Thomsons Local optimised their directory delivery routing to 22 million homes with Mapmechanics

thomsonThomson Local is the leading local directory publisher in the UK, distributing 174 editions of its “Blue Book” Thomson Local directory to 22 million homes throughout the country. Thomson Local directories are used by 4 million people every week.

Distributing the directories 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. Much of the work is contracted out, and the company wanted to gain a better understanding of the nature of the task. The aim was to create a standardised, scientific approach that could be applied across the board.

The company also wanted to introduce a more methodical and efficient system for planning the routes taken by distribution staff, ensuring that each distributor would be given an achievable target number of drops in a logical route pattern that kept travel to a minimum.

Finally, Thomson wanted to be able to generate maps of each delivery route automatically in a consistent form as an aid to its distributors.

Mapmechanics developed a route-planning system based on Geoconcept, the powerful geographic information system supplied by the company. The Thomson Local staff member responsible for the operation “draws” areas for delivery routes on screen with the mouse, and is immediately given feedback showing whether each area meets 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 Local’s requirements. Thomson Local recruited some self-employed distribution staff of its own for the first time to test the solution, and applied it in three widely-differing urban and rural locations to ensure that it would bring benefits in all of them.

To help the distributors follow the routes proposed by the system, Mapmechanics ensured that it could print detailed maps of each proposed route, scaled automatically to print neatly on a single or double A4 sheet.

The exercise was pronounced “very encouraging” by Thomson Local, and answered one of the company’s primary requirements – to see if it was possible to produce sound, efficient delivery routes that could be provided to distributors.

In the words of purchasing and logistics manager David Meikle: “We wanted to find out for ourselves what kind of problems our distribution contractors encounter in the field, and how we could help them cope with our requirements more effectively.”

The company found Mapmechanics’ implementation support particularly helpful, and singles out its use of online collaboration technology as being especially useful

The system helped ensure that the optimum target number of drops could be generated for each distributor, and that they were arranged in a logical route pattern that kept travel to a minimum.

The project also introduced a system for printing out detailed maps of each proposed route for distributors, scaled automatically to print neatly on a single or double A4 sheet.

The company found Mapmechanics’ implementation support particularly helpful, and singles out its use of online collaboration technology as being especially useful. This enables Mapmechanics to see what is on the user’s screen, and talk through each step of a given process.