Nonprofit taps virtual desktops, mobile apps

Nonprofit taps virtual desktops, mobile apps

Hyperconverged systems and real-time data are helping City Harvest bring more food to New Yorkers in need.

Distributing 55 million pounds of food in a year is no small feat. For City Harvest—a nonprofit that helps feed the nearly 1.4 million New Yorkers struggling to put meals on their table—it requires 160 employees, a fleet of vehicles, an army of volunteers, and constant orchestration.

“Our employees and drivers are spread across all five boroughs, and we make 400 deliveries each day,” says James Safonov, head of IT and information security at City Harvest, which collects surplus food from grocers, farms, restaurants, and manufacturers and then distributes it free of charge to food pantries and soup kitchens throughout New York City. “A lot of the food is perishable, so it has to be delivered within two to three hours after we receive it.”

  • With so many moving parts, keeping everyone connected, informed, and efficient is a huge challenge. And with reality always being different than the intended plan, adjustments must be made from day to day, hour to hour.
  • To improve operational insight, agility, and productivity, City Harvest recently implemented a virtual desktop infrastructure using Cisco HyperFlex and the Intel® Xeon® processor-based Cisco Unified Computing System (Cisco UCS®).

“HyperFlex is the perfect fit for virtual desktops because it’s so flexible, and UCS has brought together our on-premises and cloud-based applications,” Safonov says. “Other hyperconverged platforms were too expensive and didn’t work with our existing infrastructure. We would have had to rip out our core switches, learn a new network operating system, and invest in new storage arrays.”

Digitizing processes, leveraging real-time data

With a powerful, flexible infrastructure in place, City Harvest’s IT team has been able to shift its focus from infrastructure management to operational improvement.

“The infrastructure is really hands-off, which has freed up a tremendous amount of time and resources,” Safonov says. “And it’s an excellent foundation for new applications and services, so we are focused on digitizing our processes and leveraging data in new ways.”

  • City Harvest has helped develop a new mobile application for drivers and partner agencies that replaces manual, paper-based processes.
  • Accessed anywhere and integrated with the nonprofit’s backend ERP system, the application provides real-time information about truck locations, departure and arrival times, food inventory and deliveries, and even vehicle telematics.

“The mobile app allows us to see what is happening on the road and what is needed from our partner agencies at any given moment,” Safonov explains. “And we can adjust our routes and allocations accordingly.”

City Harvest can also analyze and optimize its operations holistically.

“We take a lot of food to large agencies, which then distribute to smaller soup kitchens, aid groups, and individual families. We need to track the entire chain of custody,” says Safonov. “It used to take a month for us to get receipts and evaluate where the food went. Now we get that data immediately, which enables us to be more strategic, efficient, and targeted with our distribution methods.”

A pioneer of food rescue since 1982, City Harvest was already a well-oiled machine. But that machine just became faster, more efficient, and more productive with the help of virtual desktops and real-time data.

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