This case focuses on the birth of a forum to develop standards of practice for aid agency fleet management and operations. The case examines how humanitarian logistics differ from commercial logistics and reviews the humanitarian ecosystem as well as issues of funding and neutrality.
As research associate Rolando Tomasini, Luk N. Van Wassenhove, the Henry Ford chaired professor of manufacturing, and research associate Gillian Khaw explain, the life-or-death consequences of delivery mean that aid agencies are so focussed on outcome that they rarely pause to analyse how they could improve operations.
While logistics companies are driven by cost and efficiency considerations, aid agencies are governed by principles such as humanity, neutrality and impartiality, which explains why they are sometimes compelled to make seemingly inefficient choices in order to preserve their licence to operate.
As a result, in 2005 most humanitarian aid organizations were managing their fleet in the same way as they had done for the past 20 years: acquiring and disposing of vehicles on a crisis-by-crisis basis and driving them until they broke down.
Although vehicles represented the largest proportion of humanitarian agencies' capital assets, and logistics were their second-highest expenditure item (after personnel), aid agency logistics lacked the management and operational professionalism of their commercial counterparts. Modern global fleet management - vehicle acquisition, leasing fleet management technology, service, maintenance and training - was viewed as a major innovation.
Overcoming the initial reluctance of aid agencies to get involved in the Fleet Forum, Rob McConnell, the forum coordinator, proceeded to involve the various stakeholders. As he sought collaboration in the funding, he was careful not to lose the forum's independent identity.
The case shows the dual role that he had to play, responding to technical demands but also facilitating the transfer of knowledge, assisting in areas like project planning and setting up a wide range of networking opportunities through the yearly forum, not least the website that he designed for the purpose.