Food bank network delivers with SAP mobility

The nation's largest network of food banks is cutting out labor-intensive paper-bound processes with the help of SAP mobile technology.

The nation's largest network of food banks is using SAP mobility to improve its operations, but it's using lessons that SAP says can be applied in any enterprise.

"It's not just because it's a not-for-profit that this was special," said Rich Padula, senior vice president of mobile strategy at SAP.

"It's really about focusing on your core businesses and looking for ways to improve that," Padula said. "[What happened at] Feeding America is what every company ought to do. Look at your business processes with an eye on 'how can we improve things and what problems are we having.'"

Feeding America, based in Chicago, operates a range of food banks and similar social service programs that help feed roughly 37 million people annually, according to the organization. The majority of food banks in the United States are part of its network, according to Kevin Lutz, vice president of technology for Feeding America.

The organization also collects large donations of dry and canned "shelf stable" foods from major food manufacturers that it distributes from its warehouses. But a major part of Feeding America's business model calls for collecting prepared food from convenience stores and restaurants -- prepared food that must get to local soup kitchens and shelters quickly.

In the past, however, drivers had to take the collections and record them on paper, according to Lutz.

"Whether it's freezing cold or pouring rain, or whatever the weather conditions, when you're working with pencil and paper, it's not convenient to log in the product you're receiving, the product you're distributing, [and] then hand write out a receipt," Lutz said.

Custom SAP app frees up drivers

Working with Feeding America's IT staff, SAP helped the company build a custom app drivers could use to log and track the donations on Motorola Symbol ruggedized tablets. SAP donated the SAP Mobile Platform (formerly the Sybase Unwired Platform) software the application rides on.

"The handhelds help us keep track of the product coming onto the truck [and] the product going off of the truck to the agencies. And we're able to give both of them accounting receipts of what they donated and what donations they received," Lutz said.

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The donated goods are tracked in inventory software, which makes it easier to divide them among the various stops on the route.

"When they start the drop offs, they can say 'Oh, OK, I have 300 pounds of bread. And I'm doing 10 stops today, so I should drop off about 30 pounds per stop," Lutz said. "Where before, they'd be flipping through sheets of paper or trying to go by memory."

Data can then be transferred to the organization's Microsoft Dynamics NAV ERP system without having to be keyed in manually. "We're able to eliminate that so that the warehouse staff can focus on other activities," Lutz added.

SAP mobile technology also allows the drivers to serve more people, he said.

"Not only does it eliminate the hassles of the paperwork, but it also makes the driver more efficient. The more efficient they can be, the truck can make more stops throughout the day, which translates into a financial savings. And those savings can be used to get more food to more people."

This was first published in June 2013

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