Tricity Food Bank
Tricity Food Bank is a non-governmental organisation with the mission to fight food waste and poverty. They acquire food items from producers, stores and distributors to then pass it on to the ones in need through a network of social shops and welfare centres. The organisation was established in 2004 and has since received multiple awards in recognition of their initiatives.
|Technology||Power Platform, Azure Function, Form Recognizer, Python|
- Streamlining and reducing the work needed to register and report donations
- Data centralisation allowing for improved governance and security
- A structured database allowing for further expansion in the future
As a non-profit organisation, the Tricity Food Bank has to track and register all the goods they receive through donations. They do it with an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) that contains all the received food, measured in kilograms.
Most of Food Bank’s partners have integrations with that ERP, which allow for the quick ingestion of data. However, not all partners had the required infrastructure. The organisation also had to record data from paper supply notes and using different units — instead of kilograms, some records contained the number of packages, etc.
This generated large amounts of work for Food Bank’s employees. They had to manually calculate the weight of food inside the packages and input this data into their system. This, coupled with the volume of the donations, resulted in the recording process taking several days each month.
Additionally, the Tricity Food Bank manages several social shops. They utilise a point-based system allowing the beneficiaries to exchange the points they receive from local welfare centres for the products they need. The Food Bank didn’t have centralised visibility of its shops’ data, and each outlet had to prepare all their documentation manually. As such, they quickly realised that they would need a unified data management system, and a centralised database, which would allow for easier statistics and trend reporting. The organisation sought to solve these challenges by introducing a new digital solution. Through the Tech to the Rescue initiative, they were matched with the Objectivity team, who took the project on pro bono.
We are incredibly grateful for the collaboration! The team from Objectivity studied our needs very carefully, but they also took into account the specifics of our organization: who we are, how and with whom we work. It's very important to us that they made an effort to understand us and tailored their proposals not only to the specific problem but also to the people who will later use the developed solutions. Currently, one of the tools is already working (and with success!), and we will be implementing the other in the coming months.
After the initial consultations with the Tricity Food Bank and understanding the organisation’s needs, Objectivity proposed solutions to the identified challenges. Since the Food Bank is a non-profit organisation, Microsoft offers them free licences for some of their products. This, coupled with fast delivery speed and the affordable ownership cost of low-code solutions, made the Power Platform the most fitting technology choice for this project. The use of a relatively easy-to-adapt low-code platform also made it easier to hand the solutions over to Food Bank’s staff post-delivery.
The goal of the first application was to automate the information extraction from the supply notes. Objectivity used Azure’s AI powered optical character recognition (OCR) to digitalise the information from paper notes. Additionally, a Python function extracts the weight of goods from product descriptions, thus standardising the units. This application, built in Power Platform, made the process of recording donations several times shorter.
The second application is a central Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system, also developed in Power Platform. It replaced Excel spreadsheets as a tool to manage the point-based food distribution system. This allowed the Food Bank to consolidate and cross-reference data from multiple social shops. The new app allows for more efficient data management as well as easier statistics and trend reporting. The solution has also reduced manual effort and is significantly less prone to errors. What’s worth mentioning, the app was developed retroactively so it can match the needs of multiple social shops that operate on a different basis.
Additionally, as low-code democratises development making it possible for non-developers to independently manage many functionalities, Objectivity’s employees were able to train Food Bank’s staff to operate the low-code systems.
After the delivery of both applications, the Tricity Food Bank has gained greater control over their data. Together, the systems improved the recording of donated and distributed food, reduced the amount of manual work, and increased governance of the social stores. Moreover, the solutions were designed to fit the requirements of several different social stores.
The new solutions have made it significantly easier to record Food Bank’s operations, allowing its staff to focus on different areas of their activities and better fulfil their noble mission, while also reducing the room for human error.
- The AI-powered OCR information extraction application solved the issue of paper-based delivery notes and unstandardised units by automating a large portion of the donation recording process.
- The new CRM helped the organisation improve governance over their social shops that operate differently, and the organisation’s data management process.
By building both solutions in the Microsoft Power Platform, Objectivity was able to deliver the projects quickly, and ensure a seamless handover to Food Bank’s staff after conducting a short training. This way, the Tricity Food Bank received fit-for-purpose solutions and the independence to manage the applications with their internal team.
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