Eight years ago while running Georgia Tech’s Center for Manufacturing Information Technology (CMIT) I was approached by Don Crawford, Executive Director of Atlanta’s Empty Stocking Fund (ESF), with a request to create an information system that would automate ESFs annual toy distribution operation. To make a long story short, Kelley Hundt who also worked at CMIT and I agreed to take on the project and that same year we implemented a custom bar-code order entry and warehouse inventory system at ESFs annual operation.
The ESF operation has some unique challenges for an information system. Probably the biggest is operator turn over which occurs every 3-4 hours as new volunteers arrive at Santa’s Warehouse. Each day three shifts of volunteers must be trained within a couple of minutes to check customers in, print bar coded orders, fix any discrepancies found in the database pertaining to child age and gender, scan selected toys into the system and print warehouse pick tickets. For the entire three week season approximately 400 unique volunteers will successfully operate the system with 2-3 minutes or less of orientation.
Every once in a while a system developer is fortunate enough to create a system that lasts for years. When this happens it’s always gratifying as well as unpredictable. Some systems never get off the ground, others last only a few months, a few make it for 2-3 years, and on the rare occasion a system will last for a decade or more. I only have one “decade” system to my credit…a paperless shop floor system for aircraft assembly which I and a team of engineers who were working for me at that time built in C++, Ingress, and Motif on Vax and Unix servers and 19 inch X-terminal color graphic touch screen clients (yes this cost millions) for Lockheed’s F-22, C-130, C-5B, and P3 assembly lines. That system was built more than 16 years ago and last I heard is still going strong in Lockheed Martin’s Marietta Georgia assembly plant. I’m hopeful the Empty Stocking Fund system will become the 2nd “decade” system of my career in December 2011…we’ll see.
Recipients check-in to verify they are in the database, along with children’s age and gender. Bar coded orders are printed with one child per page showing toys in sets that are available for selection by parents. Each set represents a group of toys appropriate for a specific child age/gender. For the 2009 season I loaded over 105,000 children into the database from a dataset provided by Georgia DFCS.
Toys are selected in Santa’s Workshop based on child gender and age
Toy’s selected by parents are scanned into the database from the bar-coded order and a warehouse pick ticket is printed
Pickers line up at the scanning station waiting for pick tickets to print. Toys are picked from the warehouse using shopping carts and then delivered to waiting parents.