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Throughout history, paper maps have played an integral role in logistics, transportation and route planning. Today is no different, except most maps are in a digital format and there are many map formats to choose from as well as mapping software with which to access them.
But which do you choose?
What is a Digital Map?
Simply put, the digital map is the electronic representation of a traditional paper map, with all the same information such as points of interest, boundaries, roads and conurbations, etc. However, unlike the paper map, digital maps empower users to do a host of things to the map, such as, add additional information such as a path, alley or new road, view points of interest in 3D if an image is associated with it and use the map to calculate distances.
The software products that contain the maps, such as a Geographic Information System (GIS), presents data on different ‘layers’, the ‘base layer’ is typically (though not always) the map itself. This type of software is very useful for the display of a host of data types ranging from rainforest destruction over a long period of time to the immediate aftermath of a hurricane to the more mundane average traffic congestion around a country’s main airport.
In logistics the digital map provides managers of operations, fleets and their drivers with vital information which, for route planning, relates to road speeds, road types, vehicle based road restrictions, distance and historic traffic congestion. For telematics the mapping data is the base on which a vehicle is tracked or the Satnav in the vehicle: A key dada layer for fleet is the live traffic reports that can alert operators to potential service delays.
In the vehicle tracking sector, vehicles are usually represented on a map as icons. How accurate this type of data is in terms of exact location depends on several factors including the rate at which the telematics device reports its latitude and longitude, the quality of the GPS device, signal strength and how accurate the underlying map layer is.
The GIS System
The GIS system treats each data set as a separate layer. For example, one layer may contain city street layouts, while another may display that city’s administrative districts. On top of those two layers, a third may show where in that city a crime was reported in the past year. Then by type of crime. And so on.
GIS systems were designed to not only capture and store location information, but also allow users to manipulate, analyse and manage that information. This allows users to obtain a more complete understanding of not one but all aspects of the geography.
GIS systems work in concert with digital maps to provide a richer amount of information to the user. When combined with a telematics and route optimisation solutions, users can ask the system questions relating to the locations their fleets visit. Some of these questions may include:
For logistic intensive organisations, in addition to presenting the system with queries like the ones above, GIS systems allow for various location information to be integrated and scenarios visualised so that potential problems can be seen in advance and a contingency plan devised. Ultimately, a GIS system allows those at development and planning levels to develop more effective strategic transport based solutions.
GIS has been especially useful when integrated with telematics solutions. This has allowed large amounts of data to be made available for situations where information for a multi-drop route planner is required, such as, time windows at client site, a mixed fleet of vehicle capacities and a mix of rural and urban routes.
Software Capabilities: Telematics, Route Planning and ERP
The level of capability of any software solution that manages logistics and transport is dependent upon its architecture: most do not have ‘geodatabases’, that is, a data base that can manage geographical based data. While adding a GIS ‘wrap’ around the core software may present additional cost, the information obtained can be very valuable, allowing the user to solve complex operational challenges, providing a significant ROI.
The benefits of both digital maps and GIS solutions must be fully understood by fleet and operational managers, as well as how a combination of the two can benefit their company. Existing GIS solutions can be easily incorporated in a telematics solution when the project plan includes the following:
The reduction of costs is a top priority for all fleet and operational managers. The solution which best suits the needs of a fleet will depend on the full cost of the ownership of a combined digital map, GIS and telematics/logistics system.