LEADING SOLUTIONS FOR FIELD SCHEDULING AND ROUTE PLANNING: FOR 30 YEARS
4 min. reading time
26 October 2022 ·
rom a kitchen in a shared flat to a globally successful software company: For 30 years, FLS has stood for optimised scheduling and route planning in field service and logistics. Take a look back with us at our history, which began when computers were still fed with floppy disks and AI-controlled business processes were science fiction.
If FLS were a human being, it would be counted among the Millennial generation. Our company shares the fate of being born into a time of rapid technological development with today's 30-year-olds. We have helped to shape the path from the floppy disk to the computer in your pocket. First and foremost through the digitalisation of processes in logistics, field sales and service.
The beginnings of FLS date back to the time when the Cold War was just over, there were neither smartphones nor Google and the World Wide Web was only known to Tim Berners-Lee and his colleagues at CERN. While Berners-Lee was tinkering with the basics of today's internet, mathematics student Thomas Brechtel in Cologne was working on solving logistical problems - through software. This sideline in the kitchen of his shared flat led to FLS GmbH, founded in 1992.
30 YEARS OF FASCINATION FOR SOLVING FIELD SERVICE LOGISTICS
The small company with an initial team of five has long since become a leading software company with over 110 employees. The inventive spirit has remained. The fascination for intelligent solutions to complex problems continues to result in innovative products for logistics, field service and service that enable a new level of efficiency, productivity and customer and employee satisfaction.
10 APPOINTMENTS = 3.6 MILLION POSSIBLE ROUTE PLANS
The initial idea behind it, which still shapes our curiosity today: How do we achieve the optimal tour plan? How do companies plan and control their delivery and field service routing in the most resource-efficient and target-oriented way possible?
This is a highly complex mathematical or logistical problem, because if you must find the optimal sequence of 10 field service appointments for a single employee, then you must consider more than 3.6 million solutions. And this does not even include other influencing factors such as time constraints (fixed appointments, break times) and certain order specifications (required staff skills, service level agreements).
A COMPUTING BREAKTHROUGH: THE POWEROPT ALGORITHM
FLS' solution to tame this complexity: the PowerOpt algorithmn. With it, we developed a core intelligence for scheduling and route planning in 2002 that takes all factors into account in a matter of seconds and ideally schedules orders, appointments, employees and materials. It makes it possible to control logistics and service processes in the field in a cost-optimised, sustainable, and customer-oriented way. And it does so in real time, through constant optimisation of planning and ongoing coordination at the touch of a button.
Intelligent advance planning is all well and good, but it is of little use to you if changes occur during the course of the day - which is the rule, not the exception. Employees or vehicles drop out, customers cancel appointments, or unexpected ad hoc orders arise that must be shifted in between.
PowerOpt was the result of many years of research, first in Cologne, then in Heikendorf near Kiel. The move took place two years after the company was founded (1994). Based on the groundbreaking algorithm, we then developed the first version of our tour planning software in 2004: FLS VISITOUR. It would go on to become a bestseller.
BIG NAMES AND INTERNATIONAL GROWTH
With real-time planning and unrivalled optimisation results, logistics and increasingly service-lead companies with field service teams reached an unimagined level of dispatching speed and process efficiency. Large customers like Jungheinrich and B/S/H chose FLS VISITOUR and simplified and optimised their field service planning in one platform.
In 2012 FLS - FAST LEAN SMART UK was created, and with this local representation came a parallel journey of success, beginning with the insurance industry. The UK team grew rapidly to meet the requirements of becoming the most popular scheduling solution developer in the UK, with customers now in dozens of industries. It gained a listing on the UK Government's G-Cloud framework and continues to win awards for innovation and supporting the transformation of its customers' field operations.
The PowerOpt technology proved to be a world leader, which attracted further customers such as Rewe, Sky, Vonovia and Allianz and with it, the further internationalisation of FLS. The company grew, further solutions such as the self-service FLS PORTAL and FLS MOBILE were added, and the new FLS Campus on Schloßkoppelweg gradually needed more 'storage space'. In 2017, the new building called Fördehaus was completed (see here on Youtube).
FLS AT THE HEART OF THE SOLVARES GROUP
The next milestone followed in 2018: the founding of the Solvares Group at the Heikendorf site with the idea of creating a European champion for intelligent resource optimisation from technologically leading companies for logistics and service software.
FLS, just like the other companies in the group, retains its independence and individuality. The Solvares Group is not about making things the same, but about continuing to grow together, supported by a strong investment partner, Deutsche Beteiligungs AG. The demand for smart algorithms and innovative business solutions continues unabated.
So founder Thomas Brechtel was able to devote himself calmly and with a clear conscience to new challenges after almost three decades and, after preparing the transition together, 'put his baby into good hands', as he himself says: "It just felt right and I remain certain that it was a good decision to take the company to the next level of development with DBAG and the new management."
NEW CHALLENGES AND NEW TECHNOLOGIES
So we are at the beginning of a new journey in our fourth decade. Still solution enthusiasts, but now with like-minded companions: the Solvares Group now consists of five companies, so that we are represented in a network of ten locations in five countries, serving over 3,000 customers worldwide.
What is becoming increasingly important - for our customers as well as for us - is the idea of sustainability. The careful use of available resources is at the core of our solutions; with them, we actively contribute to saving kilometres, fuel and CO2, but also overtime. We also pay attention to sustainability and environmental protection within the company, for example with our ISO-certified environmental management system.
The development remains exciting, both for FLS itself and the group in terms of technological possibility, especially in the areas of artificial intelligence and innovative cloud solutions. Digital transformation is an ongoing process that will never come to an end, and we are fascinated to see it unfold in a variety of ways, industries, and to be able to help lead them.