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Development, 5 MIN READ

Google OR-Tools. Business Value and Potential

September 23, 2019
If you haven't heard of Google OR-Tools, your business is missing out.

OR-Tools is an open-source, fast, and portable software for combinatorial optimization. The first version was released on GitHub in September 2015 and has since evolved to version 7.2 released in July 2019. While Google AI-based solution was created in C++, the suite can be used with a variety of other popular languages, including Python, Java, and C#. Versions for Linux, Mac, and Windows OS are all available for download and installation.

I won't go deep into technical details, not to bore you. Instead, I suggest we discuss Google OR-Tools business potential. I'll cover crucial benefits this software possesses when compared to similar solutions, demonstrate a couple of use cases and cover adoption barriers you should keep in mind.

The Benefits of Google Developers Tools

The primary purpose of using OR-Tools is finding the best (optimal) solution to a problem with multiple possible solutions that complicate computations.
Developers benefits
Google OR-Tools offer solvers for linear and mixed-integer programming, constraint programming, vehicle routing, graph algorithms, and more.

Google OR-Tools possess multiple technical benefits compared to other solutions, including

  • Time-proven stability and ongoing development by a thriving community. This translates into regular updates, bug fixes, and new features you can incorporate in your project.
  • Consistent high performance based on multithreaded algorithms optimized for complex calculations. This ensures you get quick results without additional development and hardware expenses.
  • Flexible constraint control and infrastructure selection enabling quick and painless deploy. This means you get the best results with minimal infrastructure expenses.
More benefits come to the fore if you consider the business implications of the daily process optimization. Both startups and established businesses can make use of the capabilities of Google OR-Tools to:
  • Streamline operations using advanced personnel and equipment scheduling.
  • Ensure all resources are well-used by eliminating or minimizing idle time or vacant spaces.
  • Reduce the risks of overproduction or overstocking by calculating the right inventory to produce or order.
  • Stay ahead of the competition by finding optimal solutions to complex problems sooner and with fewer expenses.
  • Secure customer loyalty by providing quality and timely services through the use of efficient and high-performance algorithms.

Google OR-tools Use Cases for Your Business

With benefits in mind, you might be asking yourself what solutions this technology can offer your company in the hands of experienced software developers. Let me give you a couple of examples.
Google OR-Tools Development
Routing
Routing is one of the most complicated and exciting tasks in programming. Google OR-Tools offer specialized algorithms for both node-based and arc-based routing problems. This means you can
    • Design the shortest route for your couriers to deliver the packages to multiple addresses. Moreover, you could incorporate the weight and time window constraints to deliver heavy parcels first or plan deliveries when the customers are at home.
    • Plan the shortest route for a fleet of vehicles to cover all streets within a predetermined area. Google uses a similar algorithm for Google Street View cars.
    • Assign taxi drivers to customers based on the shortest route, destination, or any other conditions. Uber is a prime example of a similar solution in action.
    Packing
    Complimentary to the routing problem, this solution is indispensable for delivery trucks, moving businesses, as well as international logistics companies. Google OR-Tools offer optimization capabilities for many packing problems. If you run a shipping operation or want to enter the market, put OR-Tools to use to
    • Estimate the minimum number of delivery trucks or containers to fit the customer's shipment. The algorithm can use both weight and linear dimensions for best results.
    • Calculate the maximum possible number of parcels your delivery truck can hold to increase the shipment service efficiency. This algorithm ensures the volume and load-bearing capacity of your delivery fleet are used in full.
    Assignment
    Asset management offers multiple optimization possibilities, starting with assigning tasks to workers to ensure minimum expenses and maximum returns. Coupled with the routing problem, this solution can be used if you run a taxi or delivery service. However, any business that handles several projects or assignments at the same time can use Google OR-Tools to
      • Find the best person for each task and take multiple constraints into account.
      • Check whether the existing set of workers can complete all assignments in time.
      • Assign hard drives for data storage depending on the frequency of use to reduce cost per gigabyte.
      Scheduling
      While similar to the assignment problem, scheduling deals primarily with time constraints for personnel, equipment, and other assets. Optimized solutions can be invaluable for any business and present multiple startup opportunities. For instance, you can
        • Create an automated scheduling solution for schools, colleges, and universities to ensure students don't have to travel across campus between classes.
        • Offer scheduling products for small and large businesses that operate on multiple shifts and want to make their workers happy by taking their preferences into account.
        • Help manufacturing facilities design a seamless workflow and maximize production output based on equipment and technology constraints.
        The Google Machine Learning solution can help existing businesses optimize operations and offer an open-source platform for startups' use and the development of revolutionary products that solve customers' problems.

        OR-tools Adoption Barriers

        Despite a host of benefits and business use cases, Google OR-Tools are not always the perfect solution. The most pressing adoption barriers you can run into are

        1. The vast library of solutions. While it makes solving different problems easier, finding the best option for your specific project can be challenging even for an experienced development team. Sometimes using a specialized solution can speed up the development process (i.e., Concord solver is better suited for large Traveling Salesman Problem optimization tasks).
        2. Blind spots within the technical documentation. While a large community of software development enthusiasts support the library and share experience, more complex solutions require an in-depth understanding of the technology and its capabilities. Discussion forums don't come with answers for every problem.
        3. The lack of software engineering experience with this library. While it was released four years ago, many developers have only heard of Google OR-Tools and possess no practical experience incorporating the solution into real-life projects. They will need extra time to familiarize themselves with the technology, extending the project timeline by weeks if not months.

        Takeaway

        I hope my brief overview of Google OR-Tools, its benefits, and use cases made you as interested and excited as I was when I realized the potential of this library. To recap,

        1. OR-Tools optimization algorithms offer many technical and business benefits, including increased efficiency and customer loyalty.
        2. The most common optimization problems solved include routing, packing, assignment, and scheduling.
        3. You need a talented and experienced software engineer or five to make most of Google OR-Tools; otherwise, you will needlessly waste time and resources.
        Realizing the potential of OR-Tools across a variety of business implementations, Freshcode developers, including me, have familiarized themselves with the library and its capabilities. We suggested it for several clients and successfully implemented solutions for the routing problem. You can learn more about our development workflow and the services we provide here.
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