It used to be that a paper map and a little know-how were the only tools a waste collection driver needed to operate a truck. Today, however, things have changed. Thanks to the influx of onboard routing technologies and performance optimization software, drivers are now measured throughout the day to ensure they’re operating at peak efficiency.

At WasteExpo 2018, Calum Forsyth, CEO of Atlanta-based EasyRoute, and Tom Malone, CEO of Portland, Oregon-based Routeware Inc., talked about how operators can use route optimization and driver performance optimization (DPO) software to streamline operations and better track driver activity during the April 25 session titled, “Route Optimization and Driver Performance Optimization.”

Measuring for success

Time is money in the waste hauling business, which is why optimizing collection routes is so critical. While route optimization and DPO software can help waste management companies improve collection efficiency, they are designed to monitor two distinct sets of data. Routing software is designed to help drivers find the quickest way through a day’s collections through the use of mapping technology, whereas DPO software is used to track the driver’s behavior.

According to Forsyth, route optimization technology can best be deployed to remove ambiguity at the front end of the collection process.

“[By using routing technology] I can quantify pretty precisely how many trucks, how many routes, how many miles and how many drivers I need for delivering service that week,” Forsyth said during the session. “And once I decide on this, I can move onto the next stage, which is refining these optimized routes, sharing them with the drivers, getting some feedback and preparing for rollout. And if you use optimization [technology], the rollout phase is much simpler because all the data is in the software and out it comes, whether it’s printed sheets, printed route maps or a data extract that goes into your onboard system, it is much more straightforward.”

While route optimization software can help drivers better map their routes, it can’t be used to measure variables such as driver clock-in time, pace of pickups, number of breaks taken during the day, the time it takes the driver to get to the landfill or the time between the end of the route and the driver clocking out. That’s where DPO software comes into play, Malone said.

“You can optimize the route, but sooner or later you have to optimize the behavior of the driver,” Malone said. “And these behaviors are such that only humans can manage them, but humans need data if they’re going to make decisions and coach these drivers.”

According to Malone, route optimization and DPO technologies can be implemented independently or used together to patch various inefficiencies of running a fleet and managing drivers.

“If you optimize your fleet, it’s going to help with driver shortages for those that have them and rising costs of running a fleet. It will plug many of your revenue leaks and it will cure what we refer to as ‘route blindness,’ which is what you get when your fleet goes out in the morning and you don’t know where your drivers are, what they’re doing, you don’t know how far into the route they are, how many skips and misses they had, how many extras they picked up and whether they are on route or off route,” Malone said.

With better tracking of routes and driver behavior comes the ability to trim excess costs. For many companies, this means a reduction in the number of hours it takes to complete a route. It can also mean a reduction in the number of trucks a company has to run to complete its pickups. For every truck taken out of operation, Malone said a business can realize $200,000 per year in savings.

As these technologies continue to advance, more operators are bringing these solutions onboard to help fine-tune their processes. The use of routing and performance software, which was once reserved for only the biggest players in the space, has now trickled down to be used by municipalities, midmarket operators and small haulers looking to help scale their operations.

Regardless of the size of the company, the key to effective implementation is choosing a solution that is manageable in both size and scope for the individual company’s needs.

Getting off the shelf

Forsyth acknowledged that tracking software has been in place for years, but that many businesses have trouble making use of the data that’s available to them, with upward of 99 percent of all collected data going unused.

“How good are we at using this data? The answer is we are woeful,” he said.

When a business invests in a fleet management system, proper consideration is needed on the front end of implementation to ensure a smooth rollout. This includes researching different solutions on the market prior to purchasing, buying the right-sized package to accommodate a business’s needs, investing in personnel to help manage the deployment of the technology and engaging in ongoing training efforts to help employees throughout the company use these systems and make sense of the data.

Forsyth said operators typically cite one of four reasons why they aren’t leveraging data to improve their routing strategies: It is difficult to understand; they aren’t incentivized to use it; it requires the right tool; or there are misconceptions about its use.

These types of issues can lead to neglected software systems that end up sitting on a shelf in an office somewhere instead of providing the desired return on investment.

Malone said that these software systems typically pay for themselves within nine months, but companies have to buy in from the top down to get the software’s benefits.

“I’ve seen people use this technology and fail—not often, but I’ve seen it,” Malone said. “Here’s why: This stuff only works if you commit to it. If the owners, general managers and executives don’t buy in, and they don’t understand how to use the technology, if they’re not trained on how to use what is the most invasive thing to do to a fleet, which is to automate it, it doesn’t work. This change happens at the top or it doesn’t happen at all.”

Although onboarding these systems can take a concerted effort from waste management companies, the results can be transformational, Forsyth said.

“There is a lot of data being gathered in the solid waste industry. We’re not using all of it, but there are ways to do it,” Forsyth said. “There are challenges to [implementing this software], but it’s worth it in the end.”

The author is the editor of Waste Today. He can be reached at aredling@gie.net.