Photo: Unsplash

Accelerating Sustainable Development with Hyperautomation

A View of the Future from the UNICC Robotic Process Automation (RPA+) Centre of Excellence

New and rapidly developing technologies such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, machine learning and robotics hold incredible promise for the advancement of human welfare. They put technology at the forefront of the delivery of the 2030 Agenda (or Sustainable Development Goals).

UNICC has been fine-tuning many of these new technologies for its Clients and Partner Organizations. It has a Robotic Process Automation (RPA+) Centre of Excellence in place now for a year with over fifteen Clients and several projects shared publicly, such as World Food Programme Puts Bots to Work and the UN Joint Sanctions Screening Solution.

UNICC’s RPA+ Centre of Excellence has delivered over 50 automation solutions automating billions of manual transactions, delivering multiple consulting engagements, solution implementation and end-to-end managed services. This eventually translates to giving back thousands of valuable hours to business users and expanding business functions and value within their domains (Compliance, ICT, Legal, HR, Procurement, Travel, etc.).

In the spirit of emerging technologies supporting the UN Secretary-General’s Strategy on New Technologies, UNICC has supplemented its diversifying portfolio with next-generation hyperautomation capabilities that strengthen the value of automated software processing and integrate it with other technology developments.

Credit: Gartner top strategic tech trends 2020

RPA solutions, which can be set up in only a matter of weeks, may provide quick relief as a form of integration for manual, repetitive, voluminous human interactions with underlying systems. However, processes are not always simple, routine, repetitive or stable.

According to Gartner, within the next three years, 65% of enterprise organizations that deployed RPA will introduce integrative capabilities like artificial intelligence, machine learning and natural language processing algorithms.

UNICC Clients are looking to deliver end-to-end automation beyond RPA by combining complementary technologies to augment business processes. Gartner lists this new ‘RPA+’ technology, called hyperautomation, as a top strategic technology trends of 2020 and 2021.    

RPA + (or Hyperautomation)

Hyperautomation deals with the application of advanced technologies by combining RPA with artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and intelligent business management software (iBPMS), to increasingly automate processes and augment human laborers, automating processes in ways that are significantly more impactful than traditional automation capabilities.

As enterprise organizations confront challenges to deliver strategic end-to-end automation, they need to consider solutions beyond RPA. Hyperautomation, or RPA+, impacts ‘personal costs’ ratios of organizations that in many humanitarian agencies run upwards of 40%. Hyperautomation offers direct operational efficiencies benefits at 40-70%.

Nagesh Vepa, Head, Hyperautomation Solutions, UNICC

Hyperautomation facilitates:

  • Increased team collaboration, engaging organizations in digital transformation. By combining RPA and intelligence, software robots can interact with users across core business processes, directly benefiting customer experience and satisfaction
  • Advanced analytics, embedding analytics to align RPA operations with organizational objectives
  • Automated processes to increase efficiency and reduce errors
  • Instant and accurate insights to optimise performance and minimize risk
  • Greater compliance to optimise regulatory standards, processing and reporting
  • Greater productivity so human workers can work smarter and focus on value-adding tasks, with software bots to support them by carrying out repetitive tasks.

Hyperautomation in the Time of COVID-19

Hyperautomation has a special value during these times of crises and economic duress because it delivers greater operational efficiencies and allows for direct enabling of innovative business functions. It helps to manage resources hyper-efficiently when the demand for services increases, but the supply of available people is fixed or hiring processes are constrained.

This new technology is poised to deliver on the frontlines of humanitarian activity. In addition to long working workflow process(es) automations, the UNICC RPA Centre of Excellence has also made great progress in microautomations, with robotic solutions that can send emails, find or move files and folders, access databases and enterprise applications, push projects along, complete forms, handle request, and even scrape data from documents and websites. All of these automations can be deployed securely and efficiently in a few weeks. This means increased digital business agility to organizations in order to make further well-informed decisions.

Credit: UNICC

Hyperautomation Toolkit

Leaders with an automation mindset are quick to grasp the benefits in combining RPA with biometrics, chatbots, cognitive process automation, context-aware computing, data analytics, natural language processing, optical character recognition and process mining – all tools in the hyperautomation tool kit.

Hyperautomation increases the time UN business staff spend on knowledge and insight rather than manual repetitive tasks and it decreases the costs of service delivery. For example, chatbots with simultaneous interpretation capabilities can guide customers through every stage of service delivery and determine at any stage whether to escalate a ticket to a human being who speaks the same language.

Bots connected to biometric readers can help to screen individuals in the field against sanctions lists. They can also satisfy know-your-customer requirements for financial transactions or cross-border payments. The list of humanitarian applications grows every day, as ‘end to end process automations and citizen developers’ everywhere use these digital technologies to transform development work.

It is a bold leap forward in a rewarding journey. Clients can benefit significantly from hyperautomation shared services and its federated model through the UNICC RPA+ Centre of Excellence, putting technology at the forefront of the delivery of the 2030 Agenda.

To learn more, contact UNICC’s RPA+ Centre of Excellence at RPA@unicc.org.

UN Women/Thanh Nga

A Strengthened Threat Intelligence Posture for the UN Family

UNICC has recently delivered two major initiatives for the health and welfare of the UN family, for improved collaboration among its members related to cyber security information sharing:

  • UNICC Management Committee resolves that all participating UN Organizations share their threat intelligence
  • UNICC Common Secure Conference takes place with more than 30 UN Agencies and affiliated organizations.
Credit: ENISA

The European Union Agency for Cybersecurity (ENISA) has published its latest ENISA Threat Landscape (ETL) report. The report identifies and evaluates top cyber threats and trends from January 2019 through April 2020, providing a baseline for greater risk mitigation going forward.

The report emphasizes the nature, direction and proliferation of threats across the greater globe, including an infographic regarding Threat Landscape Mapping during COVID-19.

UNICC, with its growing information security team and services, is keen on monitoring and remediating across this threat landscape.

Some of its recent actions have taken the UN in the direction of better sharing of collective threat intelligence to strengthen the overall cyber posture of the UN family (as well as each of its individual organizations).

Inter-Agency Threat Intel Sharing Resolution
The UNICC Management Committee, governing all UNICC Partner Organizations, approved a resolution asking all UNICC Partner Organizations and Clients to share threat intelligence and security incident information (in either attributable or anonymized forms) with UNICC’s Common Secure team for analysis and sharing with the wider UN family.

They took this step at a special session on cyber security at their October 2020 meeting, responding to growing concern around threats and compromises across many UN Agencies.

UNICC already provides Common Secure Threat Intel services to over 30 Clients and Partner Organizations to track down indicators pointing to possible cyber-attacks against ICT infrastructure or other events that jeopardize cyber security posture and health.

UNICC will now leverage its Common Secure Threat Intel services to share this information with all organizations in either attributable or anonymized forms to best protect the UN family from threats and attacks.

This service will be offered to all UNICC Clients at no cost, while the Common Secure dedicated subscription services will continue to share threat intelligence, offer Malware Information Sharing Platform (MISP) tools as well as advisory and incident response and remediation services for any cyber security threats, attacks or compromises.

UNICC works with 70 organizations including most Agencies in the UN system, so the outcome of this measure will be a significantly safer UN system.
As cyber criminals collaborate more and more, so should cyber security professionals step up on sharing intelligence and information to keep pace them. Common Secure members envision a UN family for collecting and sharing information to keep our Agencies secure and aware.

Tima Soni, Chief, Cyber Security Section, UNICC

Common Secure Conference
UNICC hosts an annual Common Secure conference with the goal to bring its information security Clients and Partners Organizations together to increase the UN family circle of trust, share intelligence on cyber practices and provide feedback on UNICC Common Secure services. The multi-day workshop blends vendor and regional stakeholder sessions with feedback, presentations and input from participating Agencies.

The Common Secure Annual Conference was held virtually this year between November 17-19 and November 23-25. There were multiple 3-4 hour sessions on all days.

Common Secure conference participants, Nov 17 2020. Photo: UNICC

There were 150 participants from more than 30 UN Agencies and other international organisations, including:

  • Common Secure Members: ADB, CTBTO, FAO, IAEA, ICJ, ILO, IFAD, IIIM, IMO, ITU, OECD, PAHO, UNCTAD, UNDP, UNESCO, UNFPA, UNHCR, UNICC, UNICEF, UNIDO, UN OIM, UNRWA, UNWOMEN, WFP, WHO, WIPO and WTO
  • Guests: IADB, ICC-CPI, OHCHR, UN JIU, UNJSPF, UNODC and World Bank Group

The agenda included a welcome from Sameer Chauhan, Director, UNICC and opening remarks from Tima Soni, Chief, Cyber Security Section, UNICC.

Topics from external speakers included:

  • Security and Trust in the Cloud Age – Mark Ryland, Director of the CISO Office, AWS
  • The Top 10 Cloud Attack Kill Chains – Richard Mogull, Analyst and CEO, Securosis
  • Simple not Simple: Coordinated Vulnerability Disclosure Ecosystem – Art Manion, Senior Member, Vulnerability Analysis Team in the CERT Division, Carnegie Mellon University
  • Prioritizing Vulnerability Response with a Stakeholder-Specific Vulnerability Categorization – Jonathan Spring, Senior Member, Technical Staff in CERT Division, Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie Mellon University
  • Threat Detection and Response – Brad Dispensa, Senior Solutions Architect, AWS
  • Modernizing Security Operations – Steve Faehl, Director of Security Strategy, Microsoft
  • DDoS Mitigation – Krassimir T. Tzvetanov, Security Researcher, Purdue University.

Client and Partner Organization sessions included:

  • Forensic Collection of Webpages and Media: an Integrated Platform – Marco Tolli, Digital Forensic Expert, ICC-CPI
  • COVID-19 Cybersecurity Attacks Flavio Aggio, CISO; Martin Paulinyi, Information Security Engineer and Andrei Bashun, Technical Officer (Cybersecurity Risk & Compliance), WHO
  • Ongoing LinkedIn Threat Campaigns Gathering Intelligence and Targeting Users-– Viktors Engelbrehts, Head of IT Security, Infrastructure Unit, IAEA
  • Microsoft Sentinel: An Introduction and Use Cases – Suhail Muhammed, SOC Manager, UNICEF and Sebastian Bania, Systems Analyst, UNICEF
  • Security as Business as Usual. How ADB Integrated Security into IT Operations – Peter Fizelle, CISO, Asian Development Bank
  • Practical Application of Machine Learning for Cybersecurity – Zhao Chen, Security Operations Lead, Asian Development Bank
  • Implementing an Effective Vulnerability Management Program – Aldo Gomera Cruz, Information Security Officer, PAHO
  • Practical Cyber Threat Intelligence: How to Apply the Diamond Model to Detect and Counteract Cloud Threat Actors – Oleksiy Kuzmenko, Deputy CISO, UNDP
  • Information Security Benchmarking across the UN – Fabio Maggiore, Cyber Security Governance Lead, UNICC
  • Common Secure in Action! Threat Actor Attribution – Bojan Simetic, Common Secure Technical Lead, UNICC
  • Challenges and Roadmap for a Common UN SOC Capability – Amedeo Cioffi, cSOC Manager, UNICC.

There was also a panel discussion on Monetization of Cybercrime Affecting our Mission’s Integrity, with Carmen Corbin, Counter Cybercrime Advisor, UNODC; Mario Bruno, Lead Investigator, CITI Bank and Bruno Halopeau, CTO, CyberPeace Institute.

Here are some key takeaways of the conference:

  • Intelligence sharing summary, 2019-2020:
    • Exponential rise in credential theft incidents, in line with ENISA threat report indicating a rise in identity-related attacks
    • Rise in number of security incidents impacting the UN
    • Rise in critical vulnerabilities shared through Common Secure (either better sharing, more collective detection or simply more incidents)
    • Reduced noise around security incidents external to the UN
  • The UN system will benefit from improved procedures and processes to respond to modern cyber-related challenges introduced with digitalization, especially when it comes to frameworks
  • Organizations will benefit from improved security operations, critical to threat intel responses, vulnerability and incident management response.

A last takeaway related to those above is that many Agencies will benefit from improved processes on intelligence sharing within their community, expanding effective cross-organizational incident responses. This fact is part and parcel of the awareness and action of the UNICC Management Committee resolution to leverage UNICC’s Common Secure team and ecosystem to better share intel across the UN family.

UNICC Information Security Services

In order to best protect its Clients and Partner Organizations, UNICC offers information security services including governance and CISO Support, Common Secure Threat Intel Services, Security Operations Centre (CSOC), Security Incident Event Management (CSIEM), Phishing and Vulnerability Management, Penetration Testing, Incident Response and Forensics, PKI Services, Infrastructure and Network Support, Infosec Awareness, Electronic Signature Services and Secure AuthN Service.

UNICC was awarded a 2020 (and 2017) CSO50 Award for its Common Secure Information Security services. See UNICC’s Common Secure Conference page for more information and updates.

Photo: UN Women Mexico

UN Women and UNICC Sponsor a Safe Cities for Women Thinkathon

How Digital Technologies Can Make a Difference

UN Women and UNICC co-sponsored a Thinkathon 30 November on how digital technologies could make the metropolitan area of the city of Guadalajara, in Jalisco, Mexico, safe for women and girls.

UNICC partnered with UN Women Mexico Safe Cities Initiative, to amplify women’s voices and need for access to safe and inclusive public spaces during the pandemic and beyond. Local partners included Girl Up and the Second Chance Education Programme.

There is an urgent need to rethink cities with a gender lens to respond to the reality of COVID-19, and to recover better by building safe and inclusive cities. Innovation and data can help us to do this while we continue to amplify women’s voices and participation in the process.

Lizzette Soria, Policy Specialist, Ending Violence Against Women, UN Women

Girls, young women, civil society organizations,  academic organizations, private sector individuals, local government as well as the Counsellor for Gender Affairs at the Permanent Mission of Mexico to the United Nations took part in the Thinkathon.

The event was co-hosted by Anusha Dandapani, Chief of Data and Analytics at UNICC and Lizzette Soria, Policy Specialist, Ending Violence Against Women, UN Women.

On hand were experts Andrea Cházaro, Coordinator of the Safe Cities Programme in Mexico and Barbara ‘Bita’ Aranda, Girl Up Regional Representative for Latin America and the Caribbean. Fifty-five women and two men attended, with 32 participants sharing challenges, moving personal stories and potential solutions.

Credit: UN Women Mexico
Photo: UNICC

Anusha Dandapandi, David Damian Sandoval, Elena Tejadillos, Maria Rubal Thomsen and Kirsten Sandberg joined from UNICC.

A Thinkathon is a method of collaborative problem-solving and apt for virtual collaboration in these times. The Thinkathon used the online collaboration tool Miro, inspired by the great Spanish artist Joan Miró i Ferrà. The tool was not available in Spanish, and so UN Women and UNICC created a training video, translating the interface and user instructions into Spanish, to prepare participants in advance of the event. Girl Up was a key partner here as well: the process was not only about maximum engagement of the community but meaningful capacity building on the use of these tools and techniques.

Generating data to inform policies and programmes – in this case, for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals for good health and well-being (SDG 3), gender equality (SDG 5), sustainable cities and communities (SDG 11) and peace, justice and strong institutions (SDG 16) – can sometimes be a challenge for organizations. UNICC is filling that gap with data and analytics tools and services that are easy for non-techies to use in their work.

Anusha Dandapani, Chief, Data and Analytics, UNICC
Credit: Miro

The Thinkathon involved experienced facilitators – all young women trained in design thinking – to guide the group’s ideation. The leaders assigned participants to three break-out groups, each of which generated sets of problems and solutions.

Participants living in Guadalajara identified poor lighting of pathways and public places as a key concern, as well as the lack of safe and lighted spaces for women on public transportation. Several participants described their experiences, their fear of commuting at night and what might happen to them in the dark.

The fear is quite understandable. In a 2018 UN Women study of Guadalajara, 81% of female respondents acknowledged suffering from some form of sexual harassment or violence while moving through the historic centre of the city.

The groups suggested several viable digital solutions, among them an app for mapping the safest routes in Guadalajara, a digital platform for reporting issues requiring rapid response, and a one-touch access to an emergency helpline with video surveillance.

Credit: Miro

Another common theme was culture – how to transform the social and cultural norms that may lead to verbal or visual abuse, unwanted advances or worse, so that women and girls can enjoy public spaces. Achieving those goals will take time and require re-education to surface and address deep-seated biases and behaviors.

Proposed solutions were creative:

  • At crosswalks, signal with female figures in pedestrian traffic lights and gender-responsive way-finding tools.
  • Engage women and girls in the development of open-source solutions and continually strengthen the quality of the digital services available to them.
  • Make public data accessible in a way that invites other women to report instances of harassment and violence, and continually visualize the data as a means of educating and re-educating the city’s citizens.

The co-sponsors of the event will move these ideas forward, potentially driving a technology hackathon for prototyping proposed digital solutions. The overall goals are to inform investment in public safety and infrastructure with a gender perspective at the local level.

Participants said that the Thinkathon was empowering and had a positive effect on those who attended. Noted one participant, “Thank you very much for the invitation, very interesting. I have many notes to continue working on digital transformation projects in the State of Jalisco.”

Another added, “Thank you, UN Women Mexico, for your extraordinary work in organizing this event with UNICC and Girl Up.”

A representative of UN Women Mexico shared with Anusha at the end, “Thanks so much for such an amazing event! We are very pleased with the results.”

Credit: Denian Ouyang, Animator

Streamlining UN Sanctions Screening

A Robotic Process Automation Solution for UN Joint Sanctions Screening Lists

The UN Digital Solutions Centre (UN DSC), operated in partnership by the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), supported by UNICC, has developed a Joint Sanctions Screening solution using Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to streamline repetitive, manual and inefficient vendor screening processes.

The United Nations family is, among many other things, stewards of public funds for social good. It depends on partners who hire people, exchange monies and deliver goods and services, awarding contracts through fair and effective competition.

High standards of integrity and compliance mean zero tolerance for fraud and corruption. The UN minimizes fraud by imposing sanctions on potential vendors, partners and their employees.

Each UN organization maintains its own and ever-changing vendor lists that need to be checked against numerous international sanctions lists. The vetting process is often manual, time-consuming and comes at late stages of procurement, leading to errors and duplication of efforts.

The UN DSC took up the challenge to find a better way with the UN Joint Sanctions Screening solution.

Credit: Denian Ouyang, Animator

UNHCR and WFP explored digital automation solutions for these routine transactional processes, screening prospective vendors, employees, consultants, contractors, or other cash recipients or beneficiaries against discrete UN sanctions lists. For procurement staff, this type of screening involves manually intensive data validations and tedious rules-based tasks critical to compliance and security.

A Robotic Process Automation (RPA) solution works round the clock to:

  • Enhance compliance reporting, early detection of fraud and security control
  • Free up the time of skilled resources for value-adding activities
  • Improve the quality, accuracy, efficiency and speed of work
  • Reduce operational costs (i.e., fixed price for core product, with option to customize and enhance per organizational requirements).

How it works

For each member Agency, the screening solution uses a bot to download the latest international sanctions lists once a day and consolidate them into a single master checklist.

Credit: Denian Ouyang, Animator

It compares the list of vendors to this joint sanctions checklist, filtering by organizational names, Individuals’ names, nationalities, dates of birth and other information. The screening tool reports on sanctions matches and shares results with the member Agency business team, who can add their own vendor or organizational data to the output.  It streamlines the work of the business team, who is freed up to focus on analysing the data, approving or denying bids from vendors.

While analysts sleep restfully at night, each Agency’s bot keeps on churning and working. From a business standpoint, the Joint Sanctions Screening solution has been delivering value since April 2019: it has simplified, standardized and automated the common sanction screening process, yet it accommodates each Agency’s unique screening parameters. In the first year alone, this UN Joint Sanctions Screening solution performed over 150 billion comparisons for member organizations.

Shared and Customized Solutions

The solution also supports screening against internal organizational lists. If an organization wishes to screen against only one or two of these lists – or against any other list, such as vendors rejected by other organizations – then the solution is easily configurable. The bot has separate credentials for each of the business applications it engages, so that users can trace and audit all the bot’s actions using predefined reporting templates. Since it’s a shared solution, the costs for using it are much lower for everyone. And it’s easy to use!

From a technical standpoint, the Joint Sanctions Screening solution is flexible, designed to integrate easily into the system of any UN Agency. It features a single platform so that UN Agencies can cooperate more easily, with customized screening parameters for any UN Agency that wishes to participate and consume this service.

The Joint Sanctions Screening solution is up and running for UNHCR and WFP, fully ready to deliver to scale to other organizations through UNICC’s Hyper-Automation Centre of Excellence. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recently subscribed and other Agencies are exploring opportunities made possible by this solution.

The RPA team is only a ping away. Please reach out to RPA@unicc.org for a demonstration. The UN DSC and UNICC are happy to extend a test environment to acquaint Clients and Partner Organizations with the UN Joint Sanctions Screening solution.

The UN Joint Sanctions Screening solution, optimising back-office operations and bringing peace of mind to managing public funds for social good, unlocking the promise of the SDGs.

About the Digital Solutions Centre 

The United Nations Digital Solutions Centre is operated in partnership by the UN World Food Programme (WFP), the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and is supported by the UN International Computing Centre (UNICC). By leveraging new technologies and UN expertise, the UN Digital Solutions Centre aims to create a suite of digital solutions that can be shared among UN agencies to transform common business operations and streamline time-consuming transactional tasks. Solutions developed by WFP and UNHCR will be made available to the entire UN system. 

Photo: Columbia University

UNICC Presents Digital Transformation Case Study at Columbia University

The Career Design Lab at Columbia University’s School of Professional Studies partnered with UNICC for a case study on digital transformation as part of its Executive Case Series on December 8. The series is a virtual Learn & Network community for executive professionals led by Subject-Matter Experts to facilitate solution-based discussions that address challenges that C-suite leaders and executives face today.

Nearly 30 executive students and alumni engaged in a case study discussion led by UNICC’s Anish Sethi, Chief of Clients and Projects Division, and Anusha Dandapani, Chief of Data and Analytics.

Data and digital technological advances on the horizon have the potential to dramatically disrupt how we work in the public sector.

Anish Sethi, Chief of Clients and Projects Division, UNICC

Anish and Anusha explored the topic of digital transformation and the future of work. They began by asking how we can leverage advances in digital technology to become truly data-driven organizations more quickly?

They organized the session into seven areas of exploration:

  • Individual proficiency – Are we providing ongoing training and education of our workforce?
  • Opportunity ready – Are we sparking people’s curiosity to spot transformative opportunities?
  • Small upgrades – Are we watching for the small upgrades that accrue meaningfully over time?
  • Automation – Are we looking for digital ways to provide higher quality services?
  • Remote work – Have we identified what our people need to work effectively outside the office?
  • Management – Have we adapted our managerial styles to meet the needs of remote teams?
  • Collaboration – Are we using technology to sustain the free flow of ideas and collaboration?
Anish Sethi, Chief of Clients and Projects Division, UNICC. Photo: UNICC

Participants broke into five working groups. The discussions were rich because of the veteran talent in each breakout room. Participants brought to bear their experience in multiple industries – banking and financial services, cybersecurity, education, energy and sustainability, engineering, entertainment, information technology, internet and social media, policy, risk management and supply chain management.

And they applied their expertise in technology management, strategic communications, information and knowledge strategy, insurance management, construction administration and applied analytics. Each group came up with creative ideas for using digital solutions in each of these areas.

Remote work and collaboration

Working remotely pervaded nearly every other area. The consensus view was that we’re likely never going back to normal. Rather, we’re moving into a new normal with hybrid approaches including more remote work and more automation. People are seeking a sense of ‘belongingness’, some form of virtual bonding with colleagues. Many are overwhelmed by the amount of time spent in virtual meetings and responding in chat feeds, where corporate time and personal time are blurring.

Anusha Dandapani, Chief of Data and Analytics, UNICC. Photo: UNICC

Some suggested using data from, for example, M365 analytics to map social interactions and identify who the network hubs were. The people who regularly engaged with people outside their work groups could play a role in social cohesion and sustaining organizational culture.

Many raised privacy concerns over the use of personal data and suggested using anonymized data instead to gauge the extent to which people were engaging with each other. Some shared what they’ve been doing, from quick daily morning meetings and regular town halls to game days and blog posts that profile individual staff members every week.

Individual proficiency and management

Regarding training and development, some said that regular performance reviews were things of the past and that, instead, managers and individuals worked out ‘proficiency roadmaps’ that identified opportunities to cross-train and align their skills with other areas of the organization. The goal was to identify skills gaps and to empower employees to upskill through internal and external means.

Participants. Photo: UNICC

One organization used the app ‘Hitch’ to cultivate an internal talent marketplace, where staff could spend 10 to 15% of their time working in other areas. A manager or team posted the need for a particular skill or talent through Hitch, and an employee who met the requirements could apply for the work. Such apps serve another purpose: they communicate the skills in demand within an organization, that employees might want to develop.

Small upgrades and opportunities

For sparking people’s curiosity and watching for quick wins, several participants suggested that organizations like UNICC could post their problem statements publicly in a ‘problem marketplace’ and publish data sets relevant to solving the problem as well, to crowdsource input and inspire citizen development of open source solutions like Apache’s Hadoop and Spark. That would foster a culture of open innovation, “not just in to out, but out to in”, where insiders and outsiders both benefitted from the experience.

Some expressed caution: if solutions for, say, ideation come from the IT department, then people may just ask IT “to work flow it” and find ways to automate, when people really need incentives, personal encouragement and safe spaces to build the trust necessary for collaborating, ideating, and identifying small upgrades and transformative opportunities.

This requires managers who are closely attuned to each staff member. “You can’t solve what you don’t know without the social,” Anish told the group. Staying connected takes commitment. UNICC provides the right environment and frameworks for accelerated development, deployment and governance of digital solutions.

Photo: Esglobal

UNICC’s Director Brings UN Perspective to a Debate on Technology and the SDGs

Digital Solutions at the Service of Multilateralism: New Tools for the Agenda 2030, Human Rights and Peace

The United Nations is celebrating its 75th anniversary and around the world, UN organizations, Member States and civil society are commemorating this achievement. 

On 22 October, the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation and the digital media platform Esglobal organised a debate on ‘Technology at the Service of Multilateralism: New Tools for the Agenda 2030, Human Rights and Peace.’

Across the system, whether it is health, women’s rights, children, peacekeeping or refugees, every single UN Agency needs to be much more innovative now, use technology effectively and make sure we are consistent in how we build solutions that have to scale to avoid duplication.

Sameer Chauhan, Director, UNICC

UNICC’s Director Sameer Chauhan was invited as a panellist, together with Daniel Couture, Chief Information Officer of UNICEF; Cristina Gallach, Spanish Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and for Ibero-America and the Caribbean; Nuria Simó, CIO and General Manager of the Department of Information Technology at the Inter-American Development Bank; Salem Avan,  UN’s Director of Strategy, Policy and Governance Division and Raquel Jorge, Fulbright fellow at the Elliot School of International Affairs . The debate was moderated by Cristina Manzano, Director of Esglobal.  

All participants shared thoughts, practices and experiences on how to promote the use of new technologies to achieve the SDGs. As Director of UNICC, the UN organization that develops and provides shared digital business solutions to the UN family, Sameer had a unique insight into current needs and acceleration trends in technology adoption across the system.

Applying technology to any of the SDGs leads to a multiplying effect. Technology and the success of the 2030 Agenda are absolutely linked. 

Cristina Gallach

Every UN Agency is exploring how to better deliver on their missions and mandates, working more digitally and more effectively to produce measurable results. Sameer stressed the importance of data. Good data collection and analysis can help to make the smart decisions and determine where to direct resources. 

Technology is instrumental to understand where we are, to measure our current state, to predict and understand what will happen going forward and how what we do today impact our effectiveness with respect to the SDGs. 

Salem Avan, UN’s Director of Strategy, Policy and Governance Division

The conversation moved into the topic of diversity, a key aspect to counteract the inequalities in access to technology and a crucial element to take into account when developing innovative technologies in a multilateral system. 

Panellists also talked about the role of the private sector in supporting the UN’s endeavours to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Sameer explained UNICC’s capacity to collect digital business requirements across the UN system, consolidate and bring them to the private sector, as it has already done with some of the biggest tech companies, such as Microsoft, Amazon Web Services, ServiceNow and UiPath for Robotic Process Automation.

We have seen three years of growth in just three months. When COVID-19 hit, we realized immediately that everyone needed to adopt digital processes while keeping face-to-face levels of trust, and ensure staff acquired the necessary digital skills.

Sameer Chauhan, Director, UNICC

This debate is just one of many events organised by the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation in collaboration with several partners to commemorate the UN’s 75th anniversary. The next roundtable will be on 25 November about the future of the UN in a globalised world.

Photo: CEB

New User Organization: Council of European Development Bank (CEB)

The Social Development Bank of Europe

UNICC is pleased to announce that the Council of European Development Bank (CEB) has been accepted as a UNICC User Organization. UNICC’s Business Relationship Manager for the CEB is Nyuta Fortuna.

Note that the UNICC Client UN Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB) is listed as UN CEB to avoid any confusion.

Located in Paris, France, the CEB is a multilateral development bank with an exclusively social mandate. Through the provision of financing and technical expertise for projects with a high social impact in its member states, it actively promotes social cohesion and strengthens social integration in Europe.

The CEB represents a major instrument of the policy of solidarity in Europe. It participates in financing social projects, responds to emergency situations and contributes to improving the living conditions of the most disadvantaged population groups.The CEB contributes to the implementation of socially oriented investment projects through three sectoral lines of action, namely:

  • Inclusive growth: working to guarantee access to economic opportunities to ensure a prosperous future for all   
  • Support for vulnerable groups: helping to integrate the most vulnerable citizens to nurture a more diverse society 
  • Environmental sustainability: supporting a liveable society that promotes environmental sustainability, mitigates and adapts to climate change.

The CEB has 42 member states who are the Bank’s shareholders. All countries that are members of the Council of Europe are eligible to join the CEB.

Photo: UNICC

106th Management Committee Meeting Highlights UNICC’s Role in the UN’s Accelerating Digital Adoption

Partner Organizations Approve Four New UNICC Services 

UNICC’s Management Committee (MC), the organization’s governance body, met fully virtually on Monday 19 and Wednesday 21 October 2020 for the second session of 2020. 

The MC, comprised of representatives from forty Partner Organizations, shares responsibility with UNICC’s Director for key decisions, providing guidance for the organization’s strategic direction and approving the Centre’s budget, financial reports and services rates.

On the first day, the sessions covered statutory business, presented new service offerings and shared recent audit certifications. UNICC’s Director Sameer Chauhan followed with the Director’s Update, highlighting some of the successes of the organization over the past six months and discussing some upcoming near-term initiatives.

An interactive discussion on technology trends and UN needs, including services and solutions like secure chat, multi-cloud connect and a UN private cloud, was the focus of the second day. 

Participants also had the opportunity to hear from two new senior management staff. UNICC’s Chief of Digital Solutions, Ninna Roco, who is also part of the UNICC Transformation Team shared the organization’s digital business solutions offerings and how they are helping various partners in their digital transformation. 

UNICC’s Chief of Data and Analytics, Anusha Dandapani, presented the new Data and Analytics programme, with an emphasis on advanced analytics and machine learning, aligned to the Data Strategy of the Secretary General’s Strategy for Action by Everyone, Everywhere.

UNICC’s Unique Value Proposition for Digital Solutions. Credit: UNICC
Data and Analytics services snapshots. Credit: UNICC

Four New Services Added to UNICC’s Service Catalogue

On the first day of the meeting, the Management Committee also approved four new services that were added to UNICC’s service catalogue of more than forty service areas, available to all Clients and Partners. The new services include:

  • ServiceNow Enterprise Service Management Shared Platform – Includes design, development, deployment and operations. Configured to best match business context for UNICC Clients, through a proven partnership with ServiceNow. 
  • Amazon Web Services (AWS) Affiliates Enterprise Support Services – Allows Clients with either a direct agreement or through UNICC to receive AWS Enterprise Support in a shared model, splitting costs for the highest level of support at the lowest cost.
  • Secure AuthN Service –  Supports inter-organizational authentication to applications and platforms. This service allows organizations to link their Active Directory to AuthN to then register as many apps as they wish to use for authentication, with no compromises on security. 
  • Electronic Signature Services – integrates DocuSign electronic signature services into corporate processes to increase efficiency by automating signature workflows, eliminating errors and risk by integrating the service into systems of record. 

Ad Hoc Session on Cyber Security 

The Management Committee met again on Tuesday 27 October for a two-hour, ad-hoc session on Cyber Security, as requested by the Partners during April’s 105th Management Committee. The session was widely attended by Chief Information Officers (CIOs) as well as invited Chief Information Security Officers (CISOs) of Partner Organizations. 

UNICC presented two proposals, both of which were adopted by the Management Committee:

  • Partner Organizations agree to share all timely threat intelligence with UNICC. UNICC to leverage the Common Secure Threat Intel Network service to distribute this threat intelligence across the entire UN System.
  • Vulnerability Management timelines for security and application patching in a timely and standardized fashion.

The Management Committee meeting highlighted UNICC’s role in the UN’s accelerating digital adoption and its continued support for Clients and Partner Organizations during the new work paradigms of the COVID pandemic. 

It featured updates from UNICC’s Executive Committee and UNICC Transformation Team attesting to the state of good health and innovative plans for the future as UNICC celebrates its fiftieth birthday in January 2021.

Photo: IPU

Inter-Parliamentary Union Brings Digital Democracy to Life

UNICC Is Independent Auditor for IPU Election for President

Do we agree that necessity is the engine of invention? During the COVID-19 pandemic, leaders across the United Nations system have reimagined their operations at scale, conducting work virtually rather than in person wherever possible.

A case in point is the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), the global organization of national parliaments, who’s brought digital democracy to life during these tough times.

The IPU consists of 179 Member Parliaments and 13 Associate Members, and it engages parliamentarians around the world in its mission to ‘promote democratic governance, institutions and values.’ Its slogan says it all: ‘For democracy. For everyone.’

At a virtual meeting in June this year, the IPU Executive Committee decided to convene a virtual session of the Governing Council for early November. During that session, it would elect a new President for the IPU. The challenge was to conduct this election altogether virtually in a secure and confidential manner, across time zones and accommodating technological constraints. It was a bold and ambitious goal.

For the election platform, IPU retained the highly qualified Civica Election Services (CES), based in the United Kingdom. The Governing Council appointed two tellers – both parliamentarians who were members of the IPU’s Executive Committee – to verify the election results.

And IPU selected UNICC as an independent auditor for online voting, to provide the two tellers with a technical assessment of the voting process and the results.

Without your support, we would not have managed to achieve such a successful outcome. We have been particularly impressed by UNICC’s demonstrated responsiveness to our need for an independent auditor within a very short timeframe and your kind personal prioritizing of fielding a highly capable engagement team.

–Martin Chungong, Secretary General, Inter-Parliamentary Union

UNICC as Independent Auditor

Cybersecurity Governance Specialist Fabio Maggiore worked with IPU’s Ambassador Anda Filip, Director for Member Parliaments and External Relations, IPU; Andy Richardson, Programme Manager, Parliamentary Standards, IPU and Avinash Bikha, Project Officer, IPU, to provide independent oversight.

The objective of the independent audit was to give the Governing Council independent assurance of the secrecy of the ballot, the security of the voting platform, the proper identification and authentication of voters, and oversight of the voting process overall. UNICC as auditor was not responsible for vulnerability scans or penetration testing of the voting platform.

IPU Pre-announcement of winner Photo: IPU

Fabio, as auditor, had a set of mission-critical tasks to perform in a very narrow window of time:

  1. First, he reviewed the vendor’s proposal to IPU to understand its platform and capabilities and to verify its security certifications for such an election.
  2. He interviewed key vendor staff to assess the measures CES took to ensure the confidentiality of the ballots and the processes for registering voters and tabulating results.
  3. He also verified the list of registered voters (i.e., members of the Governing Council).
  4. Then he monitored and took part in a test election to gain first-hand familiarity with the voting process as well as the primary and secondary voting methods.
  5. He submitted an interim report of his findings for the two tellers and the IPU Secretariat.
Photo: IPU

When the official voting began, Fabio monitored the election to make sure that it proceeded according to pre-agreed plans. During the 24-hour period of voting, he watched for incidents and tracked their resolution.

When the voting ended, he verified the accuracy of the results, prepared an executive summary of his audit and presented it to the Governing Council –all within hours of the election’s close. Afterward, he delivered a final version of the Independent Auditor report.

Over the past weeks, we have worked closely with your colleagues’ experience in cybersecurity and vendor assessment, and have benefitted from their strong support, guidance and commitment. … I am convinced that we will have other opportunities to work together in view of the special times and circumstances[in which we are currently living, and I look forward to that.

–Martin Chungong, Secretary General, Inter-Parliamentary Union

IPU’s new President, Duarte Pacheco Photo: IPU

The election was a success, with Duarte Pacheco of Portugal becoming the new President of the IPU.  

IPU demonstrated how digital technology could support Sustainable Development Goal 16 (Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions), with 400 representatives of more than 140 Member Parliaments voting digitally. IPU also reported that over 40% of voting members were women, making progress on Gender Equality (Goal 5). UNICC was honoured and delighted to contribute to this unprecedented initiative and congratulates IPU on its achievement.

Photo: ITU

UNICC Is One of Twenty Winners in ITU’s Innovation Challenge

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU), in its 2020 Innovation Challenge, recognized UNICC for its design, development and delivery of the UN Digital Academy

UNICC was among nine winners in the category of ‘Ecosystem Best Practices,’ which showcased ‘ecosystem builders with good practices that nurture an enabling environment for innovators in their communities’. As an ecosystem builder, UNICC and Microsoft provide a shared platform for digital learning and capacity development for UN Agency personnel. The UN Digital Academy is one example of how UNICC delivers training and instructional material curated for member UN Agencies in a non-profit model. It offers courses in English, French and Spanish.

The UN Digital Academy is a joint effort between UNICC and Microsoft’s Tech for Social Impact group. It helps to keep UN personnel up to date in their areas of digital business expertise. It offers role-based learning tracks for general and technical subjects in the ever-changing Microsoft cloud, from Microsoft 365 tools and accessibility to Azure certification tracks on data and artificial intelligence along with Power BI and Power Apps. 

With teleworking as the norm amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Academy also helps staff to get up to speed on the latest virtual collaboration and productivity tools. The project is fully-launched and will continue to adapt and change over time, as new training content, user experience improvements, and potentially new tech partners take part in its vision and scope.

Winning ideas in the ecosystem building category came from a diversity of countries – Egypt, Indonesia, Moldova, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Russia, Serbia and the United States – in the challenge subcategories of ‘building innovation capacity,’ ‘guiding innovation dynamics’ and ‘integrating ICT innovation in key sectors.’

The UN Digital Academy helps to foster and deepen the United Nation’s internal capacities in digital innovation and transformation, in support of the UN Secretary-General’s Strategy on New Technologies.

UNICC is honoured to be among the 20 winners overall, including the categories of ‘Digital Change-Makers’ and ‘Women in Technology.’ Organized by ITU, EQUALS and INPUT Hungary, the challenge ran from May to August, and a jury of 12 experts selected the winning initiatives in September. 

In October, the winners went through a preparation phase, had a chance to meet each other at a series of virtual innovation boot camps and participate in the Global Innovation Forum at the end of the month. The Forum is a five-day immersive programme that takes the participants on global and regional learning journeys to prepare them to accelerate digital transformation in their communities.

Bill Allen, UNICC Communications Officer, made the bid to the challenge in the make of the whole UNICC and Microsoft UN Digital Academy team, and Franca Vinci, Head, Learning Services took up the baton and participated in the Global Innovation Challenge.

What made the UN Digital Academy one of this year winning ideas is its unique value propositon of responding to the UN’s need to prepare and adapt to the future of work by enabling adaptation, innovation and growth.