un women
Photo: UN Women/Amanda Vard

Columbia University – UNICC Thinkathon

Team Agritech wins with its ozone-based disinfection system to address Disaster Preparedness and advance human welfare

Columbia University School of Professional Studies (SPS) and UNICC have collaborated to bring students and alumni together to advance human welfare, accelerate the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and confront the great challenges of our time in the first-ever Columbia University SPS – UNICC Thinkathon. Teams proposed solutions to three social challenges:

  • Gender equality: Using data and technology to address violence against women during and beyond COVID-19
  • Cyber security: Understanding risks that arise from our reliance on the Internet, focusing on regulatory, policymaking and/or technological solutions in areas of Artificial Intelligence, personal data, automatic decision making and victims of data breaches
  • Disaster preparedness: Reporting on the manner in which COVID-19 has impacted vulnerable populations, to inform solutions and strategic planning to recover and reverse deterioration trends.

A summer-long Thinkathon to advance human welfare

Seven teams have been working all summer on real-world solutions with live data, mentored by subject matter area experts from Columbia, the private sector and UN Agencies.

In June, 17 teams of 3 to 5 people submitted their proposals with a statement of interest, with answers to one of the three challenge prompts and optional supporting documents. Among the initial participants there were 45 Columbia University students or alumni from five different schools, with 38 external students or professionals. Up to ten countries on four continents were represented.

Image

A review committee studied the submissions and selected seven final teams that moved forward to the Thinkathon competition. These teams have been working throughout July and August together with expert university, private sector and UN mentors to refine their proposals and final presentations.

Three of the teams selected the Gender Equality challenge, two teams worked on the topic of Disaster Preparedness and the last two teams chose the Cybersecurity challenge. Mentors who provided guidance and support included:

  • Edna Chun, Lecturer, Human Capital Management Department, Columbia University
  • Shouryadipta Sarkar, Information Management Senior Specialist, UNDP
  • Shahryar Shaghaghi, Chief Technology Officer, Quantum Xchange
  • Tima Soni, Chief, Cyber Security Section, UNICC
  • Lizzette Soria, Women’s Policy Expert, Safe Cities, UN
  • Jay Kesavan, Data Science Expert and Partner, Bowery Software.

Final presentation and winners

On 24 August 2021, finalist teams had the opportunity to present their ideas in front of a global audience and a panel of preeminent judges, in a live event that featured initial remarks by Columbia University SPS Senior Associate Dean of Student Affairs Zelon Crawford and presentations from UNICC’s Chief of Data and Analytics Anusha Dandapani and Data Scientist Dishti Gurnani.

Then each team had five minutes for their final pitch, after an introduction by their mentors. The judges had the opportunity to ask follow-up questions. After long deliberation, UNICC’s Chief of Data Analytics Anusha Dandapani announced the winners.

Team Agritech was the first-place winner, receiving a $3,000 cash prize, with its solution of a newly-developed, sustainable, proprietary ozone-based disinfection delivery system to tackle the disaster preparedness challenge. The system addresses the matter of food loss and food safety by dramatically minimising the effect of malicious pathogens on agricultural products across the entire supply chain, while at the same time considerably increasing shelf life of fresh fruits and vegetables as well as seafood, meats and edibles greens.

Our unique ozone delivery system is designed extensively to be applied in the form of dry or wet methods determined by sensitivity, delicateness, fertility of the treated products.

Agritech Team

Logista Emergency Response was the runner-up. Their solution addressed the Disaster Preparedness challenge with a rapidly deployable and scalable field-based logistics system that gives emergency responders accurate, data-driven insights in order to make the right choices when time and resources are in demand. The cash prize for the runner-up team was $2,000.

The audience-chosen team was The Bulb, which was awarded a $1,000 cash prize for their Gender Equality solution of virtual networking against violence. The team proposed a virtual networking solution to eliminate all forms of discrimination and violence against women. Their solution contains two major networking platforms, a group chat using a popular communications app and a blog site.

The teams were evaluated for their clarity and innovation, the social impact of their solutions, the capital requirements and financial forecast, the viability, both operational and technical, feasibility and sustainability of the solution, as well as the presentation delivery. The panel included the following judges:

  • Pavan Pidugu, Chief Technology Officer, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation
  • Rodrigo Hernan Prado Cordova, Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Primus AI, RPA
  • Reda Sadki, President, The Geneva Learning Foundation
  • Ursula Wynhoven, United Nations Representative, International Telecommunications Union
  • Friederike Schüür, Fellow, AI Ethics and Digital Governance, United Nations.

Solutions proposed by other teams were also great:

  • The SafeTeal team proposed an inter-sectional mobile app for gender-based violence prevention and response. The app is intended to engage across the educational space, advocacy circles and the healing space.
  • The Merakhi team also had a solution to the Gender Equality challenge, proposing a smart jewelry and education program.
  • The CV2 team proposed a global, encrypted communications platform to tackle one of the biggest challenges in the cyber security space, by collecting and dispersing information in a timely and secure manner
  • The World ID team proposed a distributed ledger Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) providing digital identity solutions designed to immutably protect sovereign, institutional, and citizen-level data and information, increasing scale and integrity in global information systems.

Thanks to this Thinkathon to advance human welfare, participants have been able to sharpen their critical thinking, problem-solving and communication skills. The challenges have heightened their awareness of global challenges, allowing them to build capacity and share knowledge, and work in collaboration with people with different perspectives.

Mia PAHO bot RPA
Photo: PAHO

PAHO Welcomes Mia and Max, Their First ‘Digital Workers’

The New Bots Developed by UNICC and PAHO Support the Procurement Process of Covid-19 Vaccines 

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has added two Acquisitions Technician to their Procurement and Supply Management team, two new members that can work 24 hours per day, 7 days a week, year-round. Mia and Max are PAHO’s first ever bots, and they have been developed by UNICC’s Robotic Process Automation (RPA) team alongside PAHO’s Procurement and IT teams.

The robots execute repetitive and time-consuming tasks, allowing the human team to forget about the paperwork and focus on strategic aspects of the procurement function, such as establishing the needs of the countries served by PAHO and enhancing relationships with suppliers. 

Mia – Assisting the Purchase of Strategic Products 

Mia automates the purchase order requisition process. The bot downloads data from a spreadsheet report and uses it to fill in specific details in the ERP software Workday. A unique feature of this solution is that it is able to detect if a memo is written in Spanish and translate it into English.

A single purchase order requisition takes a human buyer an average processing time of 20 minutes, while Mia is able to do the same work in approximately 5 to 8 minutes, thanks to automating redundant and time consuming steps.

Mia and Max are helping other team members with transactional tasks, so they can focus on better serving our countries. These bots are a great example of what UNICC can do to support the UN Family.

Daniel Rodrigues, Director, Procurement and Supply Management, PAHO

Since Mia’s first day at work, the bot has been helping buyers with the purchase of strategic products, including Covid-19 vaccines for the American countries.

Mia is an unattended bot, which means that it is programmed to start at a specific time and keep working until there are no more purchase order requisitions in the to-do list. Then it waits until the next scheduled run to complete a new list. Mia is easily scalable – as seen with the push for Covid-19 vaccine distribution, the bot is able to process planned and unplanned increases in volume, helping to expedite the purchase of the much needed vaccine.

Max – More than a Software, a Key Member of the Team

Max is a robotic solution that uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) to automatically create Advance Shipment Notifications (ASN). The bot reads shipping documents, extracts relevant data points and adds them into Workday.

The creation of ASN is not only a time-consuming process, but it is prone to human error, due to the many data points that must be transferred from documents to the ERP software. With the new solution the PAHO team saves time and reduces the risk of errors in the documentation.

The bot is currently being trained. After it completes the task, it sends the document to a validation station where a human team member reviews and confirms the data has been correctly extracted. With each validation, Max increases its confidence level, and as time progresses its precision will be high enough for PAHO to allow ‘Straight Pass Through’ extraction. After validation, the bot enters the confirmed data into the system, after which the ASN is created.

The bot works on automatically completing the documentation on vaccine lots and batch numbers, as well as manufacture and expiration dates, a process that was not included in the previous manual system.

Beyond Mia and Max, the Potential of RPA

PAHO’s RPA journey with UNICC started on April 2020 with an initial analysis of automating opportunities.

PAHO’s IT team initially experimented with setting up its own infrastructure for RPA using Automation Anywhere and setting up its own MS Azure environments. However, PAHO decided to switch to UNICC’s “Bot as a Service” to leverage their RPA expertise and since that was more cost effective.

Patrick Hinderdael, Director, Information Technology Services, PAHO

With the experience of having delivered multiple automation solutions to over 15 UN Clients across various domains such as travel, finance, procurement, HR, IT and healthcare, the UNICC’s RPA team started developing Mia and Max in October 2020.

We at UNICC are proud to help launch Mia and Max, and do our little bit to support the life-saving work of PAHO.

Sameer Chauhan, Director, UNICC

The joint team is now exploring which other repetitive functions within the Procurement and Supply Management unit in PAHO could be automated, and hope to add more digital workers that will allow their human team mates to increase their efficiency and productivity.

Image

UNICC RPA Solutions

WHO mYoga App
Credit: UNICC/Al Sawwaf

WHO and UNICC Deliver mYoga App, a Daily Yoga Companion

The World Health Organization, together with the Ministry of AYUSH, Government of India, recently launched the well-received and popular WHO mYoga app.​

Developed by UNICC, the mYoga app has found a global audience with a simple yoga practice platform for the general public. It includes Yoga learning and practice sessions of varying durations. The a​​pp comprises a collection of videos and audio sessions that users can enjoy in the comfort of their homes,​​ and when they wish. It also allows users to download videos in case they wish to watch them offline at their own convenience.

Need an efficient and inexpensive yoga app in a timely fashion? Call on UNICC. Its Application Delivery team helps Clients design, enhance and build mission-critical custom enterprise applications and collaborative solutions.

UNICC has been developing and supporting applications for several years, with solutions and products delivered to its Clients and Partner Organizations, including intranet, extranet and corporate website redesign, custom business application development, application integration, data migration, certificate exchange hubs, mobile apps and more.

The mYoga app is safe and secure, collecting no data from users at all, and can be used as a daily Yoga companion for people aged around 18-65 years. The app is easy-to-use and a free tool for people who are trying yoga for the first time or those who already practice yoga regularly. No special equipment is needed, and users can learn or practice yoga from 3 to 45 minutes, so even busy people can use it to get active, achieve  peace of mind and stay fit.

The app was built using React Native, which is an Open Source cross-platform framework for mobile development. UNICC leverages Amazon AWS for storing the media content (video/audio files). The WHO mYoga app is available for free download on Android devices and Apple devices.

The application currently supports two languages, namely English (default) and Hindi. I will make it available in all six UN languages.

Image

Credit: WHO

The Prime Minister of India expressed his hope that this app will provide help for spreading the practice of Yoga worldwide and will also contribute to the efforts of “One World, One Health.”

The project started in 2019 and the first version of the WHO mYoga App was recently launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi while he was addressing 7th International Yoga Day on Monday, June 21, 2021. UNICC is currently working on the second version where all six UN languages will be available with some improvements.

The mYoga app is an effort to further popularise Yoga. It will also help realise our collective vision of “One World, One Health.

Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India

He also said that this app will be helpful in keeping people healthy during the pandemic. It may have a great role in the re-rehabilitation of the health of the people who have recovered from COVID-19.

Image

Photo: Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi with WHO mYoga App (see story here).

In addition, the WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus shared a Twitter post in June about the App, saying: “Happy #InternationalDayOfYoga! @WHO is very happy to launch a new mYoga App, together with the Government of #India, to help you do yoga at your convenience, especially during #COVID19. Thank you so much, for your support, Prime Minister @narendramodi! Let’s #BeActive!”

The app, recently launched, has already secured a prestigious place in the AppBrain world ranking!

We faced many challenges during the mYoga app development process, but after launching the app and seeing the positive feedback from the users and the prestigious place the app secured quickly in the World Ranking, we felt really thrilled. I believe that self-belief, teamwork and hard work will always earn you success.

Minas al Sawwaf, React Native Developer, UNICC

mYoga Features

  • Viewing and downloading of learning and practice videos
  • Users can view learning and practice videos for the various Yoga training exercises to understand how to perform the exercise. The video once viewed entirely will be marked as “Completed”. In case the user has not finished watching the entire video, it will be marked as “In progress”. User can also download the video if needed for offline viewing. A particular practice video will be enabled only once the relevant learning videos for that practice video have been “Completed”
  • Playing and downloading of audio files
  • Users can listen to the audio clips for a particular practice video for the various Yoga training exercises to understand how to perform the exercise. User can also download the audio if needed for offline listening.
  • Internationalisation: users have the option to switch the language from within the application. The application currently supports two languages namely English (default) and Hindi
  • Audio/Video streaming: users can view the training videos and listen to audio clips using the media player within the app. The application streams the video/audio from Amazon cloud. The media thus streamed is rendered on the device using Amazon Media Convert and Cloud front services. In addition, all the media files are stored centrally inside an Amazon S3 bucket.

WHO mYoga App and the SDGs

The app proposed the concept of Be Healthy, Be Mobile (BHBM) under the United Nations SDG for achieving Universal Health Coverage by the year 2030. BHBM initiative was set up by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in 2012 to support the scaling up of mobile health technology in the National Health Service (NHS) to combat various non-communicable diseases.

The goal of developing the WHO mYoga app is to spotlight the health benefits of yoga that can ease the stress of our modern ‘laptop’ lives. SDG 3 “Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages” is particularly relevant since yoga improves physical health and general well-being. Other SDGs can also be seen in different aspects. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi highlights not only the health benefits of the practice but also the sustainable lifestyle it promotes, leading to better harmony between people and the planet.

Photo: UN RSCE

UN RSCE Robotic Process Automation Telephone Billing Consolidation

The Future Digital Work Force is Here

The UN Regional Service Centre in Entebbe, Uganda (UN RSCE), has among its many missions the consolidation of administrative and support functions previously located in its field missions. This streamlining of administration provides less volatile, more business-friendly regional locations, with the goal of providing efficient, client-oriented and scalable services while reducing the missions’ footprints to UN field missions across Africa. Robotic Process Automation (RPA), through the UNICC Robotic Process Automation Centre (RPA+) was there to help develop and deploy a telephone billing consolidation system.

Robotic Process Automation is the use of software that can be easily programmed to do sequenced, high volume, repetitive tasks across applications. It creates and deploys a software robot that works like a digital assistant, doing routine, complex, rule-based, time-bound tasks that would otherwise eat up employees’ time.

RPA and hyperautomation technologies – what UNICC calls ‘RPA+’ – allow us to call on a digital workforce to help us gain immediate operational efficiencies and get closer to business stakeholders and beneficiaries on the ground. Ultimately, RPA+ helps Clients and Partner Organizations build better to deliver on their mandates.

Nagesh Vepa, Head, Hyperautomation Solutions, UNICC

The Regional Project and Implementations Unit in the Field Technology Services of the Regional Service Centre in Entebbe (RSCE) has now successfully deployed two Robotic Process Automation (RPA) projects in the past three years, both of which have been in the Regional Telephone Billing Unit (RTBU).

In African peacekeeping missions, RPA was pioneered in RTBU through a Proof of Concept in 2018, followed by a full-fledged deployment in March 2021. RTBU was a logical place to start, given that it processes massive amounts of data: over 100,000 bills in FY2018/2019, translating into over 9,000,000 rows of data.

Image

Photo: UN RSCE

Before embarking on any automation, all of the complex process steps have to be identified at a granular level. Fortunately, RTBU had their internal processes well documented with sufficient detail. One aspect that was not captured in the process maps, however, was offline tasks. In particular, there is the requirement to handle, process and standardise documents received in different formats into a standard template, which used to take significant effort, time and resources on the part of the units.

With the RTBU processes clearly defined, the Regional Project and Implementations Unit partnered with UNICC for the development and deployment of an automated bot. The bot accesses the target files for processing from an input folder in SharePoint. Upon processing, successful files are moved to an output folder with exceptions, audit logs and performance reports being maintained in separate folders.

UNICC was responsible for process assessment, development, testing, Production deployment, associated license procurement, onboarding Orchestrator service for relevant bot, infrastructure hosting, administer and support for the RPA Process candidates and agile project management in the United Nations Regional Telephone Billing Unit (RTBU) of the Regional Service Centre in Entebbe (UN RSCE).

RPA has allowed for automated multiple, time-consuming offline processes by converting telephone bills received from over 16 missions in over 25 formats into a single standard format that is compatible with the Unit’s telephone billing platform. This means that there is now visibility for every single row of every single bill that has gone through RPA, which is projected to generate thousands of dollars a month in savings through enhanced recoveries.

Image

Photo: Zanders

The result is greater speed and accuracy in performing repetitive, high-volume tasks, freeing time for staff to focus on more productive, analytical tasks. In addition, there are additional benefits like time stamps and an audit trail for previously offline actions that are performed outside the telephone billing platform.

RPA efficiency gains:

  • Significant cost recoveries during the first year of operation
  • Formats over half a million rows of data per hour
  • Fully compatible with Microsoft 365
  • 50 staff hours a month saved on manually formatting documents
  • 100% accuracy in converting/formatting bills
  • Supports 24 document formats
  • Generates a real-time audit trail in MS SharePoint for a process that was previously undocumented
  • Improves staff morale
  • Easily scalable to handle larger volumes and formats of data
  • The concept is transferable to offices using structured data.

UNICC’s RPA and hyperautomation technologies have allowed the UN RSCE to call on a digital workforce to help deliver administrative and operational efficiencies, allowing regional staff to get closer to the business and deliver more efficiently on their work packages, thus helping the RSCE to best to deliver on its mission and mandates.

UN Innovation Network: TechLearnTalks on RPA with UNICC and ESCWA

On Wednesday, 9 June 2021, Manuel Nunes, Senior Business Analyst at UNICC, spoke about Robotic Process Automation (RPA) in a UN Innovation Network (UNIN) TechLearnTalks segment. Manuel described the functions and benefits of RPA, followed by Carla Ziade and Kamal Al-Khatib of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) who presented a case study and demonstration of RPA in their daily operations as supported by UNICC’s Robotic Process Automation (RPA+) Centre of Excellence.

TechLearnTalks is a series of UNIN webinars dedicated towards demystifying up-and-coming technologies “without the jargon”; this was accurately reflected in the audience when a pre-webinar Zoom poll revealed that only 25% of participants had prior knowledge about RPA. This was no barrier for Manuel, who gave a brief yet comprehensive presentation on the topic, describing RPA as a self-functioning set of rules much like a self-playing piano. He continued to set out the different types of RPA and each of their specific functions: attended, unattended and citizen development. To further clarify the difference the specific RPA types have in their processes, his presentation included a visual diagram of the extent to which human oversight is needed for attended and unattended RPA bots. 

In addition, Manuel dove into the various benefits of RPA; for example, he explained that its developmental origins in the finance sector is the reason for its accuracy in compliance and audit regulations, not to mention the consistency of its precision. Other benefits were the sheer hours the organization can spare with RPA bots delivering otherwise reiterative and repetitive tasks, so employees are available to take on more meaningful duties.

attended and unattended RPA, UN, United Nations, UNICC, RPA, Robotic Process Automation
Photo: UNICC

To conclude his presentation, Manuel touched upon the broad network of organizations for whom UNICC provides RPA services.

RPA is both cross-mandate and cross-function. Since the development of the service, UNICC has built more than 50 automations through RPA bots to over 15 organizations in the UN. This equates to thousands of hours of efficiencies – thousands of hours these organizations can re-allocate towards the greater UN mission.

Manuel Nunes, Senior Business Analyst, UNICC

Following Manuel’s presentation, colleagues from ESCWA delivered a case study of RPA in action. Carla Ziade, Administrative Officer, explained that the RPA bot which UNICC had built primarily worked to automate the process of internal employees to submit travel requests within the Umoja system. She contextualised the benefits of RPA to ESCWA’s operations, stating that it boosted efficiencies, reduced turnaround times, improved accuracy and was straightforward to launch and train users in. 

The entire process of submitting a request from start to finish, when completed by a human, takes approximately 15 minutes; this process is annually completed an estimated 1200 times. Our calculations present that this RPA bot will save approximately 300 hours per year for the ESCWA.

Carla Ziade, Administrative Officer, ESCWA

Kamal Al-Khatib, Finance Innovation Group Project Coordinator, ESCWA, then delivered the technical explanation of the RPA bot, named “Adam,” as well as the specific steps of the automation. To further establish the efficiency of the bot, Kamal prepared a visual live demo of Adam 1 (refer to 46:00 in the webinar recording).


attended and unattended RPA, UN, United Nations, UNICC, RPA, Robotic Process Automation, ESCWA, Travel Request RPA
Photo: UNICC

Anecdotally, Kamal recalled the collaboration between ESCWA and UNICC to build the bot in 2019, which was during the period of social and political unrest in Beirut, Lebanon. Employees in the surrounding ESCWA offices struggled with business continuity due to factors such as lack of Internet, electricity, etc. Though the project experienced difficulties due to these external factors, Kamal stated that colleagues at UNICC, in the process of building, implementing and deploying the bot, went “above and beyond”, successfully completing the assignment. 

Overall, the webinar was well received by the audience, with nearly 30 questions and comments from members of international organizations such as UNICEF, ICAO, UNV and PAHO. Question topics varied from timelines of RPA implementation to the price of the automation service, to which ESCWA colleagues lauded UNICC for its degree of efficiency for its affordability. 

Though the panelists and speakers were not able to address all inquiries, much of the Q&A session evolved around the potential issues that arise in the practical applications of RPA. To address this, Manuel and Carla first explained the greatest obstacle to implementing RPA was not the automation itself but the preparation to implementing the bot. Gaining accessibility to sites and applications, streamlining processes and identifying the boundaries of the administrative tasks that needed automation were all issues that needed to be aptly addressed before building the automation.

As the webinar came to a close and the speakers wrapped up their Q&A session, one participant, in response to the remaining questions on RPA and all of its capabilities, left a comment in the participant thread: “I think a good starting point is contacting UNICC.”

Photo: Unsplash

UNICC’s CTO Shashank Rai Presents UN Digital ID at Hyperledger Social Impact Special Interest Group

Shashank Rai, UNICC’s Chief Technology Officer presented the UN Digital ID on 27 April at Hyperledger’s Social Impact Special Interest Group.

Hyperledger, hosted by the Linux Foundation, is an open-source collaborative effort created to advance cross-industry blockchain technologies by bringing together leaders and stakeholders in the financial, banking, IoT, supply chain, manufacturing and tech sectors. The Hyperledger effort includes working groups to direct operational aspects of the blockchain enthusiast community as well as special interest groups to support areas of activity the organization supports.

UNICC was invited to present at a Social Impact Special Interest Group session. Shashank delivered a talk on the UN Digital ID to showcase its use of cutting-edge blockchain technology to digitally transform outdated and tedious processes of handling sensitive documents across the UN system.

Digital ID is not your favorite social media or big technology company account. Digital ID brings together all attributes of your identity – social, physical and personal – that are verified by mutually trusted third parties, and which are digitally accessible only with your consent.

Shashank Rai, Chief Technology Officer, UNICC

Shashank introduced the rollout of the UN Digital ID in UNICC’s partnership with the UN Joint Staff Pension Fund (UNJSPF), where the technology developed helps to shortens a UN beneficiary’s pension eligibility case from two months to two minutes.

The Digital Certificate of Entitlement solution, the first UN Digital ID solution in production deployment, uses Hyperledger INDY and Hyperledger ARIES technologies.

The impact of the UN Digital ID, demonstrated by the 6,000 registered beneficiaries for the UNJSPF Digital Certificate of Entitlement solution since its launch three months ago, was well received by the Hyperledger audience – many attendees and participants were impressed to see blockchain technology be implemented in an innovative and effective solution.

Shashank’s presentation illustrates UNICC’s strategic partnership with Hyperledger as well as UNICC’s position as an Associate Member of the not-for-profit for blockchain technology innovation group.

Image

See also the UN Digital Solutions Centre video on UN Digital ID at https://youtu.be/1sSBAWwKGiQ.

UNICC 107th Management Committee UN Geneva

UNICC 107th Management Committee Celebrates Earth Day and Girls in ICT Day with Briefings on Sustainability and Diversity Efforts

UNICC Updates Partners on Key Developments in Operations, Cyber Security, Finance, Business, Audits and Digital Transformation Areas

UNICC’s Management Committee (MC), the organization’s governance body, met virtually on Wednesday 21 and Thursday 22 April for the 107th session and the first of 2021. The MC is comprised of representatives from over 40 Partner Organizations and meets twice every year. This body 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 service rates.

On Wednesday, the session covered statutory business, highlighting some of the key developments in the organization over the past six months, since the 106th Management Committee meeting. UNICC’s Director Sameer Chauhan informed attendees about the progress of several workstreams of the organization’s ongoing digital transformation and provided updates in the areas of operations, cyber security, finance, business and audits.

Growth was the watchword of the day, with a healthy financial outlook, new partners, an upcoming pipeline of projects and innovative technology services to support the needs of UNICC’s Clients and Partner Organizations. ‘We are listening’ and ‘we are responsive’ have been the organization’s refrain. To answer the question of how to maintain this organization’s growth, the answer was a resounding: Listen, anticipate needs of Clients and stay relevant.

On the second day of the 107th Management Committee, UNICC shared near-term initiatives and discussed with its Partners forward-looking digital trends where UNICC can add value. 

I thank all UNICC’s Partners for the active, interesting and positive board meeting and the healthy discussion about the opportunities and challenges with technology the UN system is facing.

Sameer Chauhan, Director, UNICC

One of the conversations focused on supporting hybrid conferencing events involving governing bodies and a second was related to the monitoring of accounts receivable, both topics proposed by MC members. The two other topics on the second day’s agenda were brought forward by UNICC. 

Coinciding with ITU’s International Girls in ICT Day, one of the sessions revolved around how to ensure UNICC has a diverse workforce. Partners were briefed on current initiatives for gender, diversity and inclusiveness in the digital business field, including HR gender balance efforts targeted at achieving UNICC’s goal to reach complete gender parity by 2028. 

Greening UNICC Initiatives

Thursday was Earth Day and UNICC celebrated this international milestone by sharing ongoing efforts to make UNICC a more sustainable organization. Milena Grecuccio, Chief of Staff and Chief of Corporate Services (OIC), and Marco Liuzzi, Chief, Operations Officer, explained that UNICC is currently concentrating its attention on green data centres and workspaces, where significant progress has already been made. The organization is establishing new goals for mapping a way forward.

In addition, UNICC has recently joined the UNEP Greening the Blue initiative with a staff focal point who will work with experts to collect data and define and report on UNICC’s environmental metrics as part of the Greening the Blue system.

The discussion on sustainability was well-received; UNICC will continue to brief Partners on this topic in the coming meetings.

MC Appoints New Chair

During the 107th Management Committee meeting, the MC members appointed a new Chair to serve during the next year. The incoming Chair, Fabrice Boudou, Director of IT Solutions Division at WTO, will steer the committee with continuing Vice Chair Anthony O’Mullane, Director of Operations Support Division at UN OICT. UNICC thanks the entire Management Committee and especially the outgoing Chair Enrica Porcari for her excellence guidance and steer, and extends a warm welcome to the incoming Chair Fabrice Boudou. 

Thank you UNICC for the work you do to be a true technology partner to all UN Agencies. It has been an honour to serve as Chair of the Management Committee.

Enrica Porcari, CIO and Director of Technology, WFP and outgoing Chair of the UNICC Management Committee

I am extremely excited for the months ahead and the opportunity to be part of the UNICC adventure alongside Sameer and the team. There is a need for more digital transformation in the UN to succeed in a digital world, and our organizations need UNICC for this.

Fabrice Boudou, Director of IT Solutions Division, WTO and Chair of the UNICC Management Committee

The UNICC Management Committee will meet again in the Fall for the second session of 2021. 

Screenshot of UNICC's 107th Management Committee Meeting
Photo: UNICC
Digital CE App
Photo: UNJSPF

UNJSPF and UNICC Present Digital Certificate of Entitlement at UN Innovation Network Webinar

​On Thursday 15 April, the UN Innovation Network (UNIN) hosted a webinar as part of its Blockchain Learning series on the Digital Certificate of Entitlement solution, developed by UNICC and the UN Joint Staff Pension Fund (UNJSPF) for the Pension Fund’s beneficiaries around the globe.

The webinar began with a presentation by Dino Cataldo Dell’Accio, CIO, UNJSPF, who detailed the broader objectives of the Digital Certificate of Entitlement solution, revolutionizing the Pension Fund’s 70-year-old manual processes. 

With a pool of nearly 80,000 beneficiaries, UNJSPF annually holds the responsibility of ensuring the proper delivery of all 80,000 pensions. A tedious, antiquated and risk-prone procedure was in need of updates. Objectives for this solution included process automation, reliability, privacy, security and scalability.

Shashank Rai, CTO, UNICC then described the technical functionalities that serve UNJSPF’s objectives. He noted the application’s ability to confirm biometric Identity of every beneficiary, addressing the Pension Fund’s need to prove facial recognition, proof of existence and physical location. 

We need to congratulate UNICC for its flexibility in navigating the challenges of implementing the application in the middle of the pandemic. The blockchain technology applied in this Digital Certificate of Entitlement brings about endless possibilities to automate other aspects of the pension distribution process and beyond.

Dino Cataldo Dell’Accio, CIO, UNJSPF

Another aspect of the Digital CE solution that Shashank described was the immutability of the process of identity verification, whereby all private, biometric data for beneficiaries is hosted on individual mobile devices onto which the app is downloaded. Because of various obstacles around data privacy and security in the process of verification, the respective hosting of a beneficiary’s data, named a “blockchain wallet,” is “a way to bring back the ownership of one’s data into their own hands.”

The webinar also featured a Q&A session during which many representatives attending from organizations such as UNDP and WFP inquired about numerous aspects of the solution, such as the application’s development process, particularly over the course of the pandemic. Despite the its hampering of plans to properly present the solution throughout the UN ecosystem, UNICC developers and involved stakeholders were able to successfully roll out the Digital Certificate to 250 test beneficiaries in WFP and FAO. 

 UNIN’s feature of the Digital Certificate of Entitlement solution serves as a testament to the UNICC and UNJSPF commitment to Sustainable Development Goal 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, and Goal 17: Partnerships for the Goals. The partnership extends form UNICC and UNJSPF to working with the UNIN to share innovative digital business solutions.

The UNIN is an informal, collaborative community of UN innovators interested in sharing their expertise and experience with others to promote and advance innovation within the UN System. The UNIN is open to innovators from all UN Agencies as well as external partners and to date, 3,000 colleagues from 65+ UN Entities in over 140 countries have joined the Network.

Photo: AfDB

New User Organizations: AfDB and IDB

​UNICC is pleased to announce that the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) are new User Organizations. UNICC’s Business Relationship Manager for AfDB is Prado Nieto; for IDB it is Elena Sierra.

The African Development Bank (AfDB), with headquarters in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, works to spur sustainable economic development and social progress in its regional member countries (RMCs), contributing to poverty reduction. The Bank Group achieves this objective by:

  • Mobilizing and allocating resources for investment in regional member countries (RMCs)
  • Providing policy advice and technical assistance to support development efforts.

The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), located in Washington, D.C., works to improve lives in Latin America and the Caribbean. Through financial and technical support for countries working to reduce poverty and inequality, the IDB helps improve health and education, and advance infrastructure. Its aim is to achieve development in a sustainable, climate-friendly way.

The IDB prioritizes social inclusion and equality; productivity and innovation; and regional economic integration in its development work across Latin America and the Caribbean. In doing so, it addresses the cross-cutting issues of gender equality and diversity; climate change and environmental sustainability; and institutional capacity and the rule of law.

Photo: UN Ukraine

UNICC is Now a Contributing Organization in UN Geneva Perception Change Project’s SDG Mapping Initiative

In the spirit of transparency and partnerships to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), UNICC has shared its SDGs alignments with the International Geneva Perception Change Project’s SDG Mapping initiative. The initiative’s goal is to communicate more broadly contributions to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development from contributing organizations.

The portal’s mapping tool shows how organizational experience in digital technologies, collaborative innovation and shared delivery platforms, helps organizations to accelerate their collective rate of achievement on the SDGs. Below is a view of those providing their operational expertise in the field, in support of SDG 9, to sustain industry, innovation and infrastructure.

Launched in 2014, the Perception Change Project’s SDGs Mapping initiative maps ten types of organizational expertise to each of the 17 SDGs. Contributors must analyze their initiatives and identify specific applications of their core competencies to each SDG. The project portal features an SDGs visualization tool so that site visitors can see which organizations are applying different types of expertise to each SDG.

The ten core competences are: norms and standard setting; legal framework and support; capacity building and training; research and collection of data; policy formulation; outreach, advocacy and communication; data analysis, harmonization and statistics; operations in field; and financing.

 

Because data submitted includes hyperlinks accessible to the public, UNICC included only initiatives reported on UNICC’s public website. And so, while UNICC is making great strides across the SDGs directly and indirectly through its work internally and with its Clients and Partner Organizations, the Perception Change Project reveals only a slice of these strong efforts.

Other contributing agencies include Africa 21, European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN), FAO, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance (Gavi), Green Cross International, ICT4Peace, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), ILO, IOM, ITU, ITC, IUCN, Kofi Annan Foundation, Make Mothers Matter (MMM), OHCHR, UNAIDS, UNDP, UNECE, UNESCO, UNHCR, UNICEF, UNCTAD, UNITAR, UN OCHA, UNFPA, UNRISD, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WTO, World Wildlife Federation (WWF) and others.

UNICC is proud to be among these organizations to move the needle, demonstrate commitments to individual SDGs and accelerate the achievement of the 2030 Agenda.

Please come back and check on our progress from time to time at the UNICC and the SDGs web page.