Project overview

Optimus is an online decision support system that helps WFP staff identify the most cost-effective way to serve their beneficiaries. Building on data from dozens of sources, mathematical models provide key insights on food basket design, sourcing strategies, and delivery networks for any WFP operation.

The problem

WFP staff face complex, cross-functional challenges every day, often with many possible solutions. Whether it’s funding shortfalls, access restrictions due to rainy seasons, new import regulations, or operational scale-ups, every day it’s something new. To properly manage the complexity and to enable an agile comparison of potential alternatives, it is critical to use data and optimization to find the right solutions.

The solution

Optimus is a web application that looks at WFP operations from an end-to-end perspective to support better planning, helping users identify the most cost-effective solutions using advanced mathematics. It pulls together a wide variety of datafrom beneficiary numbers to sourcing options and from transport routes to nutritional values. Users can create their own scenarios or ask Optimus to find optimal plans, taking into account operational restrictions (such as lead times and funding) and preferences (such as nutritional value targets and local procurement targets). A user-friendly interface allows users from any functional area to quickly explore the different scenarios and compare them against each other.

Screenshot of Optimus

 

Field-testing in various regions

First conceptualized in 2013 by and for engineers, Optimus was field-tested in 2015 and 2016 with tremendous impact. In Iraq, Optimus identified an alternative food basket providing only 3 kilocalories less than the previous one, but costing 12% less ($1.59 per person per month) and aligning better with local dietary preferences. Its implementation led to more than USD 25M savings over two years. In Yemen, Optimus helped manage the scale-up from three to six million beneficiaries by allowing the comparison of different food basket implementations. During the 2016 El Niño drought affecting Southern Africa, the tool helped identify robust sourcing strategies under different harvest scenarios. Applying the tool to real problems in close collaboration with field staff helped fine-tune the tool over the years to fit into WFP’s way of operating and be applicable to any operation. 

Optimus screenshot
One of the output pages in the Optimus web app showing a sourcing strategy.


Prototypes for Optimus 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, as well as external partners like UPS and Palantir Technologies, have consistently enhanced the software solution through best-practice iterations using agile development and human-centred design.

Optimus is available to all WFP staff as an automated, user-friendly online application at https://optimus.wfp.org. In April 2021, Optimus 2.0 will be launched.

 

Confirmed savings
>USD 50 Million
Confirmed savings from the implementation of Optimus
Data tables
260
Data tables updated automatically every day
20
WFP operations (including all Level 3 emergencies) that have applied Optimus in decision-making
Field users
50+
Field users trained as power users
The way forward

Now that an automated, user-friendly version of Optimus is available online, the next step is ensuring that every Regional Bureau has dedicated staff trained on Optimus. Power users representing different functional areas (such as supply chain, nutrition, and finance) are actively being trained to identify optimization opportunities and carry out analyses to support the countries in their region. Throughout 2021-2022 the same approach will be implemented at a country level to ensure full coverage of WFP operations.

Meet the team

Koen Peters
Koen Peters
Project Manager
Anna Melchiori
Anna Melchiori
Development Lead
Salvatore Avanzo
Salvatore Avanzo
IT Solution Architect
Federico Pula
Federico Pula
Data Engineer
Nina van Ettekove
Nina van Ettekove
Data Integration Lead
Serafina Rocca
Serafina Rocca
K-Tech Srl, Back-end Developer
Saverio Caminiti
Saverio Caminiti
K-Tech Srl, Front-end Developer
Last updated: 08/09/2021