18 June 2012
Olympics – facing up to the challenge
The potential disruption to transport and field service operations during this summer's games is very real says Sharon Clancy, but putting the right measures in place should help you cope with them, and you still have time – just
London’s road network is congested at the best of times. According to Transport for London, 280,000 freight journeys take place within London on a typical weekday, and involve deliveries to some 290,000 businesses and 7.8 million residents. Road freight, deliveries, collections and servicing activity accounts for 17 per cent of Greater London’s traffic.
Superimpose on this the travel that will be undertaken by the 800,000 spectators and 55,000 athletes, officials, organisers and press who will be travelling between the various Olympic venues every day of the games, and you have a recipe for gridlock.
If you’ve been put in mind of past scares about impending disruptions to business continuity (the wildly-exaggerated millennium bug problem comes to mind), you need to think again. The challenge posed by the Olympics is very real, and has been causing headaches right across the transport community.
Stuart Miller, chief executive and co-founder of overnight parts delivery specialist ByBox, sums up the scale of the problem. "Onerous traffic restrictions will place traditional delivery models under severe strain," he warns.
"The Olympics presents an almost insuperable hurdle for carriers who traditionally deliver during the day, as that’s exactly when the roads will be closed. They will have to change rosters, put on extra vans and take on extra staff in order to make the most of the times when the roads are actually open during the day – and all that comes at a considerable cost."
Everyone agrees that delivery and service companies will face a challenging few weeks. But scheduling systems and real-time updates on deliveries and job progress can play an invaluable role in maintaining customer service levels and minimising delays.
Transport for London is also doing its bit in preparing for the impact such a large number of visitors will have on the transport network. It has produced a comprehensive set of maps showing roads that will be affected and on what dates. While urging companies to plan ahead to minimise disruption, it has also persuaded London councils to relax the restrictions on night-time deliveries.
The Olympic Route Network
The Olympic Route Network, or ORN, is a 109-mile network of roads that are designed to connect key Olympic venues, ensuring that athletes and officials get to Games events on time. It will be in force between 27 July and 9 September.
Although the ORN will remain open to general traffic during the games, some additional restrictions will be in place, such as changes to traffic signals, restricted turns into side roads and the suspension of some parking bays.
There will also be Games Lanes operating from 6 am to midnight, which will not be open to general traffic. Access to some sites will be barred to all delivery companies apart from UPS, the official Olympic logistics partner.
In addition to the ORN, there will be restrictions in the Central London Zone (CLZ) on specific days to allow for road events such as cycling and marathons. There will also be restrictions around "live" sites where the public can watch the action on big screens.
"There is still time available to model, plan and prepare for the impact that the Olympic Games will have on distribution operations," says William Salter, managing director routing and scheduling specialist Paragon Software Systems. Delivery organisations will need to service additional demand for consumable goods, he points out, and manage changes to delivery times, unloading times and delivery frequency within the restrictions imposed by Transport for London during the course of the Games.
MapMechanics, another scheduling specialist, points out that in some cases the user’s main challenge might be not how to avoid the area affected by the Olympics, but actually to find the best way into the area. "Thousands of businesses and individuals will have to keep on functioning within the affected area, and will need services and deliveries during the games," points out MapMechanics’ managing director Chris Greenwood.
"Everyone knows average speeds will be lower, but not by how much," explains Tim Pigden, managing director of Optrak, another routing and scheduling specialist. Night-time deliveries by trucks over 17-tonnes are usually barred in London Boroughs, but the rules are being relaxed for the duration of the Olympics, and Pigden thinks companies will exploit this when possible.
Chris Sissons, managing director of scheduling software company 121 Systems, itemises some of the difficulties businesses are likely to face. "They include current route plans not taking the Olympic Route Network into account; an increase in demand from customers for extra services to be provided within this area; added congestion; and the pressure of adhering to all the rules and regulations that come with delivering and collecting within and around the Central London area."
Transport for London’s data set might be comprehensive, but it is only published as PDFs, not in the GIS (geographic information system) format that routing software systems tend to accept. Helpfully, the leading routing and scheduling software people have converted the data so customers can check the effect on schedules.
"We are actively encouraging Paragon customers to use the added functionality we are offering with our free planning pack to help them with maintaining good service," says Paragon’s William Salter.
The pack includes special map edits, filters and congestion profiles to help clients model and route vehicle movements during the games and optimise delivery routes that avoid road closures. It automatically identifies delivery points that may be affected places where congestion will be caused by specific road-based events. The filters can be fine-tuned so that users can review their customers’ delivery points to within 100 metres of the ORN or a road event, says Paragon.
One satisfied user is Greggs, the bakery retailer, whose national logistics project manager, Paul Duggan, reports: "Having moved the more problematic deliveries on to our overnight routes, we were then able to use the system’s latest congestion profiles and map edits to re-calculate the remaining day-time routes and confirm that these would incur only minimal delays."
MapMechanics has developed an Olympics 2012 edition of digital postcodes and NAVTEQ street data for use with its TruckStops routing and scheduling software. Users can plot the location of their own depots or their customers’ premises in relation to Olympic venues, classify customers according to how likely they are to be affected by the games, and calculate routes and drive-times.
MapMechanics can also help identify locations where pedestrian footfall will be particularly high, and hence traffic speeds might be correspondingly slow – giving users a more granular picture of the impact than is provided by the structure of the Olympic Road Network alone.
The TruckStops routing software can take account of access restrictions, whether local or covering a wider area; and rather than simply routing vehicles round the affected area, it can schedule them intelligently through it. It can process information on temporarily banned turns (there will be 160 of these), and can be set up to assume a percentage speed reduction over specific stretches of road.
GeoConcept, another MapMechanics product, can use data such as customer locations, turning restrictions and road speeds to calculate travel times and find nearest locations to a given point.
The data can help users making deliveries or collections in the affected area to make informed judgements such as reallocating customers to more appropriate depots, or changing delivery days. "It might be that by normal standard such measures would appear to increase costs, yet during the games they can reduce them," Chris Greenwood says.
Optrak has developed a dedicated hosted site for its Olympic Impact Analysis application. It allows companies to identify quickly which of its customers will be affected by temporary changes to traffic regulations during the games.
"Every business that delivers into London needs to identify the impact on the customer base, but that is no easy task as it means analysing each customer location and then checking different maps on the Transport for London Web site," points out Tim Pigden.
"The Olympic Impact Analysis app provides powerful automated tools to help determine which customers are affected on a day-by-day basis. This allows businesses to open a dialogue with their customers on the changes that will be required, such as night-time deliveries."
Transport for London's freight top tips
1. Change delivery times: avoid peak periods.
2. Communicate with customers and suppliers.
3. Explore different delivery options.
4. Plan your routes.
5. Help your customers work together to share deliveries.
6. Create and test your action plan.
7. Consider night-time deliveries.
8. Carry out maintenance now.
9. Use driver’s mates to reduce delivery times and waiting.
10. Manage customer expectations.
There are three levels to Optrak’s Olympic Impact Analysis. It is free to use for businesses with up to 50 customers, and available on subscription service for companies with a larger client base and on a licence basis for corporate customers.
Users load customer information such as addresses and contact numbers into the system, and these are then overlaid on the road network. Various filters allow companies to see quickly which customers are on or near a road that will be affected by closure or other traffic restrictions.
The application combines Ordnance Survey and TfL maps and allows you to zoom in to street-level data. You can sort customer data by various criteria, ranking them according to size, value and average spend, for example. Results can be exported for follow-up.
"Different industries such as foodservice, retail, brewing and cash in transit all have different requirements. It is not practical, for example, for caterers to stock up on fresh ingredients."
121 Systems has added a real-time schedule execution system, Pulse, to its Roadnet scheduling and transport management software. It allows drivers, transport office, customer service department and customers to stay in touch, providing real-time projected arrival times, current location of the delivery vehicle and consistent address monitoring.
The Olympics are going to present companies with a whole new level of operational challenges, says service management software company Cognito, which has published a guide to maintaining services during the Olympics.
"Do some decent planning" – that’s the core advice from Jonathan Chevalier, strategic marketing director for Cognito. "Check daily that scheduled routing maintenance work does not clash with an Olympic event that day. Be proactive and warn any customers who might be affected that SLAs might not be met."
Cognito has prepared a checklist for organisations to get as far ahead as possible with their continuity planning and anticipate many aspects in which their service may be disrupted.
The use of smart telematics and field service systems can help fleet companies implement necessary changes in working practices during the Olympics, says Andy Yeoman, managing director of Trimble. He thinks that while the Olympics will only officially last for a few weeks, the July/August period threatens to be a period of high customer churn unless delivery schedules and service quality are well managed.
Yeoman thinks it would be short-sighted not to consider the value of smart telematics and field service systems beyond the Olympics. "The challenge presented by the event is merely an intensified demonstration of an inevitable future for one of the world’s largest cities."
He adds: "London’s roads are already approaching breaking point, and the city sits at the bottom of Europe for traffic speeds, with the average journey taking nearly 20 per cent longer than it did thirty years ago. In addition to this, London’s population is anticipated to reach nine million by 2031, with a predictable knock-on effect on the number of vehicle users."
Trafficmaster is updating its mapping system with all the planned road closures during the Olympics, and also plans to update routes constantly to take account of traffic congestion as it happens.
Pat Gallagher, Trafficmaster’s director for in-vehicle products, says: "During the Olympics Smartnav comes even more into its own, as our system will automatically avoid routing users down roads that will be closed by the time the vehicle gets there. And we update our routes immediately congestion occurs, so if delays build up on a vehicle’s planned route, Smartnav will automatically calculate all the other alternative routes and offer the driver the quickest way to the destination."
Fleet managers can also check their drivers’ whereabouts and progress in real time without the need to install expensive additional equipment in the vehicle or office by using Trafficmaster’s Fleet Director, says Gallagher. Messages can be sent between the vehicle and office using the touch screen to keep both drivers and managers abreast of changes during the day.
The company’s Fleet Director system can also be used to log the time vehicles arrive at their destination and when they leave again, as well as reporting exceptions such as excessive speeding, route variations and unauthorised stops.
UPS, the official logistics and express delivery supporter for the games, has installed telematics in the vehicles it will be using at the games. This is a new development for the company, which says it will be rolling out the technology nationwide and retaining it after the event.
The company is responsible for final-mile distribution and logistics services for an integrated logistics and distribution network, and will collect and deliver virtually everything from documents to heavy freight.
The telematics system will capture data on delivery vehicles, their routes, and driver behaviour such as speed, engine use and idle time. "This technology will be continuously capturing data on more than 200 vehicle-related elements, effectively turning them into ‘rolling laboratories,’" says Cindy Miller, managing director in this region.
UPS has applied the London 2012 branding to its entire vehicle fleet in the UK – more than 3,000 vehicles – along with all 2,800 uniforms. It is the first time the company has applied a partner logo alongside the iconic brown and gold UPS shield on its vehicles and uniforms in the UK.
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