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The Critical Role of Route Optimization: A Q&A with Susana McLoughlin

Route optimization has played an increasingly important role in the transportation industry. COVID shifting customer expectations and demands, the ongoing driver shortage and emerging technologies such as machine learning and AI have all put a spotlight on the supply chain and finding efficiencies. 

We sat down with Susana McLoughlin, director of sales for Trimble’s Appian, to get her take on the industry, the future of route optimization and how Trimble is meeting customer needs in this space.

What is your background, and what has your career path been like?

I started my career in the transportation industry back in 2004. At the time, I was working for a division of UPS called “UPS Logistics Technologies.” They were a division of UPS Supply Chain Solutions responsible for developing private fleet route optimization and dispatch software. Similar to what I now do at Trimble. 

Since joining Trimble 11 years ago, my focus has been on our Appian suite of solutions, where I’ve served in a couple of different roles. Currently, I’m the director of sales, responsible for new sales, account management and solution engineering. I’m very proud of our team and the work that we do.  With decades of combined transportation and operational experience, we’re able to leverage that experience into our daily interactions with prospects and customers which I believe truly sets us apart.

What’s something you really enjoy about your work?

Hands down – problem solving! I love working in a customer facing role where I’m given the opportunity to learn about an organization’s needs and goals and demonstrate how Trimble can help them overcome their challenges and achieve their goals. There’s really nothing more rewarding.

Why is route optimization so important for the transportation industry?

Route optimization plays an extremely important role in the transportation industry because it helps organizations reduce their transportation spend, increase utilization and exceed customers service levels.

In my role, I have the opportunity to collaborate with private fleets spanning various distribution verticals. In most cases, these fleets view their transportation department as a cost center, often representing their largest expense. What’s more, the primary objective for private fleets is exceeding customer delivery commitments, often further amplifying the impact on transportation expenses. Consequently, it becomes critical to implement a routing strategy that provides operational efficiency while ensuring your customer delivery requirements are being communicated, tracked and most importantly, met.

Finally, relying on manual methods, tribal knowledge or not leveraging your existing routing technology can quickly lead to inefficiencies and the inability to adapt to changes that have a significant impact on your routing efficiency such as seasonality, driver shortages and pandemics to name a few.

What makes Trimble’s Appian product unique?

Appian is a tried-and-true product that has been on the market for nearly 40 years. Built with our PC*Miler mapping and mileage system, the gold standard in transportation, our routing capabilities  have continuously evolved and improved over that time, much of which has been based on years of direct customer feedback. Because of this, the breadth of our solutions and supported use cases is very robust.

With Appian, you’re not just buying an optimization product that checks all the boxes, which is important, you’re gaining a partner and there there’s a lot to consider when selecting the right partner:

  • How is the solution going to be implemented? 
  • Do they have the right team, with the right experience, to lead you down the right path? 
  • Do they have the right support system when a problem arises? 
  • Perhaps most importantly, will you have a support system that is going to ensure that you're getting utilization out of the tool that you invested in, long-term? 

We build long lasting relationships with our customers and provide onboarding and consultation support that significantly impacts their long-term success which, in turn, becomes our success.

What does the Appian team offer customers outside of traditional support?

I’m proud of the industry support we offer and I see it as a major differentiator. Every year, we host a very large tech transportation conference, the Insight Tech Conference + Expo. It’s not only an industry-wide technology conference, but it’s a time where we gather feedback from customers to better understand their challenges and goals, and how we can help solve those. 

We also have an Appian product advisory council that we bring together at least three times a year. It’s been very insightful for us to hear directly from our customers about the trends they’re seeing, and we give them the opportunity to influence our future roadmap and solution offerings.  

What's new in the world of route optimization?

We’re seeing a growing interest in our platform offerings. We now offer our multi-vehicle routing optimization engine in the form of a RESTful API. We've partnered with some pretty exciting organizations that have embedded our routing APIs, in conjunction with our broader platform offerings like map visualization and trip management,  into their back office systems to streamline the routing  process for their staff and end users.

We're also seeing the same level of interest from our partners who want to offer a streamlined experience to their customers as well. Finally, with fully autonomous vehicles and EVs gaining momentum, it’s something we’re paying attention to and working to understand better.

What's a transportation-related piece of technology or trend that you're excited about and how can it support route optimization?

The big thing we’re seeing is machine learning and artificial intelligence, or AI. That's really important for route optimization because it's taking data, analyzing that data and learning from it over time so that you can improve the routing and optimization process. 

One of the exciting projects we’re currently working on is analyzing turn difficulty using aerial imagery to identify the curvature of turns and intersections so we can help identify which class of vehicles can safely make those turns.  Ultimately, we can feed that data into a number of solutions like route planning and optimization to drive better results.

Machine learning and AI is pretty exciting for the industry overall but I think it’s important to recognize that people will always play an important role in the industry. A software solution can improve efficiency, but there’s an element of human decision-making that will always need to happen.

What role does route optimization play in enabling a connected supply chain?

Route optimization technology is unique in that it can be leveraged across the entire supply chain. Whether it’s a private fleet that needs route optimization and dispatch to efficiently manage their outbound transportation, a dedicated carrier that needs our modeling tools to respond to RFPs, or a non-asset based shipper looking for ways to collaborate more efficiently with their carrier partners – route optimization plays a very important role in that connected supply chain ecosystem.

For more information on Appian and Trimble’s route optimization tools, visit

To register for Trimble’s Insight Tech Conference + Expo, click here.