The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is pledged to help cut poverty in half by 2015. To help achieve this important strategic goal, it needed to improve collaboration among its country offices in Asia Pacific. The agency relied primarily on e-mail messages for communication between offices, and network storage for sharing information. To increase its collaborative capability, UNDP deployed Microsoft® Office SharePoint® Server 2007 together with Windows Server® 2003 R2, Microsoft® SQL Server® 2005, and Microsoft® Internet Security and Acceleration (ISA) Server 2004. This solution delivers a secure collaboration platform from UNDP Asia Pacific regional centres in Colombo, Suva and Bangkok, with reliable access to country offices and NGOs across the region. The agency is increasing its staff efficiency by creating, sharing, and re-using information across the whole region.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) works in more than 160 countries worldwide to help alleviate poverty and prevent crises, to promote democratic governance and sustainable environmental practices, and to stem the spread of HIV/AIDS. Its three regional centres in Asia Pacific serve as hubs for its services to 24 offices across Asia Pacific, and to a range of Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) that work in tandem with UNDP.
||We hope that SNAP will become the knowledge management hub and a new IT platform where UNDP regions can post and share valuable information. Our partnership with Microsoft is providing that platform.
||Elizabeth Fong, Regional Manager, UNDP Regional Centre, Bangkok
With development issues increasingly cutting across national borders, UNDP Regional Centres in Asia Pacific offer an ideal opportunity to tap into and share existing knowledge. Their regional scope allows the centres to act as hubs to translate both global knowledge and diverse country-level experiences into comprehensive policy advice.
This advice is used to design valuable programs at the country and regional levels. In turn, these programs bring countries in the region closer to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), with the key objective being to cut poverty by half by 2015.
The centerpiece of UNDP strategy is to leverage a common set of online tools to develop connected communities, and to provide access to expertise and knowledge resources across geographically-dispersed offices.
“For us IT and technology solutions are part and parcel of the work that we do—we need to put IT at the disposal of the countries, to make it affordable. ICT for development is part and parcel of what we do,” says Elizabeth Fong, Regional Manager, UNDP Regional Centre, Bangkok.
“By providing a virtual collaborative workspace we can encourage experts to share knowledge and expertise,” she adds.
However, UNDP was hampered by a lack of a common platform for collaboration, and no standardized, effective way of sharing information. Instead, offices had variable levels of information and communications technology development.
This lack of IT collaboration capability was highlighted after the 2004 tsunami, when it became clear to the organization that it was not satisfied with its ability to identify experts quickly, coordinate its efforts, and react to this major disaster in the region. “This is what really kicked us into gear to fix our collaboration issue; it made us realize that the important point was people expertise, the right type and rapidly deployable” says Fong.
To improve its knowledge-sharing and communication capabilities, UNDP embarked on several projects to modernize its IT environment. However, the variable skill and technology profile of its different country offices made regional e-government development and project management difficult. This led to a number of separately developed stand-alone country-level IT implementations.
Previously, all UNDP offices used e-mail messaging as their primary collaboration tool. To store and make available commonly used documents, they used shared network hard drives. This very basic solution meant UNDP had little control over the consolidation or efficiency of its information base. All important local information typically stayed on a local hard drive and was often lost if the user left the organization. External partner and NGO participation in the various Communities of Practice (CoPs) was rare or non-existent.
“At UNDP we have a special mandate to provide a bridge from an emergency, through to recovery, and then on to development. UNDP has to help Rebuild Back, Rebuild Better, by connecting people, organizing, and distilling information. Those were the big lessons from the tsunami,” says Fong.
After considering a number of alternative solutions, including other Microsoft software, UNDP made the decision to build its Solutions Network of Asia Pacific (SNAP) portal using Microsoft® Office SharePoint® Server 2007, supported by Windows Server® 2003 R2, Microsoft® SQL Server® 2005, and Microsoft® Internet Security and Acceleration (ISA) Server 2004. UNDP recognized that it needed a more powerful solution to cater to the many challenges of effectively collaborating across such a wide geographic area. To ensure the portal’s success, UNDP chose to leverage the strength of Microsoft Solutions Sharing Network (SSN), a program created by Microsoft to drive the sharing of IT solutions and best practices within public-sector technical communities.
SNAP is hosted by the three UNDP Asia Pacific regional centres: the Regional Centre in Bangkok, Thailand (RCB); the Regional Centre in Colombo, Sri Lanka (RCC); and the Pacific Centre in Suva, Fiji. The architecture allows users in the three Centres to experience the three portal sites as a single environment. In 2008, access will be extended to the 24 country offices in the regions, and then to external practitioners, allowing the access to UNDP CoPs on important development issues such as HIV/AIDS, local governance, gender equality, and environmental degradation.
This is effectively implemented by tailoring SharePoint 2007 to regional centre needs while ensuring technical interoperability within UNDP, and full alignment to corporate branding and Web-based ‘look and feel’. “We needed to best connect our people and knowledge from all over the world,” says Fong.
The development of the SNAP portal was undertaken by a team of dedicated professionals from the Microsoft Global Strategic Accounts team, Microsoft Government Engagement Team, Microsoft Consulting Services (MCS), and development partner C2X. UNDP staff from the regional centres, UNDP headquarters in New York, and other professionals from country offices also worked to help complete the project for phased rollout from December 2007.
“Our good regional relationship with Microsoft allowed us to develop, at low business risk to us, knowledge sharing, SharePoint 2007, and our virtual workplace,” says Norman Sanders, Regional ICT Officer at UNDP Regional Centre, Bangkok.
Customizations tailored to UNDP knowledge-sharing and collaboration processes were incorporated to extend standard Office SharePoint Server 2007 features. These include the development of user-friendly Web pages which aggregate key knowledge and information from local office, country office, regional, and global levels.
UNDP users also have the ability to invite external partners to collaborate, through special workspaces for practice area communities. Additional collaborative Web pages will exist for connecting country office knowledge and for supporting cross-regional centre work—including for the regional centre Management Board Team and project workspaces. Training will be tailored to target groups of end users, workspace owners and system administrators.
The SNAP portal will greatly enhance sharing of UNDP information and intelligence across Asia and other UNDP regions. The SNAP portal will empower development professionals in the region with information and knowledge that leads to enhanced efficiency, closer participation in governance, more transparency, and increased accountability in situations such as the 2004 tsunami.
“With a consolidated portal offering expertise and knowledge, we can now make more effective policy, financial, and management decisions,” says Marcia Kran, Officer-in Charge, UNDP Regional Centre, Bangkok.
SNAP is an interoperable system that facilitates the easy sharing of information across regional centres and Communities of Practice. It can be extended to link country and other UNDP offices, including its headquarters in New York. Through the portal, UNDP is better equipped to create, share, re-use, and distribute its freely accessible and valuable development assets. The new system allows UNDP to build operational and workflow processes across 24 countries, to connect everyone and to improve their efficiency. “We hope that SNAP will become the knowledge management hub and a new IT platform where other UNDP regions (like Latin America and the Caribbean) can post and share valuable information. Our partnership with Microsoft is providing that platform,” says Fong.
By providing an open forum for practitioners to share expertise and information, the SNAP portal empowers individuals with knowledge in key areas of interest and practice. This sharing of knowledge extends outwards to external partners such as NGOs, governments, and academic partners. This open communication creates larger and more diverse practice areas rich in intelligence information, which helps policy makers access in-depth knowledge and compare how other successful programs operate.
The ease of access and rapid availability of information to policy officials allows them to make decisions that have the greatest positive impact on their community. The SNAP portal allows UNDP regional centres to deliver more data, better services, and greater interaction within the 24 country offices in the Asia Pacific region, and UNDP headquarters in New York.
Internal collaboration has improved tremendously since the introduction of SNAP. “From simple file sharing, e-mail messaging and phone communications, we have moved on and now have the capacity to share document libraries, participate in real-time discussion boards, have centralized communities of practice, and execute document check-in check-out using SharePoint Server 2007,” says Sanders. With this information exchange environment, UNDP is now in a position to develop more meaningful policy discussions with client nations.
Following the 2008 rollout in regional centres and Communities of Practice, the SNAP portal will be extended in stages to country offices, and other UNDP offices globally including its headquarters in New York. UNDP is also investigating the possibility of further development of the environment to include the creation of a workflow process to publish a flagship UN publication, the Regional Human Development Report, plus the integration of other UNDP collaboration tools such as Solution Exchange, developed by UNDP India country office.
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Document published January 2008