City Harvest London Combats Food Insecurity with Smart Applications
Global Pandemic Disrupts Food Access
City Harvest was flourishing prior to the pandemic, but COVID-19 created a massive crisis. As job losses climbed, many restaurants and pubs that provided food closed their doors. Shelter-in-place orders limited daily food deliveries, and tens of thousands of Londoners faced a food shortage. While a growing number of organizations wanted to donate both perishable and dry goods, there was no way to efficiently get the donations to those who needed it.
City Harvest needed a solution to manage the process, automate complex elements, and support rapid updates. A powerful data alignment and analysis solution would provide full visibility into food collection and distribution and communicate with stakeholders and partners as the pandemic and food donations evolved. With the number of hungry people growing every day, it was imperative to find a solution as fast as possible. In addition to managing the complexities brought on by the pandemic, the right solution would scale to meet evolving demand into the future as the organization grew and matured.
Laura Winningham, CEO at City Harvest London, states: "When the crisis struck, we didn’t know how we would come up with a solution. It couldn't have happened unless the TIBCO team stepped in because gathering information from 350 charities hard to reach in the best of times seemed quite daunting. So, the team at City Harvest was empowered by TIBCO’s solutions."
Three-phase Journey to Food Security
City Harvest and TIBCO embarked on a three-phased approach to address the crisis. The first step was to gather as much information as possible on logistics and processes. The second step was developing a smart app that could analyze the information for a more efficient understanding of food inventory and distribution.
Launching phases one and two in just 14 days, TIBCO’s team provided an agile, cloud-based, low-code solution to sustain City Harvest's partnerships and keep people fed. TIBCO Spotfire robust data visualization, TIBCO Cloud Live Apps low-code environment for building applications, the TIBCO Cloud Integration platform for creating APIs, TIBCO Cloud Mashery API access management, and the TIBCO Cloud Starters app were used to bring it all together.
The low code environment enabled TIBCO developers to build the app in days, not months. The collaboration between TIBCO and City Harvest teams allowed for agility and quick responses to an evolving situation. Lockdown rules were rapidly changing in those first weeks, and the non-profit had to react fast.
Its new smart application features a custom cloud starter infused with visual analytics. Warehouse drivers can see a map of London and all relevant charities to plan efficient distribution routes, as well as create and send messages to partners through use of APIs. The new application allows communicating with all its food sourcing and distribution partners—keeping track of changes in operating hours and community needs. Ease of communication is crucial for City Harvest's small team as they do not have the ability to contact 300 charities every day.
The third phase, still in process, is a platform that streamlines corporate fundraising so the non-profit can continue to thrive.
Winningham says, "We needed a way to communicate with our partners to find out whether they were changing locations, changing formats, or changing food types. The TIBCO team was able to work with us to come up with a cloud-based solution for reaching out to our partners and getting that information."
Transforming into an Insights-driven Organization
Becoming an insights-driven organization was made possible through the application's map, data collection form, and analytic dashboards that help surface important findings about the groups that receive donations.
Locating organizations that needed food donations was particularly important during the COVID-19 lockdown. The non-profit suddenly had a massive influx of newly donated perishable inventory and needed to quickly identify who would benefit. The team could locate various organizations on the app's map—homeless shelters, community groups, soup kitchens, youth hostels—to see where to make daily food deliveries, and how to do that most efficiently.
The app also allows the company to better communicate with food donors and monitor pickup requests, highlighting those that haven't responded and updating the app immediately when they do. The user-friendly platform is especially helpful because many City Harvest partners may not be digitally savvy.
A significant benefit is the ability to gather and act on new information. All the team has to do is click on the charity of interest, and the system sends a form for the recipient to fill in—faster and more reliable than continuous phone calls. They can keep track of community group open/closed status, their facilities, and food requirements (such as Halal, Kosher, vegetarian)—and accurately match food donations to the right groups.
Winningham notes the power of data connectivity and insights: "Since this project began with TIBCO, employees have noticed data makes our lives different each day. Our application enables information to flow down the ranks and make an impact on people who didn't appreciate how important data is."
With Data, Delivering Meals for Years to Come
Using TIBCO solutions, City Harvest London maximized its efforts and reached more people than ever before, increasing food distribution from four million meals yearly to four million meals in one month. Solving a huge logistical and humanitarian challenge in a matter of days, City Harvest delivered 12 times more meals during the height of the pandemic.
Its new smart app is helping it better partner with other charities, streamline communications, and simplify the food donation experience for everyone. With data at the center of its operations, City Harvest can get food from point A to B with ease and faster than ever—and make a greater impact. With this success, the non-profit recently expanded to a larger warehouse and doubled its delivery capacity—upgrading from 10 to 20 vans already this year.
To date, City Harvest has redistributed food valued at more than £33 million to charity partners, who can apply the budget savings to other essential community services. Additionally, building on its TIBCO technology foundation, the non-profit is establishing a new fundraising platform to provide data-as-a-service to retailers and grocers, enabling greater insight into food donations, inventory planning, and tax preparation.
Winningham states, “We’re definitely thriving now. We have the information we need, and the whole team knows how to access it easily. This project connected the team, helping us understand what data could do for us and how it could improve our productivity."
In 2020, TIBCO recognized City Harvest London with the Social Impact Lighthouse Award for its contributions in meeting daunting societal challenges. TIBCO is proud to be a part of the impact City Harvest London is making using data to solve a community crisis.