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Route Optimization Using Microsoft Excel and MapPoint

Route optimization involves determining the best sequence of stopping points along a driving route to achieve the shortest driving time or distance. Optimizing routes (for product delivery, service and sales calls, mobile healthcare, etc.) can result in significant savings in time, money and fuel. Fortunately, it is possible to bypass traditional, expensive road optimization software and use Microsoft Excel’s custom functions to perform the same calculations.

Microsoft Excel custom functions, also known as UDFs or “user-defined functions”, work inside a factory cell formula to perform a variety of tasks, and are used in the same way as standard Excel functions such as LOOKUP or AVERAGE. To perform route optimization for a list of addresses in Excel, a custom function works with Microsoft MapPoint to automatically return the reordered, optimized list directly to the worksheet. MapPoint is route planning and mapping software that integrates with Microsoft Office products such as Excel. By using custom functions, all interactions with MapPoint occur in the background; you don’t need to learn a new application because you just need to work within the familiar Excel environment.

Let’s say you have a list of addresses in Excel that represent a daily stream of customer service calls. A custom function to determine the best drive range will be used in an Excel formula like this: “=Custom Function (List of Addresses)”, where AddressList is a factory cell array that contains addresses. For example, the formula “=Automatic Function (A1:A15)” returns an optimized list of all addresses in cells A1 through A15. Microsoft MapPoint (running in the background) determines the best route based on the shortest driving time, assuming that the first and last addresses are fixed and do not change in order.

Microsoft Excel, as a spreadsheet application, is particularly well suited to managing large sets of data, and in this case can perform route optimization for many of the typical route sequences of a delivery service and other business drive.

It is also possible to return other results of the route optimization calculation to the worksheet, such as the total length of the trip (including stops at each address), fuel cost, driving time and distance, a route map, and even step-by-step driving instructions.

Route optimization is just one example of how custom functions in Excel can leverage the power of other applications, such as Microsoft MapPoint, while allowing the user to work within the familiar Excel environment.

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