Tell Us When

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London
Department Name: Civil & Environmental Engineering


Tell Us When (TUW) is about saving time - for the distributor and the customer. By offering a more reliable delivery time, customers may be prepared to accept alternative or wider delivery time windows. 78% TUW combines a web site where customers enter their availability to take deliveries through a calendar-like application - by browser or mobile phone app, and an enhanced version of the Optrak Vehicle Routing System (VRS). TUW will typically be accessed via a vendor's web site -after on-line ordering. It will be a ubiquitous in the manner of PayPal, allowing customers to log in so their data can be saved (for example repeated activity such as work times). TUW will communicate with other applications, for example, alternative VRS and e-fulfilment platforms. By using the site the customer will grant the supplier a secure, temporary and limited access to their calendar information.The VRS will link directly to the web site. It will use Real-time traffic data and vehicle tracking to provide better estimates of arrival time. A plan will be produced and sent to each vehicle via on-board computer. As deliveries progress there may be actual or forecast delays due to traffic or other factors. The customer will be notified of any changes to arrival time. If the customer can't meet the committed or revised time he will notify the system via phone or web, ideally with an alternative. The system will attempt to reschedule automatically while honouring other delivery time commitments and send the revised schedule to the driver. Rescheduling with the same vehicle on the same day is much more cost-effective for the driver and is better for the customer, so highly desirable. The VRS will be made available as a web app - particularly useful to smaller delivery operations. The customer will be encouraged to, and rewarded for, making more delivery slots available. This will give the optimisation greater scope for more efficient routes.


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Description The key findings from the project are:

1) The TUW concept of a single, central place to store delivery access data has been shown in action to real users across web-based and mobile platforms.
2) A novel data model was designed that enables customers to be more flexible when expressing their availability for deliveries (e.g. I'm at work but it only takes 10 minutes to pop home, all day except for school run etc.). This system is valuable not only for logistics providers as it allows greater flexibility in producing efficient delivery routes, but also for customers as it allows cost-based preferences and award customers who are sufficiently flexible.
3) Use of existing real-time traffic data and vehicle tracking was proved to be effective for better estimations of arrival time and superior delivery time notifications to customers. This allowed significant improvements over existing Vehicle Routing and Scheduling (VRS) systems used by Optrak.
4) A negotiation platform was designed that allows customers to notify the system when they can't meet the committed or revised times. Rescheduling with the same vehicle on the same day is possible via mobile apps or SMS.
5) Automatic rescheduling of all deliveries when customers can't meet agreed times while honouring other delivery time commitments and sending out revised schedules to the drivers has proved to be feasible. This is beneficial for the customer who does not have to wait for the next day to receive purchased goods, and logistic companies that reduce costs associated with missed deliveries by rescheduling with the same vehicle on the same day.
6) A better understanding of competitors and target market was developed. Initial conversations and presentations of the concept to potential customers (e.g. logistics consolidators and retailers) have started.
7) Partners now have understanding of challenges and opportunities systems like TUW allow. For example, it became evident that B2B and B2C markets are significantly different and companies in the B2B market in particular will have very unique characteristics. This will pose a challenge for TUW in the B2B as it will require significant modification to the underlying system, which will be costly. Therefore, it became evident that the B2C market should be the priority for TUW in moving forward. Secondly, relying on drivers to log delivery stages (e.g. Accepted job, I arrived, I started to unload, Delivery Un/successful, Accept next job etc.) was proved to be problematic. It became evident that TUW should eliminate relying on drivers for logging delivery stages as much as possible and design a better user interface for drivers for the successful implementation of the concept.
8) A less visible outcome is development of an overall capability within partners to link existing and enhanced VRS systems with TUW, which will allow various mixes of these systems to be packaged as separate products and marketed to different customers.

(Note that these findings refer to the project as a whole, not simply Imperial's contribution).
Exploitation Route The delivery market has changes massively since the project was conceived. When the proposal was written, delivery companies did not widely provide enhanced delivery notification. As many companies start realizing that customers preferred to be kept informed when their parcel is due to be delivered, they started offering superior delivery notification to their customers. These new systems enable sending notifications to customers about delivery times in one-hour slots, allowing customers to track the delivery truck on a map during the day using GPS technology, and updating delivery estimates throughout the day based on real-time data. These improvements were among TUW's objectives.

TUW concept still brings in potential improvements over the current systems:
(1) A single, central place to store delivery access data, which will be available across different retailers and delivery companies.
(2) A novel data model that allows customers to express their flexibility for deliveries and be awarded for being more flexible.
(3) Allowing customers to send notifications when they can't meet committed or revised times, and giving them an option of rescheduling within the same day.
(4) Enhanced VRS systems that can automatically reschedule deliveries based on real-time data, customer notifications and rescheduling that might happen during the day.
(5) Optimisation algorithms that can make use of improved information provided by the customers regarding their availability for deliveries when producing efficient delivery routes.
Sectors Retail,Transport

Description Results of the work have lead to new Masters and PhD research and collaborations with industry
First Year Of Impact 2014
Sector Transport
Impact Types Economic

Description Optrak 
Organisation Optrak Distribution Software Limited
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution We are continuing to work with one of the project partners, Optrak, to develop new research proposals in this area.
Collaborator Contribution Imperial provides access to advanced transport network modelling capabilities Optrak provides detailed understanding of logistics industry practices
Impact Research proposal to EPSRC
Start Year 2013