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Staff from 20 duty stations meet in Geneva for ERP Workshop

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The Aim of the recent workshop in Geneva was to ensure that the perspectives of Offices Away from Headquarters and Peace Operations were taken into account in the documentation that would be used in selecting the software for the Enterprise Resource Planning system, or ERP, to be introduced in the UN.

The workshop brought together a group of eighty staff members from all over the globe dealing with human resources, finance, supply chain or central services, from duty stations as diverse as Cambodia, The Hague, Haiti and Côte d'Ivoire. Many had come with just a few days notice, and had to quickly get into an ERP frame of mind and become familiar with jargon such as "RTMs" or "Requirement Traceability Matrix"! As participants introduced themselves it soon became clear that the group had in-depth knowledge and a wide range of experience in the main functional areas, both from outside and inside the UN.

Expectations varied, but there was a great deal of enthusiasm and energy. As to the bigger picture, the concept of ERP as a tool for achieving organizational change was ever present. The challenges from today's environment demanded faster and better results from the United Nations. So what kind of change did we want? Step by step, or radical? Participants hoped that the "fear of change" in some quarters would be overcome, so that the UN could reap the full benefits of an ERP. As to the detailed work, staff from the different functional groups set out to critique the end-to-end business processes and the related scenarios. This would later be presented to the ERP suppliers to test their abilities to meet the UN Secretariat's specialized and diverse requirements.

The findings and conclusions were presented on the last day of the workshop to the Chief Information Technology Officer, Choi Soon-hong, by video-conference. There was a strong recommendation that senior officials of the UN Secretariat and its programmes consider their reporting requirements so that this aspect could be taken into account in the ERP. The data cleansing needed to begin right away. And participants noted that they had repeatedly come across instances where the Secretariat's procedures should be revisited. Participants left with high hopes, and with the expectation to see revised RTMs and scenarios reflecting their input. They also wished to continue to be involved in the ERP process.

Last but not least: some quotes

"We have the attention of the market place! The UN's ERP implementation will be the biggest to take place in the next five years." Ed Blinder, ITSD/DM

"We must avoid the pitfall of implementing the existing systems on the new ERP." Francis Babatunde, UNOCI

"The spirited debates and insights gained will enable the ERP Team to return to New York with a more representative and balanced set of requirements." John Meulman, SRA Consulting

"This workshop is great value for money: the participation and feedback is great. We could not have achieved this progress any other way!"  Clemens Adams, DFS, ERP Project Team

This article is based on reporting from David Hastie, of UNON, and Francis Babatunde, of ONUCI

Note: A similar workshop for Headquarters staff is currently taking place in New York.

Originally published on iSeek on Friday, 16 November 2007, Geneva

Planning for an Enterprise Resource Planning System for the United Nations

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Submitted to iSeek by Alicia Bárcena in her capacity as Chair of the ERP Steering Committee

What is an ERP? A new acronym is creeping into the UN vernacular – ERP. It stands for enterprise resource planning and is a software that provides an integrated suite of information systems for the management of finance and budget, human resources, supply chain and central support services. A detailed proposal for implementing an ERP system in the Secretariat worldwide will be considered at the current session of the General Assembly.

Why a new system? Staff and managers alike will agree that IMIS, which has been operating since the early 1990s – is approaching the end of its useful life. We need a new global and integrated system that is better suited to the Secretariat of today. With peacekeeping operations and other field missions having grown in both size and complexity, it is essential to have an integrated system that can serve everyone's needs. An ERP will be able to seamlessly connect work processes, and provide up-to-date information on financial, human and physical resources, wherever they are located.

The development of the new ERP system also presents an opportunity to take a fresh look at how we do business, and streamline and simplify our administrative processes. As mentioned in the Secretary-General's report, the goal of the ERP project is to build an integrated, global information system for the UN Secretariat that enables effective management of human, financial and physical resources, and that is based on streamlined processes and best practices.

What's happening now? The first task is to establish what we want from a new system. This means looking at what should be preserved from current practices, what no longer works, and which processes could be re-engineered to enable better management. A small project team has been working with other UN staff in the main functional areas and a team of external consultants on this task. The information collected will then be used in the selection of ERP software that will best serve our needs.

ERP Requirements Validation Workshops: The ERP project is a global endeavour and it is essential to get input from staff at duty stations around the world to identify the requirements. For this purpose, two workshops on ERP Requirements Validation are being organized in November. The first is currently taking place in Geneva from 5 to 9 November for offices away from Headquarters and peacekeeping missions. A second one will be organized at New York Headquarters on 15, 16 and 19 November.

What's next? The General Assembly will be considering the Secretary-General's report during its current session. Deploying an ERP system in an organization of the size and complexity of the global Secretariat is a big project. It will require significant resources and is expected to take three to five years, with a phased implementation where the core infrastructure and high priority modules will be completed first. The Secretary-General's report contains a proposal to establish a full-time project team. These positions are in the process of being classified and will be advertised in Galaxy, subject to the Member States' approval of the proposal.

Examples of expected benefits: Implementing an ERP has the potential to fundamentally transform the way we do business, and can significantly improve the Secretariat's overall effectiveness and efficiency. The Secretary-General's report lists the following examples of specific improvements that the new ERP system could bring:

  • For every project and programme it would be possible to report on the status of activities and outputs, the resources engaged and expended, and the latest situation of contributions and available balances against budgets.
  • It would be possible to obtain real-time consolidated financial and other quantitative information.
  • The ERP system will integrate, streamline and further automate a large number of manual and paper-base administrative processes.
  • The Office of Human Resources Management will be able to provide managers with up-to-date integrated reporting and analysis on human resources information.
  • It would be possible to build and maintain an accurate and current inventory of staff skills covering the entire Organization.
  • For managers at Headquarters and in the field, it would be possible to track every step of the procurement, shipment, receipt and delivery of goods to their final destination.
  • With a global system it would be possible to share common vendors' databases and make effective decisions of where and when to best buy. This in turn could lead to significant cost savings.
  • At the operational level, the use of a common system and of an electronic signature would improve significantly the day-to-day administration of staff and facilities. It would be possible to track every transaction from any office of the Organization, and considerable time would be saved.
  • Staff would be able to obtain information about their own status (such as personnel records, benefits, claims, leave balance, etc) using self-service options.

Originally published on iSeek on Monday, 5 November 2007

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November 2007