With an automated routing solution.
In 2005, Robert Slak became a victim of his own success. The delivery volume at his company, R.A.S. Delivery Services, had grown 20 percent for the sixth consecutive year. Drivers worked overtime to deal with the increase, but the manual routing system couldn't handle the extra volume. Slak knew the routing system needed to be automated but says he didn't have time to look into it. "We were running around reacting to every aspect of the business," he recalls. "Everyone was under a lot of stress. I was working 60- to-70-hour weeks just fixing problems."
So despite the availability of technology to automate its delivery system, R.A.S. continued to map out routes the old-fashioned way. In the office, R.A.S. staff manually typed work order addresses into an online street atlas, figured out the most efficient delivery routes for drivers and then called customers. Slak estimates the process took up to six hours a day.
"We were doing 150 deliveries a day in 2005. We would have to type in 150 addresses manually," says Slak, whose 8-year-old company is contracted by GE Appliances to exchange products and deliver appliances for The Home Depot and Sam's Club. "We started out doing 30 to 40 deliveries a day. That was manageable. But once we started doing 150 deliveries a day, we said, 'Wow, how are we going to get this done?'"
A fellow delivery agent told Slak about a route optimization and dispatch application from Cheetah Software Systems, and Slak immediately contacted Cheetah. "I hung up with them and said to myself, this is too good to be true." Within weeks, Cheetah representatives were installing the company's route optimization and dispatch solution at R.A.S. Delivery's headquarters in Milwaukee. In January 2006, R.A.S. replaced its manual routing system with the Cheetah Delivery solution. R.A.S.' three sister companies in Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana followed suit in December.
Cheetah's routing application automates R.A.S.' entire delivery system, from the loading of delivery trucks to the ETA of its drivers. The system calls customers to give them a window of time for the delivery and can recalculate the ETA if a driver is running late. "The orders go from their system into the Cheetah system. That tells [R.A.S.] what goes in what truck in what order, so drivers can make the least amount of stops," says Stephan Karczag, software VP of sales and marketing for Cheetah. "We also know what time the delivery is going to get to each location. It's all handled automatically now."
The delivery process has become so automated that R.A.S. delivery drivers no longer have to speak with their home offices. Drivers can use their Sprint Nextel phones to let the offices know where they are on their routes, and Slak can pull up a snapshot of the day's delivery routes on his computer to see how drivers are progressing.
Slak estimates that Cheetah's automated routing system has saved the company $40,000 annually (mostly by cutting the number of staff needed to make customer calls) and increased delivery volume by 23 percent.
"Sometimes people get so enamored with the technology they forget what the goal is," Karczag says. "It's trying to solve a business problem. If you get hung up in the software, you're not seeing the forest through the trees. It's about making the customer experience more pleasurable. It's about turning negatives into positives."