15 SEPTEMBER 2015
|U.N. "UMOJA" PROSPECTS: FROM NOWHERE TO NOWHERE AT ALL
The title of the project was adopted from Swahili, meaning Unity. A welcome purpose, of course. It was designed to be a centerpiece of Ban Ki-moon's Secretarial operating
environment, shifting from
old style disparate data collection to a unified, unifying sophisticated computerized management system.
A South Korean compatriot, a Mr. Choi, was supposed to launch it to worldwide operative networking. It was so tightly secured that he communicated in writing with the Secretary-General
in their native language, contrary to U.N. standard practice and bypassed the willfully ineffective Chef de Cabinet V.J. Nambiar, coming instead, as has become habitual, through the
indispensable whisperer, Mr. Kim.
From the beginning, however, such presumptive "unity" was falling apart. Even the motto: "Be the Change," was plagiarized from U.S. President Obama, who, in fact, had lifted it from
It lacks the ability to visualize, then project, a substantive coherent plan in line with swift changes within the world technology network. A more embarrassing loss is the enormous
amount of funds wasted on hurriedly moving from nowhere to nowhere at all. As reported at the time, anticipated costs rose from $285.6 million in 2008 to $315.8 million the
following year, 2009, to over $348.2 by 2015, where supposedly "Extension 2" would begin. It became obvious that no "centre of excellence" was forthcoming; not even a persuasive,
substantive, cost-effective serious plan of action. Change continues, the only constant being: a) confusion spreading further, b) more expenses incurred or planned, and c) dedicated
hard-working staff trying their best to cope with "high-level" conceptual bankruptcy.
Earlier this year, an insider, Franz Baumann, was charged with picking up the pieces and transforming the "Information Technology Project" into an effective venture with a specified
purpose. However, the tough-working Assistant Secretary-General had to "move on to a new, still unspecified assignment." Following is the letter he sent on 17 August to "Umoja"
"When the Headquarters Development Group (HDG) was constituted five months ago, no one would have predicted what you -- the staff of the HDG, of Executive Offices, OPPBA, OCSS, OICT,
OHRM and of the UMOJA team -- have achieved under very difficult circumstances. You have given your all to move forward the hugely complex task of preparing the deployment of Umoja at
Headquarters. The last few days were particularly challenging, involving long hours, even on weekends, in an effort to reach Quality Gate 7. Cleaning up years of neglect is an arduous
and thankless task. I salute you with appreciation, respect and gratitude, and in the confidence that you will continue to do what is humanly possible to make Umoja a success. I am
also confident that Umoja will go live in November, not least because of your effort.
"Clean data are a prerequisite for Umoja to go live. However, even without Umoja, data should have been cleansed long ago. Thus, data cleansing in preparation for the deployment of
Umoja, while necessary, is not sufficient. Umoja is not an end in itself but a means. A means for what? Umoja is an enabler for a more modern, transparent and efficient Secretariat, if
used properly. This makes it such a priority to develop a business model -- at New York and the other duty stations -- for the time after go-live. As the Secretary-General stated:
"Umoja is far more than an Information Technology Project, it is an organizational transformation initiative that will enable high-quality and cost-effective service delivery around the
world." This means a much improved way in which substantive programmes are being delivered -- through better communication, information/data, analysis and management support. Much
policy work needs to be done to allow Umoja to perform at its potential. Put differently: The test of success is deployment, to be sure. No less important is the plan for day 2: How
Umoja will be used in the future, how the changes in job profiles will be managed so as to prevent negative consequences for serving staff, and how the division of labour in the
Secretariat will be redefined. This most challenging transformation, as the Board of Auditors has pointed out, is an urgent and complex task. Having provided some inputs in this
regard, and moving on to a new, still to be determined assignment, I hope that the resources and effort that have gone into Umoja will bring about positive change and make the
Secretariat stronger and more effective. In conclusion, I thank you for all the hard work and support you have given me during the past months. What we have achieved together fills me
with pride." -- Frank Baumann, Assistant Secretary-General, Department of Management
That's it for now. Let's see what happens next.