Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 13 seconds

disaster reliefIn the aftermath of a humanitarian disaster, it's vital for help to arrive as soon as possible through monetary donations, supplies and materials, and on the ground responders. The coordination of these necessities is only achieved through complex operations, and as any disaster relief coordinator can attest, time is of the essence, both in terms of raising funds and quickly beginning relief efforts. In addition to carefully managing limited funding, humanitarian NGOs must manage complex supply chains to ensure the right resources, aid and materials are available quickly and efficiently.


Managing Supplies

For humanitarian efforts on any scale, supply chain management is crucial and complex. The management of goods, including perishables and regulated items such as medicines and other pharmaceuticals, is a balancing act. Determining the quantity of resources required is a challenge, and it becomes even more complicated when coordinating both purchased and donated (gift in kind) inventory. Donations are unpredictable, but often necessary to the success of the relief effort, and must be managed from a logistical and financial point of view.

Not only must NGOs be vigilant with cost-comparisons and leveraging economies of scale, but this information needs to be readily available to donors and the public if requested. Today, NGOs are more and more often relying on technologies and systems that can improve their ability to rapidly procure, manage, and move resources. An example of an intelligent software for NGO’s is Humanitarian Enterprise Logistics Manager (HELM), which recently partnered with Unit4 to help humanitarian groups manage these complex processes.

While there are standard items required during every disaster such as water and food, more comprehensive resources and services will also be needed depending on where and when the disaster occurred. While many items can be procured locally through a relatively simple process, more sensitive items, such as medication, are typically handled from a central or regional HQ, meaning longer lead-times. This is an information-intensive process that requires more than paper-based systems or excel.

The ability to rapidly assess available supplies versus those that are still needed is crucial to the success of relief efforts. With so many moving parts, supply chain management software can help NGOs to quickly process information in real time to determine where efforts stand and which supplies are needed where. For example, intelligent software can alert responders when a critical item is running low and make sure that stock is replenished before it runs out.

Once the quantity of supplies is determined, technology can also help NGOs manage warehousing and distribution needs, including barcoding, purchasing, receiving, order building, kit building, shipping, and reporting, and can also track the supplies from donation to disaster site. Like any other organization, NGOs are subject to international rules and regulations when it comes to moving products between countries, and especially in the case of medicines, not all products are allowed in all countries. There are often case-specific requirements that might necessitate handling planned/unplanned in-kind donations, reverse logistics, and tracking and tracing of batches (especially in medicines and pharmaceuticals).

Fulfillment of Supplies

Tracking fulfillment of supplies to the last mile is crucial to humanitarian aid efforts, as well as tracking what items still need to be sent and which are already on their way. It’s not enough to have a central warehouse and a regional warehouse and/or country warehouses. NGOs often need local field warehouses in the middle of the action to ensure direct access to necessities. This careful management is also vital for transparency, so they can report on how the donated money has been spent and used to support the cause.

Henk Jan Onstwedder is Global VP at Unit4 focusing on the Not for Profit and Public Services industries. He is responsible for building Unit4’s value proposition, creating and delivering on industry product roadmaps, developing the ecosystem, and leading strategic sales engagements.

Last modified on Monday, 16 July 2018
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