Gartner IT Symposium/Xpo 2019: Digital transformation at the UN's World Food Programme

How the United Nations World Food Programme has digitally transformed in order to better help people around the globe.

Gartner IT Symposium/Xpo 2019: Digital transformation at the UN's World Food Programme

At the Gartner IT Symposium/Xpo 2019, TechRepublic's Teena Maddox spoke with United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) CIO and director of technology Enrica Maria Porcari about how the WFP has utilized digital transformation to become more efficient and effective. The following is an edited transcript of the interview. 

Enrica Maria Porcari: The WFP is the largest humanitarian agency; it helps over 87 million people in 83 countries by providing life-saving assistance. Embracing digital transformation, the World Food Programme is not only becoming an increasingly efficient organization, but it's also providing an opportunity for our beneficiaries to have an account with us. We get to know the beneficiaries we serve. We get to know them better to serve them better. 

Our digital transformation is two-fold. We'll look at digitally enabling the organization to be more effective. Imagine WFP as a logistics operation that moves every year over 3.5 million metric tons of food in 650 warehouses worldwide. We have an airline of 90 planes, a series of 5,000 trucks that every day move food. Just imagine that data that is generated by running these operations. So digitally transforming the organization, we want to better understand our operation to become increasingly efficient. 

SEE: Digital transformation: An IT pro's guide (TechRepublic download)

At the same time, we want to know if the people that we serve are better. So we have the equivalent of customer relationship management. Our flagship system called SCOPE, where 41 million identities of the people that we serve are registered. We get to know them, we get to know their names, we have their picture, their biometrics. 

We start engaging and understanding their needs. So we are changing from an economy of transaction to one of relationships--relationships with the people that we serve. It is always a surprise, why does a UN organization talk about digital transformation? I keep on thinking that our line of business is not different from any other company. 

We have customers, like any company has customers. Our objective is to get them to be happy with the services that we provide, to make sure that we target their needs, that we are efficient in the way that we do business. 

So, what's different? Why shouldn't we embrace the best technology to be able to do our job better? Even non-for-profits strive for excellence, both in the services that they provide to their customers and for their own internal processes. It's been a process, going on for just a few years. 

We started with understanding the data insight inside the World Food Programme, understanding our own internal processes and automating and streamlining our processes to become more and more efficient and effective. At the same time, we developed our system to get to know our beneficiaries and to be able to serve them on a platform that is open, not only to WFP, but also to any other UN agencies that want to provide services to the same beneficiaries.

To think that we're eight billion people living in this world now--only half of them are connected and only those who are connected actually have any chance of being included in any new economy. Of these people, one billion of them have no identity. They are invisible, they don't exist. Through the World Food Programme's digital identity system, we're trying to give them an opportunity to be engaged in the new economy and to have a way for themselves to get out of poverty.

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By Teena Maddox

Teena Maddox is a former Associate Managing Editor at TechRepublic. She oversees TechRepublic's news team and TechRepublic Premium. She focuses on tech and business and how the two worlds intersect. Teena's lifelong journalism career has included wri...