The Greater Boston Food Bank’s goal to end hunger in Eastern Massachusetts has not changed since founder Kip Tiernan started passing out food from the back of her station wagon in 1974.
But like any other organization, it has grown and evolved over the last 40 years. The Greater Boston Food Bank (GBFB) has turned into one of the biggest food banks in the U.S., distributing 61 million pounds of nutritious food to people across 190 cities and towns last year alone. GBFB partners with 530 food pantries, meal programs and shelters to get healthy food to people in need.
GBFB has come a long way since its humble beginnings, but it is not taking its foot off the pedal. In the past 10 years, GBFB’s distribution has doubled in size. The organization’s output will continue to grow as it strives to provide three meals a day to every person struggling with hunger in Eastern Massachusetts.
With that expansion come obvious challenges. How can GBFB scale up its operations to handle that much food moving through its warehouse? How can it support a bigger roster of agencies and more orders? GBFB needed a way for agencies to self-serve so it could reach more people without increasing overhead.
“With our aggressive growth goals, we realized our monolithic, legacy systems just wouldn’t do the job,” GBFB Senior Director of Information Systems Richard Ghiz said. “We needed to invest in a solution that could adapt and scale to our evolving needs and support us for many years to come.”
Ghiz led an extensive evaluation process for over a year and eventually chose NetSuite. It was a true cloud platform that gave the food bank a single solution to support the entire organization, unifying accounting, inventory and order management, warehouse management and ecommerce. The solution also had the flexibility and scalability to grow and evolve with the nonprofit.
Today, it’s faster and easier for GBFB to receive donated or purchased food in the warehouse, and it can allocate inventory to different agencies before it even arrives. Employees are more productive because the cloud platform can be accessed anywhere, from any device, and all the data is in one place with a common user interface.
GBFB has enjoyed less tangible gains as well. Users are more autonomous because they can create new reports, dashboards and automated emails without the help of IT.
“The users are definitely more empowered and there’s much less involvement with IT,” Ghiz said. “I know of some people in the food acquisition group who are able to run purchase orders on their smartphone and add an item, do something with the product order that before would have required a computer, logging in through the VPN and so on.”
The nonprofit organization set up a new ecommerce website that allows volunteers and employees for agencies to shop for multiple organizations they oversee (a food pantry and a meal program, for example) through one login. They can now search for items or filter by price, storage type and more. Agencies can also view an online calendar to schedule a time to pick up their food.
Customer, order, inventory and financial information from NetSuite feeds into the ecommerce platform, so the site will only show the items an agency is eligible to receive and applies rules for minimum/maximum order sizes. Additionally, these organizations can initiate returns and see detailed account information online, including invoices, order history and saved orders.
“The ecommerce aspect is awesome,” Ghiz said. “The agencies were a little intimidated at the beginning, but we hosted dozens of training sessions for them here at our food bank. They’re now able to place orders for food before that food has even arrived at GBFB.”
The food bank also took advantage of that large network of partners, implementing a warehouse management system (WMS) from AGI to handle order fulfillment at its 117,000 square-foot facility. AGI’s WMS has voice picking (employees receive instructions about item locations and confirm the item and quantity via a headset, eliminating RF devices) to maximize efficiency in the warehouse.
This is the first significant software upgrade GBFB has made in 20 years and they are poised to maintain their increasing distribution. Agencies can now place orders faster and receive fresher food. Employees have the insights to make smarter decisions. These improvements are not about increasing the bottom line – every efficiency gain by the nonprofit represents more food for people at risk of hunger.
Technology can be much more than a way to drive down operational costs that boost the bottom line. It can help humanitarian organizations like GBFB make a lasting impact on the lives of people in need.
Learn more about how NetSuite has through our Social Impact program.