Project overview

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.

The problem

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.

The solution

Optimus is an online decision support system that allows staff to look at WFP operations from an end-to-end perspective and use advanced analytics to explore operational scenarios. The analytics combine a wide variety of data, from targeted population numbers to sourcing options, transport routes and nutritional values. The tool allows users to compare the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of different scenarios, such as changing the commodities in the food basket, shifting to cash-based transfers, or increasing the amount of food purchased locally. Users can create their scenarios or ask Optimus to find optimal plans, considering operational restrictions (such as lead times and funding) and preferences (such as nutritional value targets or including specific commodities).

User-friendly visualizations inform Optimus users about key details such as optimal sourcing strategies.
User-friendly visualizations inform Optimus users about key details such as optimal sourcing strategies.

 

Impact to date

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 Innovation Awards 2022
The Innovation Awards 2022. Photo: WFP/Rein Skullerud 

 

Efficiency gains
>USD 50 Million
Confirmed efficiency gains from the implementation of Optimus
Data tables
260
Data tables updated automatically every day
40
WFP operations (including all Level 3 emergencies) that have applied Optimus in decision-making
Field users
70
Field users trained as power users
It takes a village

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.

Gina Ratovoarisoa running an analysis on Optimus to choose the best sourcing option for cereals – WFP/Volana Rarivoson
Gina Ratovoarisoa running an analysis on Optimus to choose the best sourcing option for cereals – WFP/Volana Rarivoson

Optimus is available to all WFP staff as an automated, user-friendly online application at https://optimus.wfp.org.

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
Sebastián Barriga Vuylsteke
Data Scientist
Last updated: 03/11/2022