A New Age in Dispatching

Cover Story

Modern day dispatching software dispenses with paperwork and combines with communications technology to automate much of the humdrum of fleet management

By Stephen Bennett

Photo courtesy SmartLogix

Dispatching, by definition, always used to involve a great deal of verbal communication with drivers ‘ and lots of paperwork. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

By combining dispatch and other software programs with mobile communications systems, fuel oil dealers can enhance efficiency of many aspects of operations and so improve overall productivity.

Sippin Energy Products, a heating oil distributor in Monroe, Conn., has benefited in a big way by implementing software to calculate delivery schedules, even incorporating an ‘urgency factor” and mapping the most efficient routes for drivers to follow.

‘In pure mileage, we’ve seen a 15 percent reduction,” said Gary Sippin, Sippin vice president. ‘The productivity gain is substantial.”

An automated system that supports a distributor’s entire enterprise, or at least many of its daily, frequently repeated activities, typically results from a combination of software and hardware from different vendors whose products and programs can work in conjunction with each other.

Sippin Energy’s package includes software provided by Baltimore based UPS Logistics Technologies and Automated Wireless Environments. The calculation of the ‘urgency factor” is based on past consumption, weather and the size of a customer’s tank. That information is then used by the route optimization application that is part of Roadnet, the software provided by UPS Logistics. Sippin Energy drivers make 300 to 400 stops per day. Crucial to getting the most out of the optimization function is to apply it to several days’ worth of delivery orders instead of just one day’s orders.

‘We look at five days,” Sippin said, ‘because it gets exponentially better in terms of consolidating the stops into the minimum number of routes.” The benefit is amplified in the slower summer season, when the company, which operates a fleet of about a dozen trucks, scales back on staff and sends drivers on longer routes. Using the software programs the company can make working calculations on ‘days till dry.” That is, ‘How many days till this thing runs out of oil?” In the summer, that time lengthens, Sippin noted, but reducing the number of trips has resulted in a big payoff in every season. ‘We’ve reduced our need by one to two full trucks, all year round,” he said.

Just how many trips can be consolidated depends on how far the supplier can cut into a customer’s reserve. ‘If we’re delivering at the reserve, then we’re not really helping ourselves that much,” said Sippin. ‘But if we can run into the reserve, then we start helping ourselves.”

The Automated Wireless service information system provides real-time data to and from service field staff.  Service vehicles are also dispatched using GPS technology to locate the closest service vehicle to dispatch in an emergency.  In addition, the Automated Wireless system keeps the service department in constant communication with the field staff, enabling efficient scheduling and adaptability to unexpected changes in a daily schedule. The Automated Wireless system also creates customer work orders for each site visit; the work orders are then transmitted to Sippin Energy dispatchers so that the back office has a record of the work that was performed.

In addition to the UPS Logistics and Automated Wireless software, the technology package that Sippin Energy employs includes global positioning system software, and AirLink Communications hardware and software for mobile communications. Sippin stated that the company buys a Verizon Wireless telemetry plan for data transmissions. At less than $10 per truck per month, he said, the monthly data transmission cost works out to less than $150 for the fleet.

UPS’s Roadnet University helps fleet managers master its technology.

Another operational benefit for Sippin Energy Products is a reduction in drivers’ ‘time to first stop” ‘ that is, the time that elapses between a driver clocking on for the day and the making his first delivery. When the business was paper-based, Sippin noted, a driver picked up his paper tickets, sat down, and started sorting through them. ‘If there was a good Yankees game the night before it might take 45 minutes,” he said. ‘That start-of-day routine is dramatically different with the automated dispatch process.”

Once a driver clocks in, goes to the truck and makes his pre-trip inspection, he moves the truck to the rack for loading; his deliveries, and an optimized route to make them, are transmitted to the in-cab system during the loading.

There are a number of vendors that supply software and hardware to automate much of the dispatching, management and communications processes that make up the normal operations of fuel oil companies. Many of them have experience integrating their systems for their fuel oil customers.

For example, UPS Logistics Technologies’ Roadnet program integrates with software that tracks the amount of fuel oil delivered at each stop, said Cyndi Brandt of UPS Logistics. Such software, known as an order management system, is provided by a number of companies that in turn work with various software providers, including GPS software suppliers ‘ and hardware providers ‘ to knit together a system.

Advanced Digital Data, Inc.
Over the past couple of months ADD Systems of Flanders, N.J., has been introducing its latest offering, ADD Energy E3, designed for use by fuel oil companies with 3,000 or more accounts who would have six or more users on the system.

A primary new benefit of the system noted John Redmond, ADD Systems’ vice president for product strategy, is that it efficiently processes the steps involved in carrying out a credit card transaction ‘ capturing, validating, pre-authorizing and charging to the correct card number.

To handle the mobile data communications aspect, ADD Systems created a software program called Raven that works on an Intermec handheld unit to provide Web-based service.

Seeds for the development of ADD Energy E3 were planted in 2005, when ADD Systems acquired the energy division of VERSYSS and its Sunrise product, according to the company. Sunrise used the Microsoft .NET technology (.NET is the Microsoft Web services strategy to connect information, people, systems, and devices). ADD Systems said it combined the functionality and platform of ADD Energy with the new technology of Sunrise to create ADD Energy E3. ADD Systems also offers Oil Manager, management software designed for oil companies with one to five users.

Oil Manager’s user interface is customizable, allowing reports to be created based on categories such as customer type and account status.

The software is designed to help users separate and track delivery zones, tax districts, and referral sources. It integrates with: credit card processing software; QuickBooks; liquid controls meters; Palm Pilots / PDAs; and a GPS and mapping software package called SmartDrops.

Oil Manager also contains a delivery management application, providing information such as how many gallons a driver delivers per hour, how many deliveries per hour and what his average delivery was.

The system also can track truck information for tax purposes and to print reports with information such as the beginning and ending truck meter readings, number of miles driven, how much fuel was purchased and the cost of that fuel.

ShorTrec TankPlanner is a route optimization program from Atlanta-based Ortec, designed to generate cost-efficient transportation schedules for bulk operations, according to the company.

Such operations are typically characterized by routes with single or multi-product deliveries by compartmentalized trucks from different supply points with different product supply costs, the company noted. The Ortec program focuses on finding an optimal balance between service levels, product supply and transportation cost. The program is designed for use in an operational environment to support daily transport planning and dispatch operations, helping companies design routes, sequence stops, and manage sourcing.

Andy Berry, director of business development for Ortec, said that a distributor looking to satisfy a series of orders might have five or ten different terminals to buy product from, each with different price points. That leads to a consideration of ‘total cost solutions” – optimizing factors such as sources and mileage, he said. ‘What are the penny differences and what do they really mean in a total cost solution?” is the question distributors have top-of-mind, Berry said: ‘That’s what people are looking to do now because product costs so much money. Making the best buy decision is critical.”

Rural Cellular Corp.
Unicel, a service of Rural Cellular Corp. of Alexandria, Minn., focuses on rural markets in 15 states, offers wireless field service management powered by Corrigo software.

Corrigo offers a web-based, wireless work order management system to businesses with field services operations. Unicel offers a wireless network and a variety of handheld devices on which the work order software can be deployed.

The Corrigo field service solutions are designed to offer a field service team control over the service delivery process and improve productivity. The software can be deployed via wireless download to Unicel-powered devices such as the Palm Treo and Motorola V197.

Rock Hill, S.C.-based SMARTLogix’s SMARTruck is a dispatch and onboard truck management system that offers real-time wireless communication between the main office and delivery trucks.

The company announced last year a technology partnership that links its system with Petroleum Insights, software from Vancouver, Wash-based DM2.

According to the companies, the partnership provides a fully integrated, paperless system that links the order-management and delivery sides of a distributor’s business. Meshing the two products provides an ‘end-to-end” solution that simplifies the distribution process from order through delivery and invoicing, the companies said. Besides streamlining tracking and control of delivery transactions, and providing accurate and timely invoicing, it enables distributors to expand geographically with little or no need to add office space or staff, the companies said.

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