Feeding America, a hunger-relief organization, takes its role seriously. Literally servicing the entire country, truck drivers collect surplus food from retailers and restaurants in all 50 states, which they then deliver to more than 61,000 food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters in local communities. The organization “rescues” surplus and near-expiration food and as a result currently helps 37 million individuals through its distribution program.
While the critical endeavor to help those in need is gratifying, the process itself was time-consuming. Each product is captured categorically, whether it’s produce, dairy, bread, meat, canned goods or other items. Previously, the driver would do all this manually, filling out forms and producing a handwritten receipt for the donation.
In a partnership with SAP, developers from both organizations worked together to streamline the pick-up process, using the SAP Mobile Platform to create a customized mobile solution. (SAP donated mobile technology and professional services.) Leveraging the platform and handheld mobile devices, Feeding America drivers can now automatically track inventory — resulting in dramatically improved accuracy while saving time and resources.
In an interview with Mobile Enterprise, Kevin Lutz, VP Technology, Feeding America, explained that the mobile platform has eliminated the need for paperwork. “The efficiency allows drivers to make additional stops because they have more time,” he said. Those handwritten receipts can now be generated and emailed, and donor signatures can be digitally captured. And when operating expenses are reduced, the organization can dispatch even more trucks.
Feeding America estimates that with every dollar saved, the organization is able to help secure eight more meals.
The mobile solution was initially deployed in Detroit for a six-month pilot program, with Oklahoma and other areas scheduled to come on board later this year. SAP has donated enough software licenses to cover Feeding America’s entire network, but it’s up to each area to determine deployments. The partnership was announced on Tuesday, May 28, to coincide with World Hunger Day.
In addition to inventory control, the solution also enables traceability — what product was picked up, where it was delivered, etc. — so if there is ever a food safety issue, its origins could be traced. While drivers, who each have unique user IDs to log in to the system, can see inventory levels on their own truck, all inventory can be viewed centrally by administration. This enables rerouting where appropriate. Drivers can be sent to pick up new items if truck space is available when additional donation requests are processed.
“This project shows the impact technology can have on the life of one individual. It’s the difference between going to bed hungry or not, and for a child that’s a world of difference,” said Rich Padula, senior vice president, Mobile Strategy, SAP, in a company statement.
In cases where there is no wireless, such as after the recent tornados in Oklahoma, the solution will still function via its store and forward capability. Actively involved in disaster relief in Oklahoma City, Feeding America quickly deployed 120 semi loads of food and supplies, including 25 semi loads of water. “When a situation like this happens, we are able to pull on the strength of 202 food banks throughout the entire network,” Lutz said.
Going forward, an updated version of the mobile solution will expand capabilities. For example, bulk donations are currently brought into a warehouse and distributed via an online ordering platform that allows feeding agencies to view available inventory. The upgraded version will be designed to include this model.
Mobility is vital to business today, and, in particular, with field service. Aberdeen's State of Service Management: Outlook for 2013 noted that 45% of respondents will be investing in field service for 2013. Feeding America’s recent success shows how streamlining the process improves productivity and positively affects the bottom line, and in this case, is literally life saving.