Appointment Scheduling - Achieving the Positive Ripple Effect Part 2: A Solution

  • Written By: Rachel Nemecek
  • Published: June 28 2002

Appointment Scheduling Achieving the Positive Ripple Effect

Part 2: A Solution

Featured Author - Rachel Nemecek - June 28, 2002

Achieving A Solution

With far-reaching scheduling problems pinpointed and improvements for these problems identified, it must be determined how these improvements can be implemented and desired results achieved. The prime way to achieve these results is an Internet based appointment scheduling system, which provides access to information, 24/7 scheduling and limited manual contact. An Internet based system also provides a centralized repository for all data concerning appointments and shipments where information is accessible to everyone involved in the scheduling process. It can be updated at anytime by anyone with access to the network, streamlining the flow of information.

An effective solution should provide maximum flexibility to the schedulers while enforcing business rules for the carriers and vendors. The system owner would need the ability to uniquely configure each of its facilities with its own capacity constraints, standard loading/unloading times, hours of operation, scheduling cutoffs, and acceptable products down to the dock door level. Individual business rules for each facility would then serve as the guideline for carriers and vendors when scheduling on-line, ensuring appointments made met the receiver's requirements.

Interaction between the appointment scheduling system and other systems would be necessary for maximum usability. Integration from an order management system offers order visibility necessary to completely automate the cycle and ensure that correct information is carried through all the way to delivery. Integration would allow for information to be sent back from the appointment scheduling system to the order management system; keeping buyers constantly alerted of their order's status. Linking an Internet based appointment scheduling system with an integrated voice response system would enable carriers to receive appointment information and to make schedule changes over the phone. This would be extremely beneficial while traveling or any other time when direct access to the Internet is not available or practical.

Several of the systems currently in use are mostly homegrown by shippers and receivers and are designed to address transportation appointment scheduling. The primary benefit of the existing systems is the ability to transition a company from maintaining paper schedules to those that are electronic. However, because they are client-server based, they are unable to give carriers or vendors access to schedules, thus, still requiring appointment scheduling via the telephone. The architecture of these systems is limited in scope and consequently does not allow for the next level of automation possible with the Internet, and it is undeniable that significant improvements may be realized through the appropriate use of technology.

This is Part Two of a three-part article. Part One discussed the problem. Part Three will be a case study illustration.

Far Reaching Benefits

Achieving and implementing the above mentioned improvements through an Internet appointment scheduling system would widely increase the opportunity for many more benefits to be gained from better information. SKU level visibility, increased capacity utilization, decreased rates from carriers, compliance, access to historical data, and improved efficiency are just some of the benefits to be realized.

SKU level Visibility

SKU level visibility of what product is actually on the truck at the time of scheduling is believed by one national retailer to be the greatest benefit gained from an Internet based scheduling system. While the delay of any product is costly, the delay of advertised or high-velocity goods is particularly expensive. If the scheduler could determine exactly what items were on the truck for each appointment, correct priority could be assigned for loading and unloading. SKU level visibility ensures that the most crucial product can be delivered when needed.

Increased product visibility also serves to boost the practice of cross-docking. Cross-docking, the practice of picking product off an inbound truck and loading it directly onto an outbound trailer, can generate great cost savings by eliminating put-away and picking; two of the mostly costly activities in the warehouse.1 The implementation of cross-docking requires the warehouse to be continually aware of what products are coming in and when, so that the appropriate outbound trailers can be staged. This level of visibility is easily and automatically facilitated through an Internet based appointment scheduling system.

Increased Capacity Utilization

An increase in overall capacity utilization can be achieved as the scheduling process is improved. Based on current processes, the total number of hours America's 3.1 million truckers spend idling each year comes to almost 6.2 billion squandered man-hours;2 an unbelievable amount of wasted capacity. For each driver sitting idle there is one tractor and at least one trailer idle, thus creating the need for even more drivers and equipment to handle demand. By reducing wait time, more miles can be put on existing equipment, which would lower costs significantly. For every 1% reduction in wait time, an additional $15.6 million per year in cost savings3 could be realized by carriers and others.

1. Douglas Chandler, "Conquering Transportation Woes", Warehousing Management, September, 2000

2. Wells Tower, "The Long Haul", The Washington Post, August 2001

3. Linda Longton, "Wasted Days and Wasted Nights", Overdriveonline, August 1999

Decreased Rates from Carriers

It has been determined that decreased wait time at the dock can directly correlate to decreased freight rates. Because there is a growing trend, especially among larger truckload carriers, to quantify the impact of delays on their revenue by an individual shipper, the costs of delays from a particular shipper are used to calculate rates that more accurately reflect the carrier's costs.4 Therefore, if the carrier's productivity can be increased, providing lower rates can be afforded. Greg Smith of Landair Transport states, "The faster that our equipment can be turned around and on its way, the more positive consideration we can give when contracts are negotiated. A shipper can expect a significant difference in cost by implementing efficient dock practices".


A common request from receivers is to have the ability to determine the compliance of their vendors and carriers based upon required delivery date of product. By transmitting the order information and desired delivery date directly to the shipper, the receiver should be able to track the number of times the supplier sends out loads with non-compliant dates to their carriers. Additionally, the number of times the carrier schedules delivery appointments for non-compliant dates and how often the carrier is actually on time for their scheduled appointments can be tracked. This provides receivers with performance information on their partners so that they may focus on the areas of greatest concern to improve dock operations. Partnership breakdowns can be identified and rectified in a timely manner.

Access to Historical Data

The maintenance of all appointment data in a centralized repository enables the analysis of historical trends. Analysis of historical trends is extremely beneficial from two points of view. First, the tracking of past volumes allows for the prediction of future resource requirements. The more accurately a warehouse can respond to forecasted demand, the lower their overall costs will be. Second, establishing historical trends would help to identify any patterns that negatively impact dock performance. Once identified, these patterns could then be addressed and corrected. The more information that is available, the more proactive a shipper or receiver can be in streamlining dock operations.

4. Toby B. Gooley, "Cooperation + Communication = Lower Costs", Logistics Management & Distribution Report, January 1999

Improved Efficiency

Automating day-to-day appointment scheduling activities would allow personnel resources to focus on other activities and would dramatically improvement in efficiency. A prime example of this can be seen with the Ralph's grocery chain when they implemented their appointment scheduling system and were able to cut the number of people devoted to scheduling by 50%. The time generated from these extra resources can then be used to accomplish other tasks, further improving productivity.

This concludes Part Two of a three-part article on Appointment Scheduling. Part One discussed the problem. Part Three is an illustration of how the solution works.

About The Author

Rachel Nemecek

Ms. Nemecek is a Senior Business Analyst at Elogex, Inc. a collaborative logistics software provider ( and has several years of industry experience in supply chain operations and application development. Her background includes supervisor positions in export operations and international trade logistics at Schenker International and E.Boyd & Associates. Nemecek has a deep operational knowledge in all forms of transportation - road, rail, ocean, and air and several software methodologies including the Rational Unified Process. Nemecek graduated with Honors from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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