Sud Ouest, one of France’s leading regional daily newspaper groups, has successfully increased the number of home deliveries of newspapers its agents can make, and at the same time made its deliveries much more efficient, by introducing StreetServicer, an advanced route optimisation system from MapMechanics, a UK company specialising in logistics solutions and geographic information systems.
Crucially, StreetServicer has enabled the group to re-optimise and restructure many of its existing delivery rounds without radically changing them – essential in an operation where the individual self-employed delivery agents, or "porteurs", have extensive local knowledge and experience of their own areas, and where a total change in delivery patterns would have brought more problems than benefits.
"StreetServicer has proved to be exactly the solution we need," says Philippe Sender, logistics manager at Sud Ouest. "So far as we know, there is nothing else quite like it on the market."
Home delivery of newspapers remains an important feature of daily life in France, and Sud Ouest delivers to around 120,000 customers in an area stretching from La Rochelle in the north down to the border with Spain.
Deliveries are carried out by self-employed teams, usually using mopeds in urban areas and cars in more rural areas. On average they make 180 deliveries a day each, and some make up to 300. All newspapers must arrive no later than 7.30 am.
Two factors prompted the company to look for a more efficient solution. It wanted to take over some deliveries that were previously made by post, ensuring earlier delivery and saving cost; and it was required to take responsibility for delivering certain national newspapers in its area. This second demand was driven by a nationwide political initiative to find a more environmentally friendly method of newspaper distribution.
For some years Sud Ouest has used TruckStops, the routing and scheduling system from MapMechanics, to plan newspaper deliveries to shops and kiosks. "We have been very pleased with TruckStops on our store deliveries," says Philippe Sender, "so we tried applying it to the home deliveries as well."
He adds: "However, we found that it was not the ideal solution for this very special requirement. It always attempts to produce the most efficient routes possible, but in this application, that would have involved too much change from our existing practice. We wanted a system that would allow us more flexibility in deciding how much to change and how much to keep the same.
"Although TruckStops can do this to some extent, we hoped we would find a system that would approach the scheduling task in terms of street segments rather than individual points."
If possible, Sud Ouest wanted a product that would integrate effectively with GeoConcept, the powerful geographic information system, which it was already using with TruckStops and for various other types of location-related business analysis. GeoConcept had proved invaluable in identifying those customers who received their newspapers by post, but would be suitable for switching to direct deliveries.
It also hoped to find a product that would take advantage of NAVTEQ street-level map data, which is its mapping of choice. As it happens, MapMechanics distributes both GeoConcept and NAVTEQ data in the UK, and therefore has extensive knowledge of them.
Sud Ouest explained its requirements to MapMechanics, which suggested that its StreetServicer solution would be suitable. This is a specialised optimisation system for scheduling the movements of people who make multiple calls on the same roads or streets, whether driving or on foot. It is designed to integrate with GeoConcept, and is fully compatible with NAVTEQ data. For its latest version MapMechanics has taken special account of the requirements of Sud Ouest and other users with similar optimisation requirements.
"StreetServicer allows us to insist that a specific porteur will continue to serve a given area," says Philippe Sender. StreetServicer does this by applying a concept called a "preferential penalty", which allows the user-company to stipulate that specific existing routes must be retained, even if the objective result might seem less than optimal.
MapMechanics’ director Mary Short explains: "Whilst some scheduling optimisation systems allow users a degree latitude in terms of ring-fencing existing or preferred operations, StreetServicer takes the concept of ‘preferred routes’ to a new degree of sophistication. This is especially important where the people doing deliveries have existing relationships with customers or recipients."
Not only does StreetServicer offer this flexibility; it also allows users to produce routes where the priority is either the time taken or the distance covered (or a mixture of the two). And it takes full account of the minimum and maximum work load that each person or vehicle can take on – the quantity of goods they can carry, vehicle capacity, distance travelled and time available.
Initially Sud Ouest deployed StreetServicer to handle around 30,000 deliveries in the Bordeaux area, which is covered by 130 porteurs. The company has been able to add a number of new routes to accommodate almost 2,000 new customers; yet only about 20 per cent of the existing routes have been altered – which has been sufficient to meet Sud Ouest’s objectives.
"The roll-out has been very successful," says Christine Duquesne, business analyst at Sud Ouest specialising in logistics and geographic information systems. "Our routes are more efficient now, and StreetServicer has helped to show up mistakes that were not evident before. In one case, for instance, it revealed that a porteur was travelling 10km further than was necessary – a significant excess on an urban operation."
She says StreetServicer helps the company to avoid the "domino effect" that can arise with more conventional scheduling systems. "If you alter one route, the changes could affect all the others. With StreetServicer, we can control this much better, and prevent it from becoming a problem."
Christine Duquesne says the logistics platform managers have been happy with the new system. "They have told us it works well." She says it has also reduced the amount of time it takes to plan the routes for the platform, and makes it easier for the company to negotiate with the porteurs to implement the new routes. The optimisation process will be repeated periodically as delivery patterns change, so the time-saving will apply on every occasion.
The StreetServicer system is now being extended to the rest of the Sud Ouest region – a process that should be completed within a couple of months.
"MapMechanics spent a lot of time ensuring that StreetServicer produced the right result for us," says Philippe Sender. "Now we are sure it is exactly what we want."
He adds that it will be possible in future to achieve even further benefits. "MapMechanics has proved itself eager to meet our requirements, and is therefore continuing to develop the software."
He says other regional newspaper groups are looking for new systems for home deliveries, "and they will certainly be interested in StreetServicer."