A Food Bank Banks on Logistics Software

We’ve recently come off the holiday season—a time when most people are more likely to be charitable. While that’s a boon for charities in general, it does create headaches for organizations like Second Harvest, which can be inundated with food donations in a relatively short span of time.

Some of the food donations—particularly cans and boxes of dry goods—can be kept for quite a while and distributed at times when donations are lighter. But some of the food is near the end of its shelf life, so it must be identified quickly so that it be given to people before it spoils. That’s where accurate real-time tracking can make all the difference.

“There is constant concern about the perishability of our food,” explains Dennis Easter, information system director at Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee. He explains that many perishable items that come in are already near the end of their shelf life. If the food is not to be wasted, it has to be positioned in a spot where it can be sent out quickly—not buried in the back of the warehouse.

That’s what Exact M10 tracking software enables Second Harvest to do: manage the inventory more effectively for maximum use and minimum spoilage, and use the warehouse space more efficiently. As Easter says, in addition to getting alerted to which food items will reach the end of their shelf life soon, the technology allows better communication between the volunteer services and the inventory control department for more efficient sorting operations. As a result, they are able to get more use out of the warehouse, which frees up valuable floor space.

Second Harvest is a very long-time user of the software: It was using an early version of the software back in 1997. “However, the system configuration and business processes had not been updated with the changes to our business model,” Easter reports. The organization tried some fixes for a couple of years, but then they got a better offer from Exact Software: a free software upgrade of Exact M10.

New Possibilities for Streamlining Systems

That upgrade solved Second Harvest’s problems, but it also opened up new possibilities for streamlining systems. “Once we saw the capabilities of the entire suite,” Easter recalls, “we were able to develop solutions for many of the issues we faced, especially regarding internal communication and strengthening our control environment.”

In addition, the upgrade made it possible to use Exact M10 to incorporate a broader range of operations and jettison several disparate systems. For example, Easter says, they plan to apply “the M10 workflow and business activity monitoring solution to replace paper forms and internal emails.”

Though Second Harvest has not yet launched the latest version of the software, the preliminary design and testing indicates that the organization can gain even higher efficiencies. That includes cutting down on the time it takes to enter data from 25 hours a week to under five.

Aside from the time saving, there are also real dollar savings. Easter says they have saved “”several thousand dollars” on development costs because there is no need to reinvent the wheel for features that already come included in the program.

Having everything—both the programs and the data—in one place is the software’s great boon to efficiency. It extends far beyond simply lining up the food that won’t keep so that it goes out before the food that can be safely stored for a while.

“The enormous power of collecting all activities and communications related to a customer—a grant-funded activity, a customer order, a vendor or a purchase order—in a single location will make us much more efficient,” Easter states.