All fleets need on-time delivery, but no fleet requires timely service more than a wholesale grocery fleet. In a highly competitive environment where store operators have the option of reducing business volume or changing vendors altogether, keeping promises to customers is vital. In addition, most wholesale grocery fleets operate in urban areas where congestion and road construction generate problems that simply are beyond the control of transportation managers.
For years, grocery fleets have attempted to streamline operations. They have adopted routing software that allows managers to pick the most efficient route for every vehicle every day. They have equipped vehicles with high-powered systems that record everything the vehicle and the driver do while away from the distribution center. Most of these systems help improve fleet productivity by prompting drivers to follow a predetermined route and by noting driver performance at each delivery stop.
At the same time grocery fleets have been using recorders, truckload fleets have been utilizing vehicle tracking and driver communication systems. With satellite communication and global positioning, truckload fleets can track loads in transit and predict arrival times accurately. The communication system enables fleet managers to communicate pick-up and delivery information without the requirement for drivers to call dispatch. Messages can be sent while drivers are off-duty without waking a sleeping driver. Not only can messages be sent during driver rest periods, they are held in memory for later reference, eliminating misunderstandings while talking with dispatch and mistakes while writing down instructions.
Tracking systems watch vehicles from space, determining location within just a few meters at preselected intervals. This can be done every four hours or every 15 minutes depending on management needs.
The needs of wholesale grocery fleet managers ask more of tracking systems than most truckload carriers require. With vehicles operating on multi-stop routes in urban areas, managers usually need frequent location updates, and these locations need to be compared to the vehicle's assigned route. In addition, managers usually want a location when a vehicle stops for more than a predetermined time and a location when the vehicle starts moving again. This provides managers with the ability to monitor delivery stop productivity in real-time instead of waiting to extract performance data until the vehicle returns for the day.
The challenge for many wholesalers is to acquire location and communication systems that can be integrated into their existing fleet management and routing systems. A good example could be a wholesaler already using one of several load optimization and routing systems along with separate route productivity recorders and cellular telephone systems for driver communication. No one wants to scrap all these existing systems and install completely new hardware and software. They simply want to make different systems work together.
Companies such as Dynamic Mobile Data provide the connections between seemingly unrelated computer systems to support multiple networks and mobile communication devices simultaneously. Some of these systems require no additional software installation. Instead they give users access to the system from any Internet connection. When that happens, wholesalers gain real-time control of the fleet allowing things like changed routing to avoid traffic congestion or appointment changes at backhaul locations as a result of loading delays. Some users report fleet utilization improvements of as much as 20 minutes a day on routes that average seven hours duration. While not a huge time saving on any individual route, the system allows wholesalers to make the entire fleet more efficient and more likely to provide the on-time delivery demanded by independent retailers.