Empowering the United Nations to Make Every Second Count During a Disaster

A new SAP project for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) aims to drive dramatic time savings and empower the organization to better focus on critical, lifesaving tasks.

The project “4W Wizard” is based on SAP Business Technology Platform to help automate data processing and analysis to create significant savings compared to manual processing. SAP and OCHA tested “4W Wizard” in humanitarian missions across the Asia Pacific region, helping people in Nepal, Papua New Guinea, Vietnam, and Cambodia, as well as recent crises in the Philippines, Turkey, and South Sudan.

The time and resources OCHA saved has been put to good use in Nepal:

  • Supported by greater focus empowered by “4W Wizard,” the team was able to quickly launch a Humanitarian Response Plan for COVID-19, requesting US$83M worth of lifesaving assistance for more than nine million people.
  • Unfortunately, Nepal is prone to monsoons. “4W Wizard” enables the team to work simultaneously on the large COVID-19 response and focus equally to implement a proactive, anticipatory approach to prepare for the next monsoon, securing emergency funds and mitigating suffering for the most vulnerable.
  • “4W Wizard” helps the UN to further empower local NGOs while collecting more information than ever before. The inclusion of more local NGOs and community-based organizations is critical, driving trust, donations, and independence.

Harnessing the Data from Disasters to Save Time – and Lives

Every minute counts when it comes to providing fast and effective humanitarian relief. Only through a seamless, coordinated response can humanitarian actors use resources efficiently, close supply gaps, and avoid duplication of work. And that demands access to high quality data, fast. It is OCHA’s responsibility to provide this level of coordination and data sharing and analysis to all humanitarian stakeholders engaged in its disaster response mission.

But manually sorting the reams of unstructured data coming from UN agencies, NGOs, national authorities, and local organizations meant the OCHA team was dedicating valuable resources that could be put to better use elsewhere.

Integrating machine learning, conversational artificial intelligence (AI), and natural language processing, “4W Wizard” formats, structures, and classifies vast amounts of data – fast. “4W Wizard” standardizes headers, corrects typos, unifies acronyms, and applies a consistent format across all worksheets submitted to OCHA. It even categorizes and classifies the data, completing missing data in a guided process before finally presenting a single, consolidated file back to OCHA.

John Marinos, former regional information management officer Asia-Pacific at OCHA, said, “The tool transforms what used to be a massive use of time and resources into something easy and quick to do. It’s making a huge difference in OCHA’s work and, by extension, a difference for the people we support.”

Partnering to Create Sustainable Innovation

Inspired by his work on a prototype for previous humanitarian response activities, SAP Industry and Customer Innovation Advisor Carsten Boekholt came up with the idea for “4W Wizard” before submitting it to the SAP One Billion Lives Sprint Against COVID-19. In just eight weeks, a team from across the business came together to create “4W Wizard.”

“I have never seen motivation and energy like this in a team. We complemented each other’s skills and experiences and all accomplished a massive learning journey,” said Boekholt.

That sentiment was echoed across the SAP team. “The project started life as a brilliant idea. Then it was up to us to develop it into an enterprise standard without losing any of the features the UN already loved,” said Christoph Schubert, senior developer of “4W Wizard.” “This meant urgently bringing an agile team together from every corner of SAP, understanding and acting on our roles and responsibilities in the moment, and driving real results for a great cause.”

“It’s certainly tough to develop a project like ‘4W Wizard’ in just a few weeks while still keeping quality high. But, through hard work and flexibility, we managed it,” Kai Muehlbauer, product manager of “4W Wizard,” added.

Only by working together with OCHA could such success be achieved. “Our SAP relationship is seen within the UN as a successful example of public-private partnership, delivering concrete and tangible results. We truly appreciate the flexibility, commitment, and technical expertise of SAP and its staff,” noted Marinos.

As Marinos concluded, “The tool unquestionably allows OCHA to do our job better, coordinating urgent, lifesaving assistance to the people who need it most.”