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Thomson Directories streamlines distribution with help from MapMechanics

Encouraging results as company recruits own teams to trial 'scientific' approach
In support of a programme to streamline the door-to-door distribution of its famous, blue directories, Thomson Directories has invested in the GeoConcept mapping and geographical information system from MapMechanics, along with some specialised routines developed by MapMechanics for this application.

Purchasing and logistics manager David Meikle says that extensive trials in three areas have produced “some very encouraging results”.

Directory distribution is a year-round task. Typically the job is handled area by area, usually from a distribution base set up for the purpose at a convenient location in the vicinity. Depending on the size of the area and density of population, each area might take roughly a month to complete.

The areas often cover many square miles, and planning efficient and economical routes for the delivery teams is a considerable challenge. Thomson Directories wanted to see if it was possible to create a standardised, scientific approach that could be applied across the board.

“We aimed to see if we could produce sound, efficient delivery routes that we could provide to our distributors,” David Meikle explains, “along with helpful maps to show them a guide of the allocated delivery area.”

The company therefore recruited some self-employed distribution staff of its own for the first time. “We wanted to find out for ourselves what kind of problems our distributions contractors encounter in the field, and how we could help them cope with our requirements more effectively,” David Meikle says.

At the same time, the company introduced MapMechanics' route-planning system. Using GeoConcept, the user “draws” areas for delivery routes on screen, and can see immediately whether they meet predefined parameters governing factors such as the extent of the territory and the number of postcodes it contains. Areas can then be amended interactively until they produce the best fit in terms of Thomson Directories' requirements.

In this way, Thomson Directories aimed to ensure that each distributor would be given an achievable target number of drops in a logical route pattern that kept travel to a minimum. To help the distributors follow the routes, MapMechanics ensured that the system could print detailed maps of each proposed route, scaled automatically to print neatly on a single or double A4 sheet.

Along with GeoConcept, MapMechanics has provided various map and geographical datasets, including Codepoint Polygons from Ordnance Survey (these identify clusters of addresses designated by a single unit postcode) and NAVTEQ street-level map data.

Initially, Thomson Directories trialled the system at March in Cambridgeshire – an area chosen because it is relatively compact, and is limited to about 20,000 directories. Following a positive result, it then applied the same concept in two much larger territories. Richmond in Surrey was chosen as a densely-populated and demographically mixed urban and suburban area, and involved about 150,000 copies of the Richmond Directory. Around 100,000 Chichester editions of the Thomson Local were distributed also, providing the opportunity to test the system in a geographically extensive rural area. In both cases, the outcome was again encouraging.

David Meikle pays tribute to the support provided by MapMechanics. “We could have asked them to do the work for us on a project basis,” he says, “but we felt it would be better in the long run to learn the system for ourselves. What we did find, though, is that they were very responsive when it came to backup, and were always available to resolve any difficulties we had.”

He says his staff were particularly impressed with MapMechanics' use of the WebEx Web-based real-time online demonstration system. This allows specialists at the MapMechanics head office to run through procedures on screen while Thomson Directories users watch in real time on their own computers. MapMechanics can also see the software that is resident on users' computers.

David Meikle says: “We've learned a lot during the trial and we can now fully appreciate the work, effort and devotion that goes into delivering Thomson Local to 22 million homes and businesses each year.”

About MapMechanics

MapMechanics uses digital map-based technologies to offer an extensive range of Web, desktop, paper and component solutions for a variety of business applications, from atlas production to business analysis, site selection, customer profiling and vehicle routing and scheduling.

MapMechanics is the UK distributor of the GeoConcept geographic information system, which is widely used in a diverse range of fields including retail planning, marketing, healthcare, environmental planning and management, policing, broadcasting, asset tracking, transport and logistics, as well as in central and local government.

MapMechanics also supplies and supports MicroAnalytics' TruckStops in Britain. TruckStops is the world's most widely-deployed routing and scheduling solution, and is in use in North and South America, Britain, continental Europe and elsewhere.

MapMechanics distributes a wide range of data products including AA, NAVTEQ and Ordnance Survey digital mapping, as well as leading business and demographic datasets from many sources throughout the world. This data is listed in the MapMechanics Data Catalogue, which is probably the most extensive and up-to-date printed listing of its kind in Britain. It is published twice yearly, and is also available on the Internet.

Backing up its extensive product range, MapMechanics offers a comprehensive service of implementation support and training.

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