alien cruisers along the way, and I would barely make it to school on time (I mean, the space station), with just enough fuel to make a safe landing.

Therefore, it’s not surprising that I was very interested in listening to the presentation by Matt Wittal from NASA on “Establishing Deep Space Supply Chains for the Moon and Mars.” Wittal shared details about Artemis, a series of upcoming missions by NASA, along with commercial and international partners, to establish “a sustainable presence on the Moon to prepare for missions to Mars.” 

Why go back to the moon? Check out this NASA video for the answer.

We certainly have plenty of delivery challenges to overcome here on Earth, but if you’re looking for an even greater challenge, try delivering astronauts and equipment to the moon and Mars. To paraphrase the great Nigel Tufnel from Spinal Tap, that delivery problem goes up to 11.

I can’t help but wonder: Does meandering make sense in space?

A question to be answered at a future INTERSECT conference.