It can be hard to grasp the impact the pandemic had on supply chains and ordering systems, but there is one real-life scenario that sums it up perfectly. The scenario in question took place during March. I’m sure most of you remember those days: the virus was spreading fast across the US territory, and governments were scrambling for essential medical and protective equipment. Sensing the urgency of the moment, the state of Washington moved fast and ordered 300 million items of protective personal equipment (PPE) from private suppliers. Little did they know, less than 10 percent of those items would end up arriving the state weeks later. The supply chain was broken, and the consequences would soon become evident to everyone. In situations like these, you can sit and cry over the spilled milk, or else try to find a solution that works as soon as possible. But how do you fix something as crucial as ordering systems when your timeframe is reduced to a few weeks at best? As it turns out, the government of Missouri came up with an answer to this question.
A New Era for Government Software
Missouri learned early on that its PPE supplies were not enough to face the COVID-19 pandemic. Like many other states, it also discovered that much of its PPE gear was either faulty, expired, or about to expire. With supply chains under stress and legacy ordering systems complicating things, the Missouri government took the initiative by doing the following:
- Redirecting money from state budgets to purchase protective equipment
- Publicly asking companies to sell and manufacture PPE for Missouri
- Developing solutions to replace the state’s legacy systems for ordering and purchasing equipment
We are here to discuss the last item. It’s no easy feat to replace a legacy ordering system within weeks, let alone do it during a healthcare emergency. So, what did Missouri do? Let’s take a look and find out.
Tracking PPE Requests Using Geospatial and Cloud-integration Tools
Before the pandemic, the state of Missouri had its own system to handle equipment requests. The system forced requesters to scan, print, and update spreadsheets to track emailed request forms. In other words: manual paperwork, lots of it. In order to fast-track the provision of PPE, Missouri’s Office of Administration (IT Division) created a new workflow with three readily available online tools:
The new process is entirely different from the previous one, albeit super easy to implement and set up. It breaks down to just seven steps: 1. When an organization needs PPE from the state stockpile, it has to fill and submit a Survey123 form. 2. An Integromat webhook watches for submissions and notifies via email that an order has been submitted. The emails are received by the corresponding state account. In addition, the webhook triggers an automatic email response to the sender, confirming the reception of the request. 3. Using an “approval dashboard” created with Esri’s Crowdsource Manager, a state team reviews submissions and assigns a status to them (approved, partially filled, denied). 4. The warehouse team then uses another CM app created for the occasion. I’m talking about the “picking list creator”, which displays locations of requesters along with approved quantities of PPE. With this information, the warehouse team selects the location to generate a business analyst infographic called a “picking list”. This is printed and handed to staff in the warehouse. 5. The warehouse staff prepares the order and checks off the quantities when the packages are ready. The list is then used as a packing slip. 6. Once the packages are ready, the warehouse staff uses the “shipping dashboard” (another Crowdsource Manager app) to update the status of the request (“shipped”) and enters the shipping type/provider. 7. This data feeds a third ArcGIS dashboard that keeps state leadership updated with key information: how much PPE has been requested and shipped, plus how much is left in stock.
Fast Deployments, Lasting Solutions
As you can see, the process is based on basic automation and fulfillment rules. Emphasis is put on requests, PPE stocks, and notifications. On top of improving the legacy ordering systems, this solution has brought benefits that will outlast the current situation. Some of these are:
- Universal requests, powered by simple online forms
- Automated notifications, which reduce the risk of human error, as well as the reliance on manual validation steps
- A centralized decision-making center, which leverages on uncomplicated dashboards and dynamic data to channel requests in minutes
- Tracking features that allow administrators to inform state leadership about demand and stock
Another important aspect of this solution is that it can be duplicated to suit any workflow that relies on requests, stocks, dynamic data, and notifications. This means that it can be used by state schools, senior centers, police departments, and other organizations. Any state body that depends on supplies from state-managed stocks can benefit from a simplified ordering system. To conclude, two final thoughts:
- It’s good to note that the system relies on tools that have been validated by the market (Survey123, Crowdsource Manager, Integromat). This takes away the burden of having to develop, test, and maintain a system from scratch, which is a lengthy and expensive task.
- Last, but not least, there’s the factor of political will, which is key to advance legacy systems. If the will and determination from those leading the state are nowhere to be seen, it doesn’t matter how good the solution is.
Luckily, Missouri’s authorities have demonstrated that they have what it takes to make a change for good. And that, my friends, is something worth sharing. Happy automating!