Center for Continuous Intelligence

Forget Machine Learning, Constraint Solvers are What the Enterprise Needs


Constraint solvers take a set of hard and soft constraints in an organization and formulate the most effective plan, taking into account real-time problems.

When a business looks to implement an artificial intelligence strategy, even proper expertise can be too narrow. It’s what has led many businesses to deploy machine learning or neural networks to solve problems that require other forms of AI, like constraint solvers.

Constraint solvers take a set of hard and soft constraints in an organization and formulate the most effective plan, taking into account real-time problems. It is the best solution for businesses that have timetabling, assignment or efficiency issues.

In a RedHat webinar, principal software engineer, Geoffrey De Smet, ran through three use cases for constraint solvers.

Vehicle Routing

Efficient delivery management is something Amazon has seemingly perfected, so much so it’s now an annoyance to have to wait 3-5 days for an item to be delivered. Using RedHat’s OptaPlanner, businesses can improve vehicle routing by 9 to 18 percent, by optimizing routes and ensuring drivers are able to deliver an optimal amount of goods.

To start, OptaPlanner takes in all the necessary constraints, like truck capacity and driver specialization. It also takes into account regional laws, like the amount of time a driver is legally allowed to drive per day and creates a route for all drivers in the organization.

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In a practical case, De Smet said RedHat saved a technical vehicle routing company over $100 million in savings per year with the constraint solver. Driving time was reduced by 25 percent and the business was able to reduce its headcount by 10,000.

“The benefits [of OptaPlanner] are to reduce cost, improve customer satisfaction, employee well-being and save the planet,” said De Smet. “The nice thing about some of these are they’re complementary, for example reducing travel time also reduces fuel consumption.”

Employee timetabling

Knowing who is covering what shift can be an infuriating task for managers, with all the requests for time off, illness and mandatory days off. In a place where 9 to 5 isn’t regular, it can be even harder to keep track of it all.

RedHat’s OptaPlanner is able to take all of the hard constraints (two days off per week, no more than eight-hour shifts) and soft constraints (should have up to 10 hours rest between shifts) and can formulate a timetable that takes all that into account. When someone asks for a day off, OptaPlanner is able to reassign workers in real-time.

De Smet said this is useful for jobs that need to run 24/7, like hospitals, the police force, security firms, and international call centers. According to RedHat’s simulation, it should improve employee well-being by 19 to 85 percent, alongside improvements in retention and customer satisfaction.

Task assignment

Even within a single business department, there are skills only a few employees have. For instance, in a call center, only a few will be able to speak fluently in both English and French. To avoid customer annoyance, it is imperative for employees with the right skill-set to be assigned correctly.

With OptaPlanner, managers are able to add employee skills and have the AI assign employees correctly. Using the call center example again, a bilingual advisor may take all calls in French for one day when there’s a high demand for it, but on others have a mix of French and English.

For customer support, the constraint solver would be able to assign a problem to the correct advisor, or to the next best thing, before the customer is connected, thus avoiding giving out the wrong advice or having to pass the customer on to another advisor.

In the webinar, De Smet said that while the constraint solver is a valuable asset for businesses looking to reduce costs, this shouldn’t be their only aim.

Without having all stakeholders involved in the implementation, the AI could end up harming other areas of the business, like customer satisfaction or employee retention. This is a similar warning given from all analysts on AI implementation – it needs to come from a genuine desire to improve the business to get the best outcome.

David Curry

About David Curry

David is a technology writer with several years experience covering all aspects of IoT, from technology to networks to security.

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