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by Paul van Essche, Umoja Director
18 October 2010

As autumn settles in and the 65th session of the General Assembly is in full swing, it is time to update all our stakeholders on recent progress. The Secretary General's report on Umoja - now being translated and shortly due for release - will provide a more complete picture, but in the meantime it is worth marking Umoja's achievements in this forum, as well as sharing the challenges the project is facing.

In general progress has been good, although the speed at which the UN is able to execute administrative processes has forced all parties to innovate to mitigate delay. Ironically, Umoja is hampered by the very processes it aims to change! The success of our innovations will be known by the end of the year, when we take stock of our situation again, in light of year-end deliverables and new GA resolutions.

For example, whereas there are 80 posts that should have been filled by now, just 49 are currently occupied, meaning that in order to get the work done almost everyone on the team must do two jobs. Getting access to consultants and other resources has also been slower than hoped, and some decision-making has been less than expedient too.

All this is despite excellent support from our steering committee and colleagues all over the organization. The UN's current processes, practices and systems are simply incompatible with the demands of the high-pressure timeline of this kind of project. But the morale of the team remains high and an enormous amount of work has been accomplished, by team members and Subject Matter Experts (SME) alike. Over a thousand SMEs from all corners of the organization participated in hundreds of design workshops. Indeed, colleagues in OCSS, OPPBA, OHRM, OICT, OLA, OUSG/DM and elsewhere have done their utmost to keep up a steady flow of new resources, from software through office space to new recruits.

The core accomplishment of 2010 so far, is near-completion of the detailed design of new business processes that will underpin the way the UN manages all its resources in the future - human, financial and material. The last of these 272 new processes are now being finalized, and the bulk are under review by designated "business process owners" and other interested parties across the Organization. In parallel, as the processes are approved, they are being translated into technical specifications that will allow the construction of an information system that, in turn, will support working practices from Headquarters to the farthest flung field mission.

Early next year, once this technical documentation is complete, the building of the new system can begin in earnest. In fact, small parts of that build activity have started already: in some instances, validation of the design needs to be confirmed through prototyping, in other words building and testing parts of the future solution on the new software platform, so as to ensure their technical feasibility. This work will be leveraged later on to save time.

Other accomplishments during the past months include an updated benefits case that verifies qualitative and quantitative value opportunities published last year; new change management and communication programmes; an analysis of potential changes to the Organization's rules, regulations, polices and procedures to optimize business processes; expansion of the database of existing information systems, and determination of which will be replaced by Umoja; and the exploration of a potentially new model for 'Service Delivery' in the organization, which is analyzing opportunities to consolidate functions across the Organization to enhance quality of service and further lower operational costs.

But the checklist of accomplishments in such an endeavor as this is never really complete. Every phase of the project continually refines and improves upon the solution. Detailed design, final design, build, testing, training and ultimately deployment - each represents an iterative cycle of refinement, and the active involvement of stakeholders across the organization are an integral part of the journey that will create a solution that is truly fit for purpose. Umoja belongs to you, the staff members, while my team and I are only its facilitators.

Umoja is one of the largest public sector implementations of enterprise resource planning ever undertaken. I cannot overstate the transformative potential of Umoja: it will usher in a new era of effectiveness for this organization, enabling the Secretariat to respond nimbly to evolving UN mandates anywhere in the world.

This undertaking is a partnership of management, staff and Member States alike. And working together we will get there.

Wishing you a successful wrap-up to 2010,


Paul van Essche
Umoja Director