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Thursday, 10. September 2020

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4 important tips for the successful introduction of automated scheduling

The advantages of automatic dispatching are obvious: reduced effort, consistently high planning quality, more transparency and employee motivation (see Automatic truck route planning – more than just cost-cutting!). In the course of the introduction, however, there are a few things you should pay attention to so that in the end you can also reap the above-mentioned benefits that automatic dispatching ideally offers.

1. Create a step-by-step roadmap

Complete automation of scheduling cannot be done in one step. The idea of flipping a switch on day x and “from then on everything is automated” is not feasible in practice and does not make sense at all. Rather, a procedure should be planned in several individual steps right from the start. One of the most important prerequisites for successful automation of scheduling is therefore a well thought-out roadmap agreed with all stakeholders.

Important questions that you should answer for yourself in this context are the following:

  • What are the automation steps that can quickly achieve initial successes right from the start?
    The first steps are of great importance for a long-term automation strategy. Early successes motivate all those involved. In addition, early economic successes release funds that can be used for the rapid implementation of further steps.
  • What level of automation would I like to achieve in the long term (vision)?
    Try to define a target state or a long-term milestone; what level of automation do you want to have achieved in 5 years? Even if you do not yet know exactly what is technically necessary for the realisation, this goal will serve you as a compass. Which activities do you want to free your dispatchers from or which activities should be automated in the future? What are the consequences and options for the workflows in scheduling?
  • Which intermediate steps – each of which is beneficial in isolation – are to be achieved along the way?
    Carefully design the “middle” part of your roadmap. Here it is important to set up a motivating but realistic plan. Ideally, quick successes have already been achieved. Therefore, it becomes even more important to continuously realise further improvements for your company with individual steps. You can also find a guideline for a sensible sequence of automation steps in our current e-book “Step by Step to Automatic Scheduling”.

Bild: iStock (oatawa)

2. Get your data in shape

Automation always means that a machine supports humans in processes and decisions. However, the machine can only use the data that is digitally available. If this data is of poor quality or does not reflect the operational reality, an automated result will also be unsatisfactory. Automation then does not deliver an advantage, but rather disadvantages.

That is why it is important to get your data into shape as part of the digitisation project. This is not only about correcting data errors, but also about bringing scheduling knowledge from the heads of your employees into a digitally usable form.

The focus is on the following data fields in particular:

  • Order and item data
  • Location data
  • Vehicle data
  • Decision rules for driver and vehicle assignment

You can also find further tips on improving data quality in my article “How to get a grip on data quality in your scheduling”.

3. Choose the software partner that suits you and mirrors your goals

A good software partner who constantly accompanies you during your automation process is of value that should not be underestimated. The choice of the right partner therefore has a great influence on the benefits you can achieve with scheduling automation.

An important basic prerequisite is, of course, that the software product itself meets your technical and professional requirements. However, it is at least equally important that the chemistry between you and your software partner is right. A good software partner will usually accompany you through several expansion steps and the entire period of use of the software. So check carefully which partner best suits you and your requirements. In particular, you should ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does the provider have good in-house know-how in the automation topics that are important for me?
  • Can I expect regular further development of the software and innovations in the area of automation of scheduling from the provider?
  • Is the provider prepared to meet my individual requirements?
  • Can I imagine working with the employees and management of the solution provider in the long term?

4. Inspire your employees for your vision

And last but not least, perhaps the most important prerequisite for the success of the project: get your employees excited about the benefits of automating scheduling! A key goal of automation is to relieve your employees of monotonous, repetitive tasks and create space for new exciting tasks that previously fell short. Nevertheless, employee concerns about such changes are the rule rather than the exception. Plan for them.

Think about how to get employees excited about automation at an early stage. Employees also have expectations that need to be worked out at an early stage. Fears on the part of employees, e.g. regarding the preservation of their jobs or even just their activities, are natural. Concerns on the part of the employees about leaving decisions to a machine are also natural. Here, a sustainable expectation must be developed together with the employees.

A key goal of automation is to relieve their employees of monotonous, repetitive tasks and make room for new exciting tasks that previously fell short.

You need your employees to drive automation. It will not work against the employees. It may be possible to use the technology affinity of some employees to advertise the positive effects of automation.

The automation of scheduling is a great opportunity to make the work of your schedulers easier, more exciting and at the same time more effective. Communicate this and inspire your employees for the automation of scheduling!

Bild: iStock (Bojan89)

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Changing business processes and introducing new software systems is almost always a challenge for companies. This is especially true when complex decision-making processes – such as here in scheduling – are to be automated. Don’t be afraid to take these steps! The advantages that arise for your company from automating dispatching will clearly outweigh the effort! The trick is to take the challenges along the way seriously and possibly anticipate them. If you manage to do this, you will be able to deal with them successfully!