ZIFFPAGE TITLETracking Supplies

By John McCormick  |  Posted 2005-04-06 Print this article Print

How a U.N relief agency had technology on the ground within 48 hours to help rush food to the victims of Asia's tsunami.

Tracking Supplies

At the heart of the World Food Programme's logistics information system is Compas, or the Commodity Movement Processing and Analysis System. At any point along its supply chain—from warehouses, to trucks, to distribution centers—the internally developed software program can give relief workers an accurate, up-to-date snapshot of its food stocks.

All food shipment data is sent from the field to Rome, where a software program takes all the information coming in from the disaster area and updates an Oracle database at headquarters, which, in turn, can then be accessed by people in-country.

While Compas monitors food from port to distribution point, an SAP R/3 system tracks food being shipped from donor countries, such as the U.S., according to quantity and destination.

Together, the systems give the WFP "a complete, global picture," says Bruni, and allow the agency to divert food from one area to another that might be in greater need.

For instance, right after the tsunami hit, the relief organization was able to spot a U.S. donation of some 5,500 tons of rice that had just arrived in Indonesia as part of the agency's normal food relief. The WFP decided to split the stock, keeping 60% of the shipment for Indonesia, but sending the remainder to Sri Lanka to help victims there.

In addition to monitoring food distribution, the World Food Programme uses the SAP system to track donations, on which the agency is totally dependent. Contributions from donors around the world are recorded in the R/3 system and matched against distribution data from Compas, allowing for a full accounting of donations and disbursements.

"If you're not able to show where funds are and how they're being used, there won't be future funds," says Tom Shirk, president of SAP's global public services unit.

In the past, the accuracy of data input into Compas wasn't always consistent. For instance, staffers sometimes keyed in partial information, such as just the first seven digits of an eight-digit shipping notice. The edit controls, Curran explains, weren't as strong as they should have been.

Over the past year, however, the WFP has built in features, such as pop-up screens, that require users to verify what they type in before the information is accepted by the system.

Another limitation of Compas, however, can't be fixed as easily. Compas is what's known as a batch system, which means it collects data from various sources and then processes it at a predetermined time, such as the end of a day. SAP, on the other hand, is capable of processing data as it is input. As a result, the two systems aren't always in sync.

While this isn't a major headache, the ICT says it could better manage and adjust shipments if it had up-to-the-minute data from Compas. Curran says the agency is now looking to replace the Compas system, possibly with SAP's supply chain software.


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