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.

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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.

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UNICC RPA Solutions

ID2020/Holmes

New User Organization: ID2020 – Digital Identity Alliance

UNICC is pleased to announce that ID2020 has been accepted as a UNICC Privileged User Organization. UNICC’s Business Relationship Manager for ID2020 is Elena Sierra. 

ID2020 is coordinating funding for identity and channeling those funds toward high-impact projects, enabling diverse stakeholders – UN Agencies, NGOs, governments and enterprises – to pursue a coordinated approach that creates a pathway for efficient and responsible implementation at scale.

Since 2016, ID2020 has advocated for ethical, privacy-protecting approaches to digital ID. In 2018, ID2020 Alliance Partners, working in partnership with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), drafted a formal articulation of our perspective on ethical approaches to digital identity. The landmark ID2020 Alliance Manifesto lays out these shared principles and forms a starting point to guide the future of digital identity globally.

About ID2020

For the one in seven people globally who lacks a means to prove their identity, digital ID offers access to vital social services and enables them to exercise their rights as citizens and voters and participate in the modern economy. But doing digital ID right means protecting civil liberties and putting control over personal data back where it belongs in the hands of the individual.

Every day, we rely on a variety of forms of identification to go about our lives: our driver’s license, passport, work badge and building access cards, debit and credit cards, transit passes, and more.

But technology is evolving at a blinding pace and many of the transactions that require identification are today being conducted digitally. From e-passports to digital wallets, online banking to social media accounts, these new forms of digital ID allow us to travel, conduct business, access financial and health records, stay connected and much more.

While the move to digital ID has had many positive effects, it has been accompanied by countless challenges and setbacks, including large-scale data breaches affecting millions of people. Most of the current tools are archaic, insecure, lack appropriate privacy protections and commoditise our data. But that’s about to change and ID 2020 is leading the charge.

The ID2020 Alliance (UNICC has been a member since 2019) includes businesses, nonprofits, governments and individuals, working in collaboration to ensure that the future of digital identity is, indeed, #goodID. 

Photo: UNICC/Cadinu

UN Secretary-General Visits the UN Support Base in Valencia

UNICC Takes Part in the Tenth Anniversary Celebration

UNICC is proud to have been a part of the warm welcome to Secretary-General António Guterres to the UN Support Base in Valencia to take part in the celebration of its tenth birthday.

I’m extremely grateful for the work of my colleagues at the UN Support Base in Valencia, Spain. Through the deployment of innovative solutions and digital support, they play a critical role in ensuring we can deliver our work, around the clock and around the world.

António Guterres, UN Secretary-General

The Secretary-General recognised the work of the people at the base, which has expanded beyond the UN Department of Operational Support (DOS, formerly DFS) to include more Agencies, including UNOPS, UNICC, and now UNICEF and IOM.

The UN Support Base hosts the UN Global Service Centre (UNGSC) to meet the needs of UN peace operations worldwide since 1994. Nowadays, UNGSC’s mandate is to provide critical logistics, geospatial, Information & Telecommunications technologies services and training to all Secretariat Entities, Peacekeeping and Special Political missions, Agencies, Funds and Programmes of the UN system worldwide.

UNICC Director Sameer Chauhan. Photo: UNICC/Cadinu

UNICC is the biggest Agency in the base (with nearly 300 personnel in its Centre of Excellence and Common Secure Operations Centre, or CSOC), and is also the biggest UN Agency in Spain. The Centre of Excellence covers many strategic areas of digital business solution delivery, from cyber security, data and analytics, innovative new technologies as well as ongoing operational services. UNICC acknowledges Spain’s efforts to provide the required space to accommodate the continuous growth of the organization.

I want to affirm our commitment to work on the expansion of this centre, attracting more and more the various United Nations Agencies to transform or to continue transforming this centre into the technological and communicational heart of the most important activities that we develop for the benefit of the populations most impacted by the difficult times that we are living.

António Guterres, UN Secretary-General

Celebration participants included among others:

  • António Guterres, UN Secretary-General
  • Arancha González Laya, Minister of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation of Spain
  • Ximo Puig, President of the Generalitat Valenciana
  • Carmen Martínez Ramírez, Mayor of Quart de Poblet (the town where the base is located)
  • Atul Khare, Under-Secretary General for Operational Support, UN Department of Operational Support
  • Giovanna Ceglie, Director of the United Nations Global Service Centre (UNGSC)
  • Sameer Chauhan, Director, UNICC
  • Michel Bergeron, Head of Premises of the United Nations Information and Communications Technology Facility in Valencia (UNICTF) and Chief of Service for Geospatial, Information and Telecommunications Technologies (SGITT)

The agenda followed the Secretary-General’s itinerary. He was received in the airport by the USG and Minister of Foreign Affairs. The President of the Generalitat de Valencia, the Director of UN GSC, the Director of UNICC and the Mayor of Quart de Poblet met and greeted him.

The Secretary-General and the Minister of Foreign Affairs then unveiled a commemorative plaque for the 10th anniversary of the base. The group went to the cafeteria where the Secretary-General was briefed about the expansion of the base and inclusion of new Agencies. In the cafeteria, there was a press briefing by the UN Secretary-General, the Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs and the President of the Generalitat Valenciana.

The group walked around the cafeteria visiting the booths, including UNICC’s, where the Secretary-General talked with Sameer Chauhan, Prado Nieto, Mati Gil, Esther Ferrer, Liliana Hedges, Martina Kellen and others from UNICC.

In a separate session later that afternoon, the Secretary-General met with the youth of Spain at the City of Arts and Sciences. Among the select group of twenty youth were five UNICC interns.

Young people must have a say in the decisions that affect their future.

António Guterres, UN Secretary-General

They held a roundtable discussion on topics including reinforcement of multilateralism to fight global challenges and COVID-19, the digital revolution, global inequality, rightful work for youth and action for climate change.

Photo: UNICC/Cadinu and UN

The UN Support Base celebratory event was an affirming testament to the good work that UNICC delivers to its more than 70 Clients and Partner Organizations and also provided an opportunity for UNICC to share its success stories and digital business solutions with UN leadership, the Spanish government, the UN Support Base, the town of Quart de Poblet, the city of Valencia, the country of Spain and the wider world.

See also:

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.

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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.

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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.

UNRWA
Photo: UNRWA España

UNRWA Digital Transformation Support Amplifies Opportunities for Refugees

UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, has recently embarked on a mutually beneficial journey with UNICC. While UNRWA has been a UNICC partner for fifteen years, their relationship blossomed last year with a host of new initiatives as well with an agreement for UNRWA to supply IT and other skilled support staff to UNICC, allowing UNICC to leverage cost-efficient resources and support UNRWA’s mission to deliver services to over 5 million refugees in the Middle East.

I’m so pleased with UNICC because they’re not only offering application hosting as we traditionally received from other service providers within and outside of the UN, but they’re offering management and consolidation services, and they were really looking for ways to optimise our architecture and reduce our costs.

Kaan Cetinturk, CIO & Director of Information Management and Technology, UNRWA

Achieving Human Potential through Digital Transformation
UNRWA, with its mission to help Palestinian refugees achieve their full potential across the spectrum of human development initiatives, needed to optimise its IT business processes and consolidate and simplify its enterprise application stack.

Digital transformation means a significant shift in how an organization builds and uses digital tools and platforms, how they use technologies to improve internal operations and help people to be more focused on the organization’s business, mission and values.

Digital transformation is now a CIO priority as more business leaders understand business agility, resiliency and productivity as important factors in determining their success. Kaan Cetinturk, CIO and Director of Information Management and Technology, UNRWA, was of this mindset when he reached out to UNICC for advisory and digital business support.

After a number of projects including information security assessments, a connectivity consultancy and Forrester IT advisory services support, early in 2020 UNRWA subscribed to Infotech Advisory Services through UNICC, and together, through workshops and consultations, the organizations plotted a strategic path for digitisation of the UNRWA enterprise application stack.

As outcomes of this strategy and roadmap, UNICC supported UNRWA with a host of services and projects, from meeting management support, remote conference hosting services, security enhancements for infrastructure and applications, electronic signature services, Azure hosting for a number of applications as well as support for UNRWA’s International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), hosting an IATI generator, data transparency dashboard, application development, maintenance and support.

UNICC supported the following 2020-21 projects to fundamentally modernise UNRWA’s digital footprint:

UNICC

UNRWA transformation initiatives. Credit: UNICC

Migrating, Hosting and Supporting the UNRWA ERP REACH SAP Platform
UNICC’s involvement with UNRWA’s digital transformation journey began with ERP support. CIO Kaan Cetinturk reached out to UNICC asking for support to migrate and manage their SAP ERP platform, which was hosted in the UN Global Service Centre (UNGSC) data centre in Valencia, Spain.

In September 2020, the plan to migrate the REACH SAP platform began, moving it to the UNICC data centre, co-located in the UNGSC. The goal was to complete migration before December 2020; however, the production migration was postponed due to business concerns affecting end-of-the-year financial reconciliation and payments.

UNICC supported UNRWA on migrating development and staging environments before the end of the year, using these migrations as testbeds for evaluating migration and reducing risks to UNRWA business stakeholders.

By January 2021, a new plan for migrating the Production environment was agreed, where a dry run for testing the production platform migration was introduced, to further reduce the risk of interface failure with other external systems. Since the UNRWA REACH SAP has a series of interfaces with other business-critical systems of UNRWA (i.e., eHealth, eTM, RRIS, FMIS, etc.), the joint team had to mitigate any connectivity and interface issues that might arise.

Production migration was completed successfully at end of March 2021, with some ongoing activities related to migrating additional production systems ancillary to REACH SAP systems, as well as setting up a Disaster Recovery platform in UNICC’s data centre in Geneva, Switzerland.

The UNRWA REACH SAP system was one of the first production platforms to be hosted in UNICC’s data centre in Valencia. The migration required a sound level of coordination with the previous hosting provider, the UNGSC, to allow the setup of required applications to support the migration of the platform.

UNRWA Espana

Photo: UNRWA Espana

Providing a Holistic Solution, Not Just Application Hosting
What persuaded CIO Kaan Cetinturk to move in this direction? Shifting from the UNGSC to UNICC data centre was a holistic solution rather than just a hosting service. UNICC offers applications hosting as well as ongoing support, with improvements, administration, consolidation, monitoring and reporting.

UNICC helped and is still helping UNRWA transform their organization in identifying an effective, enterprise-wide, digitally enabled ERP-based business transformation roadmap by:

  • Building an ERP digital strategy and vision
  • Assessing the maturity of business innovation and digital adoption
  • Understanding the value generated by the business transformation
  • Increasing the performance rate for the new infrastructure deployed in Valencia
  • Providing additional support for setting up new Azure Data Gateway systems, a new interface hub system supported in Azure cloud for UNRWA
  • Reducing operational costs, providing additional flexibility to add in new services, and faster operational support for increased client satisfaction and increasing the overall security of the platform through including common security services.

Migrating, Hosting and Supporting eHealth and Education Applications
UNRWA was hosting its eHealth and Education Management Information System (EMIS) applications from their data centre in Amman, Jordan and was looking to move applications hosting to the UNICC data centre in Valencia, where cost-efficiencies, stricter security controls and ongoing administration, monitoring and reporting meant a more robust solution.

A plan was agreed to provide hosting services for the UNRWA eHealth and EMIS applications environments, for production, staging and testing environments, with Disaster Recovery in the UNICC Geneva data centre for risk mitigation and business continuity.

We make every effort to provide the best possible services, reduce costs and help UNRWA achieve their goals. As an example, for the eHealth application, we are helping them reach their goal. We recognize that the e-Health application benefits a large number of clinics and hospitals in the Middle East, so that is our target.

Javier Conde, Solution Architect, UNICC

The goal is to migrate the eHealth and EMIS applications infrastructure to UNICC premises and hand over operational tasks related to platform infrastructure from UNRWA to UNICC. This allows UNRWA to have 24/7 support and utilize UNICC support organization distributed across three continents. The support scope includes but is not limited to:

  • Creation and management of customer dedicated network VLANs for the front-end and back-end servers
  • Management of firewalls and Load Balancer VIP addresses
  • Provisioning of virtual servers for staging environments
  • Production and Disaster Recovery environments
  • Installation with UNICC monitoring tools and definition of monitoring alerts and escalation paths
  • Virtual server and Operating System administration
  • Backup configuration
  • 24/7 incident management support
  • Assistance on the applications migration and Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity configuration.

Since the eHealth and EMIS databases are combined, UNICC assisted UNRWA in saving time and money on hosting, maintenance and migration. As a result, UNICC was able to help UNRWA to identify ways to reduce costs of their IT services, enabling them to invest savings in other areas. The production migration for both applications is expected to be completed in Spring-Summer 2021.

Doing Dev Ops Successfully with Azure DevOps Services
Another critical component of UNRWA’s digital transformation was its Dev Ops capabilities. UNRWA asked UNICC for a tooling license to do Dev Ops for application development, and thanks to UNICC, they quickly realized that Dev Ops is more than just a collection of tools, despite some definitions. DevOps refers to a set of practices, methodologies, and technologies that enhance an organization’s security and ability to deliver software and services successfully.

UNICC, with its highly skilled Applications Delivery team, provided the know-how to get this going. UNRWA undertook a series of workshops hosted by UNICC to learn how to do DevOps effectively using Microsoft Azure DevOps services. And now, they’re using this technique for their production systems.

UNRWA doesn’t need to see UNICC as a provider, because first and foremost, we are non-profit. This sets us apart from most other public or cloud providers. Our primary goal is to provide the best possible services. So, when we work with an organization like UNRWA, they don’t have to see us as a competitor or just a hosting provider because their goal becomes our goal and we will work as UNRWA colleagues.

Javier Conde, Solution Architect, UNICC

Common Secure Security Information and Event Management (cSIEM) Services
Many UNICC Clients, including UNRWA, have implemented cyber security services including security log and event collection and management systems, endpoint detection and response tools, firewalls, intrusion prevention systems and other security operations tools.

UNRWA was looking for a strong platform to help to visualise anomalies that may occur and to enable quick and useful analysis of log data that allows the countering of complex cyber threats.

UNRWA will be using UNICC’s CSIEM services to collect, correlate and analyze event logs from its core components globally to enhance overall information security operations and to enable the identification of suspicious behavior and early signs of compromised infrastructure components or systems.

Supporting the Sustainable Development Goals
Multi-stakeholder collaboration and inter-Agency coordination are essential for digital transformation and IT growth. This can be accomplished by involving a wide range of stakeholders in the digital field and exchanging best practices within the UN system.

As the largest direct service provider to Palestine refugees in its areas of operations, UNRWA supports the following Sustainable Development Goals central to our work: SDG 1: No Poverty; SDG 2: Zero Hunger; SDG 3 Good Health and Well-Being; SDG 4: Quality Education; SDG 5: Gender Equality; SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation; SDG 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth; SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities and SDG 13: Climate Action.

And the new partnership between UNICC and UNRWA clearly supports SDG 9: Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure as well as SDG 17: Partnerships for the Goals for a partnership that is growing day by day.

Scammers impersonating WHO website taken down by UNICC and Group-IB.
Photo: WHO

Saving World Health Day: UNICC and Group-IB Take Down Scam Campaign Impersonating the World Health Organization

UNICC, together with Group-IB, a global threat hunting and adversary-centric cyber intelligence company that specialises in investigating high-tech cybercrimes, detected and took down a massive multistage scam campaign circulating online on April 7, World Health Day. Scammers created a distributed network of 134 rogue websites impersonating the World Health Organization (WHO) on its health awareness day, encouraging users to take a fake survey with a promise of funds in return. The scheme targeted millions of users around the world with the goal of tricking them into visiting fraudulent third-party websites.

Group-IB Digital Risk Protection Team detected the campaign and reached out UNICC’s Common Secure team as a trusted contact for cyber threat intelligence matters within the UN in order to assure that competent contacts with WHO are aware of its existence. 

Group-IB Digital Risk Protection Team performed the takedown of all the scam domains. Group-IB researchers established that one scammer collective, codenamed DarkPath Scammers, is likely to be behind the campaign. The investigation is underway.

Cyber-hygiene for the Sustainable Development Goals

UNICC works with the World Health Organization and many other UN Agencies to deliver on their mandates, represented by the Sustainable Development Goals, a collection of 17 interlinked global goals designed to be a blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. Whether it’s health, eradication of poverty or hunger, rights for women and girls, actions to take on climate change, economic justice, sustainable cities and communities, or for peace and justice around the world, UNICC provides digital business solutions, including a threat intelligence network for over 30 UN Agencies and international organizations.

After warning us, we knew Group-IB was the team to deal with this World Health Day scam. They have the expertise and tools to get the job of takedown done, in short order.

Bojan Simetic, Information Security Specialist, UNICC 

We are excited to cooperate with UNICC in the detection and elimination of scams deceiving people into thinking they are dealing with legitimate websites. 

Dmitry Tyunkin, Head of Group-IB Digital Risk Protection Team

Detecting the Scam

On April 7, Group-IB alerted UNICC about a fake website impersonating WHO branding, where users were encouraged to answer a few simple questions to earn a 200 Euro reward on the occasion of World Health Day.  

Once users answered questions, they were prompted to share links with their WhatsApp contacts. This way scammers tried to ensure the viral distribution of their multistage schema. Group-IB researchers discovered that users would see several fake Facebook comments about gifts commentators supposedly received. When they then hit the Share button they would unknowingly involve friends in the scam by sharing the link with them – instead of the promised reward – with a redirect to third-party fraudulent resources offering participation in another lucky draw. 

By this time in the scam routine WHO is no longer mentioned as users would visit a hookup website, inadvertently install an extension for their browsers or subscribe for paid services. In the worst-case scenario, users would end up on a malicious or a phishing website.  

In addition to the multi-stage nature of the scam, which makes it harder to detect, victims saw customised content depending on their geolocation, user agents and language settings. For example, the currency of the reward would change depending on user location. 

What the Scam Looked Like

Group-IB Digital Risk Protection team discovered that it was not a one-off, short-lived website impersonating the WHO brand, but rather a sophisticated distributed scam infrastructure that included a network of 134 almost-identical, connected domains hosting web pages exploiting the World Health Day theme. Within 48 hours upon discovery, Group-IB managed to block all the rogue domains. 

Screenshot of Group-IB Platform Digital Risk Protection Platform showing network of scam websites taken down with UNICC.
Screenshot from Group-IB Digital Risk Protection Platform shows the network of 134 rogue websites impersonating the World Health Organization. Credit: Group-IB

Further investigation found that the 134 domains, identified and blocked by Group-IB, are part of a larger scam network, attributed to a single scammer collective.   

Group-IB researchers discovered connections between the blocked 134 websites involved in the WHO scam and at least 500 other scam and phishing resources impersonating more than 50 well-known international food, sportswear, e-commerce, software, automotive, e​nergy industry brands. The analysis of websites revealed that cybercriminals used scam kits, similar to phishing kits, which are sets of instruments for the creation and design of scam pages. One scam kit allows impersonating multiple brands at a time using the same template. Interestingly, after the takedown efforts by UNICC and Group-IB, the scammers stopped using the WHO branding across their whole network. 

Brands impersonated by DarkPath scammers, collective involved in the WHO scam taken down by Group-IB and UNICC.
Brands impersonated by DarkPath Scammers. Breakdown by industries. Credit: Group-BI

Scam Syndicate 

During the infrastructure analysis, Group-IB researchers examined the domains and other digital indicators and concluded that the whole network is likely to be maintained and controlled by a scammer collective codenamed DarkPath Scammers. Most of the domains with phishing and scam content are using CDN’s (Content Delivery Networks) to hide IP-addresses of the real servers. Thanks to its proprietary Graph Analysis system, Group-IB researchers analysed dozens of SSL certificates, SSH keys, DNS and were able to track down malicious infrastructure, unveil the IP-addresses of the real servers where phishing content was stored and connect the domains into one distributed scam network. The scammers are using the same infrastructure configuration with its own traits and misconfigurations across all their servers. Group-IB continues to monitor the scammers’ activity. 

Most of the scam websites controlled by DarkPath Scammers remain active at the moment and keep targeting millions of users around the world. The scammers advertise their resources using email blasts, paid ads and in social media. According to Group-IB estimates, the scammers’ whole network attracts around 200,000 users daily from the US, India, Russia and other locations.

Dmitry Tyunkin, Head of Group-IB Digital Risk Protection team in Amsterdam, noted that “many brands, however, still underestimate the impact of such scams on their businesses and customers. Most organizational approaches to eliminating brand abuse online seems a lot like tilting at windmills. They miss this continuous trend toward the use of multistage scams and distributed infrastructure. Scammers use smart, advanced technologies. They are successful due to the lack of comprehensive digital asset monitoring by brand owners.”

Organizations should carry out seamless online monitoring to promptly detect any cases of illicit use of their brands. Many institutions monitor only separate brand infringements, like phishing pages and domains but overlook other elements of fraudulent infrastructure. To see the comprehensive picture of all brand violations, companies should use Group-IB Digital Risk Protection solutions that will promptly eliminate all brand infringements online on a pre-trial basis without additional investment and lengthy litigation.  

To avoid falling prey to this scheme, online users should carefully check the website they are interacting with. It is never redundant to check if the link you’re going to click on is identical to the domain of the organization’s official website since fraudsters often register domain names mimicking official ones. Stay suspicious of any website on which you plan to enter your data is a habit that must be developed by everyone willing to keep their money safe.

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
Photo: Commonwealth Secretariat

New User Organization: Commonwealth Secretariat

UNICC is pleased to announce that the Commonwealth Secretariat has been accepted as a UNICC User Organization. UNICC’s Business Relationship Manager for the Commonwealth Secretariat is Portia Machancoses.

The Commonwealth Secretariat is an intergovernmental organisation that supports member countries to achieve the Commonwealth’s aims of development, democracy and peace.

The Commonwealth is a voluntary association of 54 independent and equal countries. Its roots go back to the British Empire, but membership of the modern Commonwealth does not depend on formerly being part of the British Empire. Members work together to promote prosperity, democracy and peace, amplify the voice of small states and protect the environment.

The Commonwealth Secretariat:

  • Is a voice for small and vulnerable states
  • Champions young people
  • Promotes justice and human rights
  • Addresses threats like climate change, debt and inequality
  • Helps grow economies and boost trade
  • Supports decision-makers to make good laws and deliver policies
  • Helps strengthen governance and build inclusive public institutions
  • Provides technical help and training
  • Sends experts and observers to countries to give impartial advice and help solve national problems
  • Provides systems, software and research for managing resources.

The establishment of the Commonwealth Secretariat in 1965 emphasised the equality of all members, and gave final discouragement to the lingering sentiment that one member had a right to some predominance over others. It has enabled the Commonwealth to develop along independent lines in accordance with the interest of all its members.  

Julius Nyerere, President of Tanzania (1973)

The Commonwealth Secretariat supports member governments and partners with the broader Commonwealth family and others, to improve the well-being of all Commonwealth citizens and advance their shared interests globally.