Anthony J. Pennings, PhD


United Nations Looks to Transform with Integrated ICT and ERP

Posted on | April 10, 2011 | No Comments

When I visited the Situation Room at the United Nations (UN) a few years ago, I was underwhelmed with its technological whiz-bang. For a number of reasons, it was difficult for the UN to computerize adequately. However, it is currently moving forward with an ambitious strategy to use ICT (Information and Communications Technology) and ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) to reform its organizational DNA with unumojoa program it calls “Umoja.” The word means “unity” in Swahili, and the UN will strive for it by re-engineering administrative and business practices in a wide range of activities including finance, human resources, procurement, program management, travel, reports to management and stakeholders, as well as supply chain services. As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon put it:

    Umoja is the cornerstone of UN administrative reform, and presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to move the UN away from administrative practices on which it was built in the 1940s, and equip it with 21st century techniques, tools, training and technology. A fundamental tenet of the initiative is that lasting reform is built, firstly, on changes of attitudes and skills of staff members; secondly, on modification of processes and organizational structure; and, thirdly, on deployment of a global information management platform. Umoja is fundamentally a people- and process-driven initiative enabled by modern technology.

The UN is facing a number of challenges in addition to continual budget concerns. Peacekeeping operations have continued to grow in complexity, scope, and size, and often operate in remote regions with underdeveloped infrastructure. The current IMIS system is outdated and fragmented, making it difficult to achieve adequate returns on investments in maintenance and training. It also lacks much-needed capabilities for management information, decision-making, and planning. One of the recent additions Umoja is offering is the Programme and Project Management (PPM) workstream. It is designed to provide the UN staff with more tools for planning, monitoring, and evaluating UN programs and projects. It also provides the Secretariat and Member States with extensive information about program results and project expenditures.

The UN is also adopting the International Public Sector Accounting Standards (IPSAS) as mandated by the UN General Assembly, which passed a resolution in 2006 urging its adoption by all United Nations organizations. IPSAS is an accrual-based accounting system that is being implemented by public sector bodies around the world due to its best practices for clarity and transparency. This list includes the EC (European Communities), ESA (European Space Agency), INTERPOL (International Criminal Police Organization), NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization), and the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development), among many others, including over 80 countries.

Among the biggest challenges to implementing the Omoja changes is internal acceptance of the new procedures and requirements. Its success will be measured by how well it is used by all the different UN organizational bodies and staff. This will not be an easy transition and will require the mobilization of support for Umoja by all the different stakeholders, including vendors and people working in the field.


AnthonybwAnthony J. Pennings, PhD is the Professor of Global Media at Hannam University in South Korea. Previously, he taught at St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas and was on the faculty of New York University from 2002-2012. He also taught at Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand and was a Fellow at the East-West Center in Hawaii in the 1990s.


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