Saia using route planning tech to quickly adapt to COVID changes

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Updated Apr 7, 2020
Saia is using the RouteMAX software from Optym to optimize pickup and delivery routes for its nationwide terminal network.Saia is using the RouteMAX software from Optym to optimize pickup and delivery routes for its nationwide terminal network.

Last year, less-than-truckload carrier Saia (CCJ Top 250, No. 24) began implementing a new technology called RouteMAX from Optym across its terminal network to pre-plan routes for pickups and deliveries.

That decision has been paying extra dividends with the COVID-19 pandemic causing disruption.

“The network is changing,” said Rohit Lal, vice president and chief information officer of Saia. Among those changes are shippers and receivers shortening their business hours, moving appointments, and greater fluctuations in load volumes.

To complicate matters, Saia’s load planners and other front-office employees are working from home.

Without the software, Lal said it would be very difficult for the carrier to manage the rapid changes to its network during the COVID pandemic. The company’s load planners are able to update appointment times for shipments, plan routes further in advance, and more quickly respond when pickups and deliveries need to be re-routed on the fly.

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RouteMAX is replacing Saia’s legacy internally developed route planning application. During the initial stages of the rollout, Optym worked “very closely” with Saia’s engineering, operations and IT departments to “look at our processes,” Lal said. Optym also had employees that went on rides with drivers and gathered feedback from dockworkers.

Saia’s legacy application was short on graphical tools, and users relied on tribal knowledge to finalize plans for routes that were organized by zip codes. The optimization engine and visualization tools of RouteMAX have made it possible for planners to be more productive, to make real-time adjustments and perform “what-if” simulations as Saia’s business changes throughout the day, Lal said.

After plans are finalized, RouteMAX sends proactive notifications to Saia’s planners about pending issues based on real-time data changes from linehaul and dock operations, such as heavy traffic, new bills, re-weighs and more.

The next phase of the rollout will be adding a mobile application from Optym for drivers to use on handheld Android tablets, which will replace a current platform Saia uses that runs on Windows Mobile devices.

Raguram Venkatesan, director of trucking solutions for Optym, said RouteMAX accounts for special equipment needs, customer appointment times and many other factors to provide load planners with optimal routes so they can focus their time on making final adjustments and managing exceptions.

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“We are not trying to replace the planners but augment existing skills and create an even better plan,” he said. Once the plan is finalized, the information is sent to dock workers to load freight on trailers in the sequence of deliveries.

The mobile app for RouteMAX is in the final stages of development, he added, and it is “going to help drivers focus on what they do best.” Drivers for LTL carriers will be able to capture shipment data, take pictures of paper documents and capture electronic signatures for fleets to go paperless.

Fleets that use the mobile app will also be able to give their customers more accurate and timely shipment tracking information, he said.