COVID-19 forced many businesses to close their doors to the public, leaving them to shift their business models to delivery virtually overnight. - Photo: Gettyimages.com/matejmo

COVID-19 forced many businesses to close their doors to the public, leaving them to shift their business models to delivery virtually overnight.

Photo: Gettyimages.com/matejmo

As COVID-19 has dramatically changed the way we live and work, essential personnel like healthcare workers have rightfully been celebrated for their heroic efforts to support the pandemic response. What people may not be as conscious of, though, is how technology has been doing its part behind the scenes to help, too. 

As businesses shifted their strategies, schools employed remote learning, and everyone was doing their best to stay safe; route optimization is one such technology that has stepped in for the assist. Four providers shared stories of how their route optimization platforms kept businesses and on-profits running amidst all of the chaos.

Keeping the Doors Open with Improved Productivity

COVID-19 has forced many businesses to shutter their doors, while others are struggling to hang on. Steve Milroy, President, OnTerra Systems, developers of RouteSavvy, said route optimization could help businesses shoe-horn extra deliveries or service calls into their schedules, which can generate additional (and much-needed) revenue.

“As businesses hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic have shifted their business model to home deliveries to survive, they ALL should be using affordable route optimization to save every dollar possible during these hard economic times,” Milroy said. “The money that route optimization can save could mean the difference between keeping the doors open or shutting the business down.” 

On top of increasing productivity that results in profitability, Milroy said route optimization eliminates printed paper routes, thereby reducing potentially hazardous contact.

Pivoting to Deliver

COVID-19 forced many businesses to close their doors to the public, leaving them to shift their business models to delivery virtually overnight. As companies figured out how to disperse their products to customers rather than serving them in-store, many looked to route optimization to help. 

“We had an influx of interest in our route optimization software from businesses that were forced to shutter storefronts and pivot to offer delivery overnight,” said Marc Kuo, Founder and CEO of Routific. “We’ve been working with a plethora of businesses ranging from farms to grocery stores to breweries to restaurants.” 

To help get these businesses up and running, Routific offered free resources and training, including one-on-one demos, free webinars, and a free eBook that teaches businesses how to launch and scale a delivery business profitably. Kuo also provided Routific for free to all non-profits delivering essential goods like food, medicine, and masks to vulnerable populations stuck at home. 

Route optimization has been able to support these businesses’ changing business models. 

For instance, when the COVID-19 pandemic began, a Toronto-based charity dedicated to alleviating food insecurity had to suspend regular meal programs. Instead, the non-profit shifted its focus to support low-income households with children who normally rely on schools for their meals during the year. The non-profit was able to scale very quickly with the help of Routific, delivering grocery care packages to more than 7,000 homes across the city of Toronto, all with a volunteer fleet of 55 drivers. 

Supporting At-Home Education

Businesses aren’t the only ones impacted by COVID-19. As everyone is well aware, COVID-19 had a major impact on education. With shelter-in-place orders forcing schools to close and institute at-home learning, Campbell Union High School District had to find a way for students to continue their education online.

The school had about 400 Chromebook laptops slated for recycling but putting them in the hands of students who needed technology to enable remote learning gave them a new purpose. The question was how to get them there. 

Initially, the district used its vans to distribute Chromebooks and WiFi hotspots to campuses throughout the district where students could pick them up. The problem was, some students didn’t have transportation to get there. They needed to deliver the technology directly to students’ homes. 

“Campbell Union High School District was able to adapt operations in light of COVID-19 and leveraged Samsara to find the most efficient routes while delivering Chromebooks and WiFi hotspots to students who needed these resources to learn from home,” said Sean McGee, director of Product Management, Samsara.

Without Samsara, the district would have had to manually enter individual students’ addresses into MapQuest and draw out the routes by hand. With Samsara, the team uploaded students’ home addresses and found the most efficient routes.

In the first eight weeks of the shelter-in-place order, the district was able to deliver and distribute more than 650 Chromebooks and 250 WiFi hotspots, which helped keep students from falling behind.

Keeping Drivers Safe

Route optimization has also done its part to keep drivers safe. Using the software to manage driver assignments has allowed businesses to allocate high-risk drivers with underlying health issues to lower-risk deliveries. 

“This enables businesses to meet increasing demand brought on by the pandemic while exercising a duty of care for their driver workforce,” Jim Endres, Paragon Sales Manager at Aptean.
Endres said Aptean’s Paragon Routing and Scheduling software offers fleets the ability to model hypothetical strategies, like changes to delivery frequency, volumes, and even distribution points, before committing to them. This lets fleets run what-if scenarios, helping them be better prepared for and responsive to change. “The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for distribution businesses to scale up or down rapidly and to be able to pivot quickly to new products, customer locations, and protocols, to name a few,” Endres said. “The businesses that have already played forward a wide range of outcomes are in great shape to go with market changes instead of being left behind.” 

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