Software Allows Food Bank to Create More Efficiencies

We did it! After 13 years, we upgraded our inventory and financial system. It was a fairly huge task that involved a lot of effort from every department at the Food Bank.  The software upgrade also had the greatest impact on Food Bank operations and unlocked years of advancements in accurately maintaining our inventory.

The timing for this upgraded inventory and financial system couldn’t have arrived sooner!  With the vast increase in the volume of our food distribution over the past few months this new software was a life saver for our staff.  Our old system was so outdated and antiquated there would have been no way we could have come close to keeping up in the warehouse with receiving, inventory control, and agency food orders.

The new software system, called Ceres, allows us now to track inventory by the individual pallet to a specific individual location in the warehouse. Doesn’t sound like much to non-warehouse folks, but it gives us an entirely new way of viewing our inventory and counting product.  This new look at our inventory helps us tremendously to track each and every pallet location in our 155,000 square foot warehouse  Now, counting is as straightforward as running a list and then walking to each bin location.  We can then check to see if the correct pallet is there with the correct amount of cases on it.

This process alone took our cycle count process from four days down to a matter of hours.

Ceres changed how we operate in the warehouse. For example, prior to the new system, we knew in general where some of our back stock was located, but never a specific location in the warehouse, so our staff would literally have to ‘hunt’ for it.  With Ceres, we now know where every single pallet is located including every pallet of back stock.  The software allows us to quickly ‘pick’ and document the location of each and every item correctly.  Of course, we’re still learning to do that.  Every day, I walk the floor of our warehouse to check how things are going.  The first day of implementing the new software, I discovered mistakes. Now a few weeks later, we are much better at it using this new tool and improving our work.  When I make that same walk today, I’m surprised if I find one mistake! Kudos to our staff for taking the time to learn this new software and using it as a tool to improve our work.

There are lots of other changes the software upgrade has created, but the biggest and best change the system allows is yet to come. In the near future, we should be able to officially go paperless in the warehouse saving even more valuable resources and helping the environment. Right now we will have to wait until we have one last piece of technology in place.

At this point, we are still receiving product on paper.  That means our staff has to hand write product coming in our warehouse doors, and then has to walk the information upstairs to be entered into Ceres.  I’m sure you can guess what happens.  Occasionally paper gets lost or someone is out sick and it sits for more than a day before being completed received.

However, once we get several warehouse based computers in place, we will be able to receive product directly into Ceres knocking out all the in-between steps and speeding the process up by at least 24 hours. What this will do is make our incoming food product available for our agencies to order much more quickly and eliminating misplaced paperwork.

The second phase in going paperless requires barcoding.  Right now we don’t have funding for a barcoding system, but should a company or person step forward to provide one, we can create even better efficiencies in our daily operations. With this last step the Food Bank will be as advanced as any other food service distributor in town.  If you know of someone that can help, please contact me!

In closing, all of this wouldn’t have happened without the gracious support of a private foundation donor.  The cost of software of this expense and magnitude, we simply couldn’t have afforded on our own.  But a private anonymous donor recognized the value of having advanced and modern technology at our finger tips and funded it outright.  Thank you for making this possible!

Not only have you made us a more efficient non-profit organization, but you have allowed us to distribute more food than ever before during a time of increased hunger in our state.  Thank you for helping us receive and distribute food quickly to place it in the hands of hungry people across the state.

Teresa Johansen is the Chief Operating Officer at Roadrunner Food Bank.

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