Optimizing Transportation with GIS

Optimizing Transportation with GIS

A modern corporation must keep on the move — not just figuratively, but literally — to be successful. Many aspects of what someone with a business administration degree must do involving people and goods moving from one place to another. Managers and executives travel to meetings at remote locations. Materials and components must get from vendors to factors, where they become products that, then, go elsewhere to customers. Salespeople and service personnel can spend most of their days in transit.

Besides the use of transportation, all of these activities involve logistics and a constant shifting of locations. Geographic information systems (GIS) become an ideal tool in making things run smoothly and efficiently, as any holder of a GIS degree would know. A company that can ably handle location and transportation is one that can make the business run on time — and save money in the process.

Far beyond a list of maps and highlighted routes, GIS helps a company pull together disparate important information to better manage what it does at locations. One example is how a timber company transports logs — when applied to South African plantations, literally a thesis topic for a master’s degree. Drive city streets and you see the basic problem: trucks can have a difficult time navigating turns. South African logging roads can incorporate turns too sharp to allow certain types of truck configurations to pass. The degree candidate explored how GIS could help a timber company consider forest density, vehicle capacity, and vehicle turn radius to determine how to bring wood to market at the lowest cost.

Now, instead of bends in a road, a company could apply such an approach to service personnel, calculating estimated lengths of certain types of repair calls, individual capacity of technicians to perform types of work (perhaps based on experience), and normal and overtime pay rates. The company could then arrange workloads and routes, balancing the number of technicians with work capacity and costs.

Lasko, Slovenia used GIS to solve a different problem: reduce the cost of mandated transportation of children to school. Planners determined the optimum locations of bus stops to reduce costs by keeping the number of stops to a minimum while still reducing as much as possible the distance children had to walk to arrive at a stop. Working on a larger scale, companies could use similar techniques to construct a distribution network and appropriate placement of warehouses within clusters of customers.

GIS systems can also allow the aggregation of more accurate data, like real distances rather than estimates that might cause optimization programs to work inaccurately, or actual travel times based on traffic lights and road capacity instead of undifferentiated distances. It isn’t hard to imagine taking airport locations, historic weather patterns, and statistics of on-time flight performance to help get employees to a series of stops on-time, minimizing the number of missed meetings because of transportation delays. It’s just a few more examples of how GIS can be critical to the operation of many companies and why anyone with a business degree should learn more about the technology and how to apply it.