WFP operations face complex challenges every day, and it is often hard to figure out the best way to respond. Whether it is funding shortfalls, access restrictions due to rainy seasons or conflict, new import regulations, or sudden-onset emergencies requiring rapid scale-ups, every day presents unique challenges to resolve. The use of data and advanced analytics is critical to help our operations manage this complexity and enable a fast and easy way to compare potential solutions.
Optimus is an online decision support system developed by the World Food Programme’s Supply Chain Division that helps identify the most efficient and cost-effective way to reach the people we serve. Building on data from dozens of sources, mathematical models provide key insights into food basket design, sourcing strategies, and delivery networks for any WFP operation.
Optimus’ advanced analytics allows users to explore multiple scenarios to optimize food basket design, transfer modality selection, sourcing and delivery strategies.
By comparing various data sources—from the numbers of people we serve to sourcing options, transport routes to nutritional values—WFP staff can quickly identify optimal operational plans that achieve programmatic goals (e.g. nutritional value targets at the lowest cost) whilst respecting operational constraints (e.g. funding levels and supply chain lead times).
A user-friendly interface allows users from any functional area to quickly explore the different scenarios and compare them against each other.
So far, Optimus has already been used in 44 of WFP’s operations to maximize the use of available resources and inform operational decisions. In 2022, WFP’s plans were re-evaluated amidst the considerable disruption to major commodity markets resulting from the global food, fuel and fertilizer crisis. As the gap between humanitarian needs and funding continues to rise every day, optimizing WFP’s response is critical in ensuring no one is left behind.
In 2021, Optimus helped WFP secure the Franz Edelman Award, the world’s most prestigious award in the area of analytics and optimization. More recently, Optimus was announced as one of the five winning innovations at the 2022 WFP Innovation Awards held at the annual WFP Global Management Meeting (GMM) in Munich, home of WFP’s Innovation Accelerator.
The development of Optimus started in 2014, and the initiative would only be where it is today with many partners' support, enthusiasm, and expertise. The first prototypes were developed hand-in-hand with prestigious universities such as the Georgia Institute of Technology in the USA and Tilburg University in the Netherlands. Since 2017, WFP's internal divisions, including its Technology division and the WFP Innovation Accelerator, and external partners like UPS and Palantir Technologies, have consistently enhanced the solution following best practices in agile development and human-centred development design.
With the Innovation Accelerator's support, the tool is now being further scaled up and rolled out to the field to maximize the coverage of WFP operations.
Optimus is available to all WFP staff as an automated, user-friendly online application at https://optimus.wfp.org.