With 193 member nations, and programs worldwide, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is a broad and diverse organization with a complex and disparate IT environment. Solutions are deployed locally, without regard to ease of use, security rules, or access management at the international level. Implementing an enterprise resource planning solution revealed this lack of global management planning and led the organization to homogenize its IT system using Microsoft® Office SharePoint® Server 2007, Microsoft BizTalk® Server 2006, and other Microsoft technologies. Now UNESCO is developing a solution that will unify its global IT environment while integrating with its SAP management system and allowing the implementation of new applications as necessary.
Founded in 1945, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations, with 193 Member States and six Associate Members around the world. UNESCO employs approximately 4,000 people and works in close collaboration with scientists and other professionals across many disciplines to achieve its mission to “build peace in the minds of men using education,
||Before deciding, we considered several criteria, including compatibility with SAP…. We wanted a simple and efficient solution. In the end, the Microsoft solution was clearly the most impressive and the easiest to implement.
Chief of IT Operations, UNESCO
science, culture, and communication.”
The organization is governed by a General Conference and an Executive Board, which meet regularly to monitor agency operations and to set priorities and goals for the Secretariat, which is managed by its Director-General. To meet its ambitious goals, UNESCO counts on Member States and Associate Members to provide means and diverse enterprises to cover all project fields.
The cultural and enterprise diversity of UNESCO programs results in a complexity that has considerable repercussions at the IT level. Each UNESCO office and each UNESCO service deploys solutions locally, according to its needs, without regard to any policy covering ease of use, interface, or even international-scale technologies. There is little dialogue between applications and no security rules or access management at the international level.
“We don’t really have a single CIO who makes decisions about IT strategy for all of UNESCO,” says Gyula Bognar, Chief of IT Operations at UNESCO. “And we have a very heterogeneous computer system with thousands of applications and processes because of the multitude of disciplines represented in our organization.”
Of course, to meet its global mission, UNESCO has to respect the diversity of its organization while managing that diversity efficiently. The organization took its first steps toward a uniform computer system by adopting an SAP integrated management program for its financial and human resources departments. Simultaneously, the agency began planning to reorganize the overall international structure of its IT network, policies, and security.
“To comprehend the challenge we were faced with, you need to think of our information systems as a heterogeneous world of applications that didn’t communicate with each other at all,” says Bognar. “We needed to find a way to accommodate that diversity, while hiding it from users through a uniform, simple, and ergonomic interface.”
UNESCO wanted to find a Web-based platform that would connect its existing applications and programs to a single interface. In 2005, UNESCO used Microsoft® Office SharePoint® Portal Server 2003 to develop its first intranet application, a communications platform to let scientists worldwide exchange information.
After the success of that project, the organization then planned to implement an organization-wide portal solution to unify its information environment to improve ease of use and standardize its security rules and policies. UNESCO wanted to develop a solution that would maintain existing systems while evolving to a more ergonomic and global interface. It needed a simple, efficient solution that would be compatible with its SAP management program, and above all, would enable its 4,000 employees to consult their personal data.
An audit performed by Gartner identified shortcomings in a previous enterprise resource planning (ERP) deployment but did help UNESCO conclude that a Web portal would meet its requirements. “That solution was too heavy, too long, too complex, and unrealistic, but it did point up the need for a portal as a unifying solution,” says Bognar. “The portal seemed to be the best solution for our goals; it not only allowed us to create a uniform interface but also to look deeper at the framework used by all the internal personnel at UNESCO, as well as external contributors.”
To progressively homogenize its IT system and implement global standards while continuing to meet urgent application-implementation needs, UNESCO chose Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007, Microsoft SQL Server® 2008 data management software, and the Windows Server® 2008 operating system. UNESCO also integrated Microsoft BizTalk® Server 2006 in the solution to take advantage of its compatibility with SAP.
||By taking on issues one at a time, we have been able to respond quickly to enterprise needs while we were constructing a more controlled IT system.
||Gyula Bogna, Chief of IT Operations, UNESCO
“Office SharePoint Server 2007 was one of five products recommended in the Gartner report,” says Bognar. “Before deciding, we considered several criteria, including compatibility with SAP; BizTalk Server 2006 line-of-business connectors for SAP were compelling. We wanted a simple and efficient solution. In the end, the Microsoft solution was clearly the most impressive and the easiest to implement."
In August 2008, UNESCO began developing the solution with the help of service provider and Microsoft Gold Certified Partner Alti , setting milestones in the deployment that would become the foundation for the entire IT system at the international level. “This is exactly what we liked about the portal approach,” says Bognar. “We could move forward slowly, without touching what we had, beginning to move users to a new, user-friendly approach while we put the first procedures and other rules into place.”
UNESCO finalized a prototype to test interoperability between Office SharePoint Server 2007 and its SAP software to make sure the solution would enable all of UNESCO’s global employees to access their personal data via the portal. Following the success of the first site and the SAP test, UNESCO adopted Office SharePoint Server 2007 as its standard for future portals. Of six study projects, three are currently being developed: a portal intended for the diverse expert community at UNESCO; the Integrated Calendar Events (ICE) portal, a management tool for the thousands of UNESCO events organized worldwide; and finally, an e-mail management portal.
Rather than integrate its existing applications into the portal directly, UNESCO opted to use the BizTalk Server 2006 enterprise application integration solution, which provides true separation between the Web framework layer at the portal level and existing back-office applications, allowing multiple systems to be merged and monitored.
With BizTalk Server 2006, IT staff can orchestrate exchanges between the portal and the SAP framework distributed worldwide using the BizTalk SAP Adapter and the Windows® Communication Foundation programming model, which allows for exchanges from Microsoft .NET Framework-based applications and Office SharePoint Server 2007 to SAP. To manage a Portuguese-specific ERP—deployed in Brazil outside the SAP framework for important historical reasons—UNESCO developed a special connector using BizTalk Server 2006.
In all cases, whether SAP, a specific ERP, or a particular enterprise application, UNESCO adopted a service-oriented architecture (SOA), expressing the features of existing applications as services published through BizTalk Server 2006, which manages mediation and dialogue with Office SharePoint Server 2007. All these developments are based on the .NET Framework, created within a unified environment using the Microsoft Visual Studio® 2008 development system. For the user, procedures are managed by workflows and forms through InfoPath® Form Services, a component of Office SharePoint Server 2007 that relies on the XML standard and allows for rapid publication of Web forms for enterprise applications.
By integrating Office SharePoint Server 2007, BizTalk Server 2006, and other Microsoft technologies, UNESCO developed a portal solution that will help it realize a long-term homogenization plan for its global IT system while maintaining existing critical systems and continuing to implement new applications as necessary.
||We jumped into the adventure with Office SharePoint Server after measuring the total risk.… The SAP mock-up then led to our choice of solution, which for us remains the easiest to manage. It’s a choice that is validated every time we use it.
||Gyula Bognar, Chief of IT Operations, UNESCO
“A straight line between points A and B isn’t always the best way to get somewhere,” says Bognar. “Thanks to SharePoint Server 2007 and BizTalk Server 2006, we can completely restructure our computer systems while still responding to the pressing needs of different management functions at UNESCO.”
Rapid Deployment with SOA
For both financial and time considerations, it would have been too much, or even impossible, to launch a huge homogenization project within UNESCO. But by incorporating service-oriented architecture, UNESCO can publish applications as services, so existing systems are available while the project moves forward.
“By taking on issues one at a time, we have been able to respond quickly to enterprise needs while we were constructing a more controlled IT system," says Bognar.
Simple SAP Integration
With features in Office SharePoint Server 2007 and BizTalk Server 2006, UNESCO was able to easily integrate its portal solution with its SAP management systems. Using line-of-business connectors in BizTalk Server 2006, UNESCO can easily and efficiently coordinate exchanges between the portal and the SAP framework, making it simple for UNESCO’s global employees to access and share data.
Flexible, Scalable Architecture
UNESCO gained a significant amount of maneuverability using this principle of loose coupling between applications, where modifying one application will not impact its Web framework project. At the same time, if the organization decides to change the portal, it will not jeopardize its investment in existing applications.
Path Toward the Future
According to Bognar, the first three projects UNESCO has deployed using the solution will be of great service to users, and will also help the organization as it moves forward with its IT homogenization. The IT department at UNESCO has drafted a generic framework document that includes experiences gained and lessons learned during application development, and that stipulates new security rules and rights management policies for the organization.
“We jumped into the adventure with Office SharePoint Server after measuring the total risk,” says Bognar. “Within two or three days, we had finished the first site; the SAP mock-up then led to our choice of solution, which for us remains the easiest to manage. It’s a choice that is validated every time we use it.”
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