Tuesday, October 2, 2012
Technology in Food Systems
For my systems project, I’ve been researching standard operating procedures for food banks. Most food banks, even of large metropolitan areas like Washington DC, barely have a functioning website. That’s why I was surprised to discover the Food Bank for New York City has incorporated technology in a significant way into its supply chain. It’s not cloud computing or complex enterprise management systems like we read about this week, but the Food Bank of New York City appears to be the first to use advanced management system that uses scannable bar codes to ensure first-in first-out inventory management and the appropriate distribution of food to its network—the pantries and soup kitchens that reach the community. They currently use their advanced management system to enable special ordering and order tracking for their network of pantries, soup kitchens, and other community aides.
The food bank’s sources are diverse. They receive donated food from food industry (restaurants and grocery stores). Fresh produce comes from the produce industry, local farmers, NY State assistance and Feeding America (national organization for hunger relief that supports various food banks). The government funds emergency relief programs, allowing the Food bank to purchase missing items. The Food bank also engages in wholesale food purchasing with donated funds. Some of these sources are more reliable than others. What if the food bank, along with its internal inventory management system, had a more reliable picture of what would reach their warehouses? The Jennings article talks about the “potential scenario where businesses could ask each of its suppliers to file reports into the cloud about the components that they ship, including their current status. The company would then analyze the aggregated data and tackle any specific issues or problems that were unearthed.”  Imagine a food bank with this amount of data. Would this change their practices? They don’t report publically about waste, but how would a better picture of donations coming in change their wholesale purchasing decisions.