I had coffee the other morning with Aaron Holmes who is currently working as a Consultant with the Logistics Cluster. Aaron's job is to develop the Temporary, Interim and eventually Final NFI (Non-Food Item) tracking systems. While the WFP currently has the COMPAS (Commodity Movement Processing and Analysis System) system to handle tracking of all food stuffs we're still working to improve our NFI tracking.
This is no small task as WFP currently shifts millions of metric tons of NFI's a year. While the lion's share comes through the WFP's UNHRD (UN Humanitarian Response Depot) system there is still a mountain of goods that we move for our partners in the field. How you track all this is the task that Aaron has been handed.
Aaron explained that you start by understanding the existing system and then figure out how you are going to fit into it. Here's where he started:
As you can see the heavy lifting comes when one needs to develop a tracking system for the Bilateral-NFI section. With a steadily increasing number of organizations relying on WFP for logistics services the need to develop a system which can handle both streams of traffic is essential. While WFP has an established nomenclature for it's existing tracking procedures not all aid agencies can claim the same. It is for this reason that building a extensible system is so essential.
According to Aaron, another one of the keys to building blocks to such a system is flexibility. "The system has to be flexible and documented well enough that it can meet any operational requirements. Otherwise, it must have a manual workaround option available so that changes can be made in the field." This need to be flexible was highlighted earlier this year when the Israeli government mandated during operations in Gaza that goods be sorted and palletized by matching type. Not all aid agencies can make these adjustments on the fly and this is where the ability to be flexible comes into play.
Aaron also hopes that building in an easy-to-use client side user interface for partner organizations will not only make using the WFP system easier it will also help them to streamline their own existing systems. While partners have typically raised a Cargo Movement Request (CMR) using just paper and pencil Aaron aims to change all that with such an interface. While he is well aware that such an undertaking can be an uphill battle he also knows that it is essential step in harmonizing the disparate humanitarian logistics systems - a step that will ultimately make us all a bit more efficient.
Aaron had his first exposure to the WFP system in 2008 while working at the regional office in Bangkok during the Cyclone Nargis emergency in Myanmar. At the time Aaron was brought in to help support the existing system but ultimately built an add-on module that served as a bridge between the WFP system and our partners. Following his success in Bangkok, Aaron returned home to Jakarta to continue his work in database development only to be hired on again with WFP in March of this year. Now that he is in Rome Aaron has wasted no time in putting the lessons learned in Bangkok to use and building a prototype system based on a Microsoft Access database. That system will soon be presented to other members of the team.
If you are interested in finding out more about this new system please email the team at Global.LogisticsCluster@WFp.org