Virtual Logistics?

This photo shows an example of a Supply Chain Map that a logistician in Chad might use. Copyright: WFP

It is a logistician’s dream. Well, besides new trucks and paved roads, this new development will make their jobs a lot easier -- especially when planning and implementing emergency logistics operations.

Need a hint? Technology is a major feature. 

In order to deliver food from point A to B, what do you need? A logistician would probably say, detailed supply chain information. This could include tonnage requirements, port capacities, warehouse and storage locations for commodities, and the quickest and most cost efficient land routes for delivery, among other things.

Currently all of this information is available, but not in one place or through one system; however since 2011, the Logistics Development Unit, on behalf of WFP Logistics, has sought to develop the ‘Supply Chain Maps,’ which consolidate information from a number of different tools and systems.

Thanks to these maps, logisticians are able to see a single and unified overview of field supply chain operations within any given country, beginning from the point commodities arrive at a port of entry. Quick and centralized access to operational information such as active corridors, estimated arrival of commodities at the port, stock levels at main warehouses and ports, en-route cargo, lead times etc. is available and retrievable in real-time. Not only can current operational information be accessed, but also historical data as well. With this element, information relating to WFP’s cargo movement over the past two years can be retrieved.

In the context of the Sahel crisis, the maps are able to provide not just a country overview, but a look at the entire region, showing all land transport corridors, ports, warehouses, etc – essential for planning a multi-country logistics response. With this data, logisticians can put together analyses to guide their operational plans, considering the main factors of time needed and tonnage to be delivered. A few examples include assessments on using certain transport corridors over others, factoring in estimated lead times, etc., as well as evaluating which ports to use at which time, thanks to available information on the most recent trends in their discharge and handling capacities.

Nuru Jumaine, a Logistics Officer based in N’Djamena, Chad has had first-hand experience in using the maps, and finds a few particular features of the maps especially helpful.

“The lead-time module is quite interesting,” says Nuru. “This dynamic and automated analysis allows us to more accurately forecast the arrival of various commodities at Extended Delivery Points (EDPs) - where WFP physically hands over the commodities to a counterpart (an NGO, implementing partner, or even the beneficiaries themselves). Thanks to this, we are able to advise Programming and Pipeline colleagues whether their distribution plans are feasible within a given time.”

In Pakistan, logistics staff talked about its ease of use, explaining that “a person with no logistics understanding would be able to use the maps.” Built to be completely visual, it’s easy to tell why that might be.