HERE has just released a new set of Real Time Traffic API's which I think offers a great opportunity for the many developers who work in Fleet Management, Transport, Distribution and other location basee areas.
Over 10 years ago it was estimated that the cost of traffic congestion to the GDP of Auckland, New Zealand was over 1 Billion dollars per annum. We have grown a lot since then. Our economy has suffered, companies' productivity and profit has reduced; and the end result of that is that the price of goods and services has increased and companies that didn't have the business intelligence have fallen by the wayside. Not only do businesses suffer, but so do consumers.
I'm excited to say that I have learned of a suite of product from a company called HERE (previously known as Navteq). The HERE Routing API set has the potential to turn some of those losses around.
Now I haven't tried the API's myself, but I know the company and having read about the tools, and used their real time traffic based car navigation in New Zealand and Australia, that they certainly have the information and the smarts. They have a FREE app WITH Real Time Traffic for your mobile, just look it up on your app store.
As Sales & Marketing Manager for the leading mapping company GeoSmart (sold to TomTom) in New Zealand for 7 years, providing map data and tools to the leading Fleet Management and Car Navigation brands, the elephant in the room for our and their customers was traffic congestion.
One of the top ICT distributors in Auckland built a massive robotic warehouse on Auckland's North Shore, the most modern of its kind. But because much of their incoming and outgoing product went via the airport in South Auckland they could no longer meet their delivery promise, even though the picking and packing was now lightning-fast, the traffic on the motorway wasn't; and they had to tear the warehouse down at massive cost, but new premises and start again close to the airport at a cost of millions of dollars.
I spoke to so many companies who were forced to change their delivery promise from 'order in the morning and deliver in the afternoon', to best endeavours next day. Service companies can no longer do as many visits on the same day and neither can sales people, merchandisers, couriers and other business people who visit clients and prospects on site.
Even my insurance broker told me he could only commit to about 3 meetings a day in order to give as close to possible a guarantee that he would be able to meet clients on time. Even then I'd sometimes get a call from his PA, saying, "Sorry Luigi, but Tom is stuck behind an accident on the motorway and will be about 15 minutes late."
Calls like that, or simply absences when meetings are supposed to start are commonplace as people try to keep squeezing meetings into time slots that they are unlikely to be able to commit to. I hate that because it costs me my time and productivity too. The only good thing is having email and other tools on my mobile, (as I suggested in my first book 'Unleashing the Road Warrior') I can still get some work done, anywhere, any time, on any device, which I coined as A³.
So what am I on about?
HERE has developed a set of routing API's (tools developers use to create applications) that will facilitate a wide range of route optimization queries. It includes comprehensive information on historical traffic congestion data as well as Real Time Traffic Information (RTTI).
I'll give you a couple of examples of how it could work.
A truck has 10 deliveries to do. If they use common route optimization, they will use what is called the Traveling Salesman Problem algorithm. The outcome of this is usually something like a circle if you are starting and ending at the same place and will be the most economic route. This is generally much better than a driver would work out, because it knows about speed zones, one-way streets, turn restrictions and other elements that impact the selection of the optimal route, not only for the complete set of stops, but also between each one.
Using historic traffic information means that you can run a similar algorithm based on what traffic is like, say on a Tuesday (often the busiest day of the week during morning and evening peaks) and the route may end up criss-crossing itself, because certain locations have more or less traffic at different times of day. So the next closest stop, may actually take much longer to get to than one which is farther away. The new route may look counterintuitive on a map, but it will get more visits done. In this environment you can still give people an expectation of roughly when to expect the delivery.
One of my old clients had certain deliveries that had to arrive within a specific time frame. Liquor deliveries, for example, require the presence of the person holding the Liquor Licence. Let's say that was 10 AM. Other deliveries might not be time based. The algorithm can then plan based on what traffic is normally like on those days and the sequence will be different to the one above.
The next cool thing is that on top of all of that, the API includes Real Time Traffic congestion. Now this layer adds a whole new level of valuable data. The route plan was based on the best possible route based on what traffic is normally like, but what happens if there is a crash and that causes an unplanned traffic jam? Their new API covers that as well. Rerun the tool that someone would develop using the API and hey presto, you have a new route, avoiding the new traffic jam as much as possible and it will cause much less delay than you previously would have used.
Another way of using the tools would be on an ad hoc basis. I.e. I have a list of visits and I go to the first stop. I then run the tool over all the other visits I plan to do today, based on real time traffic and it tells me which one I can get to the quickest. Note I am talking about speed of getting there, not the distance. As an example, I once used an Uber to get home in the afternoon after doing aqua-walking for my back injury and he went past 3 schools. It took almost an hour to travel less than 10km, when he could have used the motorway and got me home in 15 minutes. I got a refund, but this is local knowledge that Google didn't seem to have, or perhaps he had the traffic layer turned off.
You wouldn't need to, but if you added HERE car navigation with real time traffic information in the vehicle, combined with the next location from the routing tool, you can also avoid any minor incidents or traffic jobs between your current location and the next one. It obviously needs mobile data to get the traffic information, but the app is available from your mobile app store for free.
I'm really excited about this. It won't recover the Billion dollars of GDP, but it does give power back to transport users in a big way and will reduce the cost of commercial travel and increase some of the productivity lost and improve our GDP if companies use it. That means more income in the same amount of time and hopefully reductions in cost of goods and services. It is potentially HUGE!
What's the catch? HERE provides the tools, but a developer has to use them and apply them into their dispatch or work management systems. Competitive Fleet Management companies will pick up these tools and add them into their mix. I'm sure these tools will be scale-able as well, so small companies should also be able to have access to tools to optimize their day's work.
I'll put a link in a comment below this article for anyone who wants to explore this further.
Just for the record, I do not work with or have any financial relationship with HERE as I write this story. I don't know what the services cost. I do use HERE on my phone for free and also on the Heads up Display in my car. I know people at HERE, because I have a long history and connections in the industry. NZTA provides real time traffic data for New Zealand roads to them for free via an API, which is available for to business that wishes to subscribe to it, providing they don't charge for the information they get from us for free.
So, if you are in any business that is impeded as a result of traffic congestion, check out the link below. I'm sure this service works in most countries around the world, even though I have been talking specifically about New Zealand and Australia. It WILL save you time and money.
Please feel free to leave questions or comments below. I will be happy to respond.
Other related posts:
Solving the Traffic Jam Problem - Getting Cities Moving Again
New TomTom Report on Worst Cities in Australasia for Traffic Congestion
AA Traffic Subscriptions Peak During Auckland Bus Strike