United Nations Embraces OpenSource and Agile... Not!

I read the other day that the United Nations is currently embarking on a project with the aim of overhauling its ERP systems.

Ben Kepes, Contributor

October 8, 2009

3 Min Read

First published on CloudAve

I read the other day that the United Nations is currently embarking on a project with the aim of overhauling its ERP systems. This project apparently has a USD300 million budget and according to the tender document;

presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to equip the organization with twenty-first century techniques, tools, training and technology

The UN is currently running around 1400 different information systems that tell a sorry tale of inefficiency including;

  • up to 40 full-time employees used to process interoffice and interagency vouchers

  • Most duty stations, and many organizational units within duty stations, contain their own stand-alone finance, human resources, supply chain, central support services and information technology areas

So it seems the project is a logical way to drive some efficiency gains while also opening up the United Nations to collaborative and productivity tools that are currently unavailable to them. But I can''t help but think it''s looking at this the wrong way - some functional aspects of the project include;

  • $76 million for "2597 work months" of system build and implementation services.

  • $14 million for travel, which presumes 1285 trips will be taken by "ERP team members, subject-matter experts and corporate consultants" at an average air ticket cost of $6000. Each trip will also get $202 for "terminal expenses" and $5000 for 20 days worth of per diems, for a total cost of about $11,000 per trip.

  • $1.8 million for office furnishings to support 234 workers, including 80 core staff, 66 subject matter experts, eight consultants and 80 system integrators, or about $7700 per person.

  • $6.7 million for office rental, based on an annual rate of $14,300 per person

  • $564,200 for long distance telephone calls, teleconferencing and videoconferencing

  • $18 million for hiring "limited replacements" for subject matter experts involved in the project

  • $16 million for software licences and maintenance fees

So some thought from me on how to do more for less...

  • Ditch the travel - most of these sorts of trips are mere Junkets (and given the budget figures, business class junkets at that). Hire consultants that can work remotely with a need for high frequency face to face sessions

  • Ditch the "long distance telephone calls" - use Skype or another service to avoid large costs. Invest in a collaborative platform that allows for IM, voice, document sharing across large groups of users

  • Ditch software licenses - build on top of OpenSource tools and technology - sure there may be some customization costs but it avoids the noose of license fees and upgrade paths

  • Ditch the office rental - contract people that can hot desk, remote work work from somewhere other than the high rent United Nations locations

  • "Subject matter experts"? ditch that - there are a bunch of people who, for an organization liek the United Nations, would happily give some time and skill. Crowdsource the bulk of this work - faster, cheaper and generally better

  • "System build"? - Nope - use off the shelf OpenSource frameworks and customize to suit the use case

I contend that an agile approach, the use of OpenSource, a modern approach towards workplace management and a move away from UN bloat could see this project completed for a third of the budgeted cost, with greater extensibility and faster than otherwise.

Cool - anyone else want to join in submitting a proposal to the UN? An opportunity to leverage the collective wisdom of the Enterprise 2.0 community to drive some better outcomes for the global community - or something ;-)

About the Author(s)

Ben Kepes


Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

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