Speakers in the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) today requested clarity on the benefits deriving from the Umoja enterprise resource planning project — and reiterated their concern about its spiralling cost and implementation delays — as the Secretariat made its case for an additional $15.5 million to complete the ambitious initiative by the end of 2019.
The representative of Egypt, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said the steady growth of Umoja’s user base, and a decline in Umoja-related incidents, is encouraging. “The Group is concerned, however, that while we have expended a significant amount of financial resources on Umoja, we have yet to realize the full benefits from this project,” he said, emphasizing the need for a benefits realization plan and a clear and transparent record of Umoja’s quantitative and qualitative benefits.
He added that the Group of 77 remains deeply concerned about repeated delays and a significant escalation of the price tag of a project that was supposed to be completed in 2012 and is expected to cost $544 million, more than double the original estimate of $248 million. “There is clearly an urgent need to take corrective action,” he said, emphasizing that in an era of fiscal austerity and uncertainty across the Organization, Member States must take a hard look at Umoja and apply a consistent standard of fiscal discipline to the project.
In a similar vein, Singapore’s representative, emphasizing that the Umoja project must be accountable and efficient, said it was baffling that a project that touts savings and speed will, by the time of its estimated completion, have taken three times as long as originally projected, and cost over twice the original estimate. He added that the Secretary-General must ensure the system can withstand shocks and disasters, alongside regular exercises and plans to minimize recovery time.
The representative of the United States said her country views Umoja as an integral part of the Secretary-General’s reform efforts and expects to see greater benefits through its full deployment. Resources proposed for 2019 should be sufficient to complete the project, she said, adding that Umoja must keep serving as a catalyst for business transformation beyond this year, with the Organization paying special attention to improving its qualitative and quantitative benefits.
Jan Beagle, Under-Secretary-General for Management, presenting the Secretary-General’s tenth progress report on Umoja, said that after a difficult start, Umoja is making steady progress, becoming part of the daily routine for a very large part of the Secretariat, with more than 46,500 users in over 420 locations — including, since June this year, personnel in peacekeeping and special political missions.
Discussing resource requirements, she recalled that, in his eighth progress report, the Secretary-General estimated that $77.8 million would be needed for Umoja for the biennium 2018‑2019. Endorsing a recommendation from the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), however, the General Assembly approved a reduced amount of $62.1 million. “The report before you contains a request for the remaining resources of $15.5 million,” she said, emphasizing that the Umoja project has maintained very strong fiscal discipline, cut its costs significantly, reduced dependence on contractors and remained within its projections in the last three progress reports.
Parama Sen, Director of External Audit of India and Chair of the Audit Operations Committee of the Board of Auditors, presented the Board’s seventh annual progress report on Umoja implementation. Babou Sene, Vice Chairman of the Advisory Committee, introduced its related report.
The representative of the European Union also spoke today.
Gillian Bird (Australia), Committee Chair, speaking at the end of the meeting, said the Bureau has instructed the facilitators of the various consultations to start scheduling informal informal meetings — those without simultaneous translation services — during morning, lunch and evening hours as well as weekends, thus freeing up regular working hours for agenda items that still require interpretation. She called upon delegations to use their time productively and strive to close, by 14 December, items that were introduced weeks and months ago.
The Fifth Committee will meet again on Friday, 7 December at 10 a.m. when it will begin consideration of progress in the renovation of Africa Hall and the construction of new office facilities at the Economic Commission for Africa in Addis Ababa.
Umoja Enterprise Resource Planning Project
JAN BEAGLE, Under-Secretary-General for Management, introduced the Secretary-General’s tenth progress report on the Umoja enterprise resource planning project (document A/73/389). She described Umoja as a key enabler of the Secretary-General’s reform agenda, delivering substantial administrative improvements while replacing more than 300 legacy systems, streamlining fragmented processes and enabling greater visibility of global data. After a difficult start, Umoja is making steady progress, becoming part of the daily routine for a very large part of the Secretariat, used in more than 420 locations by more than 46,500 users. Since June this year, it has been serving more than 120,000 personnel in peacekeeping and special political missions. She detailed some of the ways in which Umoja has made significant progress over the past year, including two very major software upgrades.
She put a spotlight on the rollout of Umoja Extension 2, which not only comprises 41 per cent of all Umoja processes, but also includes the significant addition of new functionality. Going forward, the focus of Umoja communications and change management will be to connect the project to the Secretary-General’s reforms and the Organization’s modernization, she said. Based on recommendations from the Board of Auditors, the Secretariat is developing a plan to quantify Umoja-related benefits. Acknowledging that Umoja implementation has not been without surprises and challenges and stressing that most of the risks have been mitigated, she said an important part of supply chain management — namely, demand and supply network planning — now requires a cloud-based SAP (Systems, Application and Process) solution, which adds complexity.
Discussing resource requirements, she recalled that, in his eighth progress report (document A/71/390)), the Secretary-General estimated that around $77.8 million would be needed for the biennium 2018-2019. In response, the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) recommended last year that only 80 per cent of requested resources be approved, pending submission of the tenth progress report and the Board of Auditor’s seventh progress report. Endorsing the Advisory Committee’s recommendation, the General Assembly approved $62.1 million. “The report before you contains a request for the remaining resources of $15.5 million,” she said, emphasizing that the project has maintained very strong fiscal discipline, cut its costs significantly, reduced dependence on contractors and remained within its projections in the last three progress reports.
Underscoring that the Umoja project has invested heavily in building skills among staff members who use it, she said the number of reported problems has been declining steadily, with faster resolution at local levels and through integrated service desks. Attention now is shifting to continuous improvements, building on analytical capabilities to detect, diagnose and resolve issues. She concluded by reiterating the Umoja has made steady progress during the last year and that careful preparations are being made to a challenging time ahead. “We are leveraging lessons learned to ensure sufficient business readiness and change management,” she added.
PARAMA SEN, Director of External Audit of India and Chair of the Audit Operations Committee of the Board of Auditors, introduced the Secretary-General’s note (document A/73/169) transmitting the seventh annual progress report of the Board of Auditors on the implementation of the United Nations enterprise resource planning system. The Board notes that an end-to-end process management for the Organization is a significant change triggered by Umoja. With the impending stabilization of Umoja Extension 1 and the deployment of Umoja Extension 2, there are likely to be greater opportunities to achieve qualitative benefits in the future. The Board observed that there is room for improvement in maintaining documentation and preserving institutional memory to achieve overall benefits. Among its findings for 2017, it noted that there was no documented benefits realization plan in place to help the Secretariat establish a clear and transparent record of how qualitative and quantitative Umoja benefits would be achieved.
Regarding user access provisioning, there were 290 separated employees with active Umoja user identifications with 1,344 different roles assigned to them, she said. Out of these, 139 accessed Umoja after their effective separation dates. There were no defined centralized procedures to deactivate Umoja access. The Umoja office, in consultation with process owners, developed a detailed Enterprise Role Guide, which provides the combination of roles, which if assigned to the same user, result in conflict concerning segregation of duties. The Board analysed the enterprise role assignments for any possible segregation of duties conflicts, as per the guide, and found there were 1,146 users having 3,948 conflicting roles.
The Board notes that the dates of implementation of a few modules of Umoja Extension 2 might extend into 2019, due to the need to mitigate associated risks, according to the Administration, he said. The Board believes it is important to consider various factors, such as ongoing reform agendas, the timelines of Umoja Extension 2 deployments and the large scope for continuous improvements in Umoja functionalities in the mainstreaming plan. Umoja stabilization may require some time after full deployment of the functionalities. In addition, the scope to improve the system’s functionality through the Continuous Improvement Programme is likely to extend beyond the mandated project period, she said.
BABOU SENE, Vice Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions, introducing its eponymous report (document A/73/607), expressed concern that the project timeline for Umoja Extension 2 continues to be extended and project costs keep growing. The Advisory Committee recommends the Assembly ask the Secretary-General to take all necessary measures to ensure the project’s full scope is completely carried out without further delay and cost escalation by the end of 2019. Regarding benefits, the Advisory Committee reiterates its view that a clear and transparent record of the qualitative and quantitative benefits achieved through Umoja must be established. This needs to include the impact on the staffing and resource requirements of individual departments and offices. The Advisory Committee recommends the Assembly ask the Secretary-General to ensure a benefits realization plan is developed and that the benefits reported to Member States are documented accurately, including the assumptions and processes underlying the benefit process.
The Advisory Committee has consistently stressed, since the project’s early phases, the need to build internal capacity to manage and support Umoja in order to reduce the Organization’s reliance on consultants and contractual services, which make up a large proportion of project costs, he said. The Advisory Committee also stresses the need to develop cost-effective mechanisms to develop internal capacities and keep up with technology changes over the long term, he said. It recommends the Assembly ask the Secretary-General, in his next progress report, to provide a detailed plan to mainstream the Umoja team into the Secretariat. Recognizing the multiple risks facing the project, the Advisory Committee stresses the need for an effective risk management strategy with the continual analysis of risks, the assessment of mitigation measures and the timely adoption of the existing strategies. This is necessary to avoid any further slippages and ensure the project remains on track to complete full deployment of all Umoja Extension 2 projects by the end of 2019, he said.
MOHAMED FATHI AHMED EDREES (Egypt), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said the steady growth of Umoja’s user base, and the decline in the number of Umoja-related incidents, is encouraging. Business units must take full and active ownership of Umoja, he said, emphasizing the importance of adequate training to use the system. “The Group is concerned, however, that while we have expended a significant amount of financial resources on Umoja, we have yet to realize the full benefits from this project,” he said, calling for a robust business case to be made for one of the Organization’s largest and most expensive business transformation initiatives. That business case must include actual efficiencies, rather than artificial budget reduction targets, he said, emphasizing the need for a benefits realization plan and a clear and transparent record of Umoja’s quantitative and qualitative benefits.
He added that the Group of 77 remains deeply concerned about repeated delays in completing the Umoja project and the significant escalation of its cost. Umoja was originally proposed to be implemented over four years and completed in 2012, but it is now expected to be delayed yet again. If the project meets its revised completion date of the end of 2019, it will have taken more than 11 years to complete, or almost three times the original timeline. Costs have meanwhile ballooned, from an original projection of $248 million to $544 million, with the expected total cost of ownership from 2008 to 2030 expected to reach $1.4 billion. “There is clearly an urgent need to take corrective action,” he said, calling on the Secretary-General to ensure that Umoja is fully implemented by the end of 2019. At a time of fiscal austerity and uncertainty across the United Nations, Member States must take a hard look at Umoja and apply a consistent standard of fiscal discipline to the project, he added.
TAULANT ZEQIRI, European Union, said it continues to strongly support the effective, efficient and transparent management of the United Nations; implementation of Umoja; and modernization of the business processes and systems that are crucial to the Organization. The Union welcomes the progress achieved in addressing the project’s issues, including continued improvements in its management and efforts to quantify the total cost of ownership and improve the presentation of its quantitative and qualitative benefits. The full implementation of Umoja Extension 2 is vital as it includes some of the system’s most important and promising functionalities: supply chain management, budget formulation, programme management, conference and event management and force planning. The quality of data, gathered from a wide range of Secretariat activities, that will be available through Umoja Extension 2 offers great potential to help the Secretariat and Member States make future decisions.
CHERITH NORMAN-CHALET (United States) said her country views Umoja as an integral part of the Secretary-General’s reform efforts and expects to see greater benefits through its full deployment. She emphasized the ongoing need for strong project governance and risk management to complete Umoja’s implementation as soon as possible. Resources proposed for 2019 should be sufficient to complete the project, she added. It is also imperative that Umoja continue to serve as a catalyst for business transformation beyond this year, with the Organization paying special attention to improving its qualitative and quantitative benefits in order to better manage resources and inform decision-making.
LUCIEN HONG (Singapore), associating himself with the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said his delegation sees merit in using digital solutions to improve efficiency, harmonize processes and increase transparency. It is encouraged that the Umoja user base has grown to 46,500 users spread across the 420 locations and most users see the system’s value and benefits. Yet the Umoja project must be accountable and efficient and Singapore is very concerned about repeated delays in the completion timeline and the project’s significant cost escalation. “It is baffling that a project that touts savings and speed will, by the time of estimated completion, have taken three times as long as originally projected, and cost over twice its original estimation,” he said. The expected $1.4 billion cost “begs the question” as to whether the Assembly should treat similar projects in the future on par with major capital projects, including the financing arrangements. Singapore calls on the Secretary-General to urgently take remedial measures to ensure Umoja is completed without further delay and additional costs by the end of 2019, he said. In addition, Singapore will look closely at how efficiencies arising from Umoja can be applied to the project and its team.
Turning to two other concerns brought up by the Board of Auditors, Singapore said it is crucial the Organization ensure the digital identities and access controls for Umoja’s growing user base are managed effectively. Singapore urges greater coordination, among the Office for Human Resources Management, the Office of Information and Communications Technology and the Umoja office, to tighten access control. Secondly, as the Organization increases its reliance on Umoja, the Secretary-General must ensure the system can withstand shocks and disasters. Regular exercises and plans must be carried out and drawn up to ensure the readiness of the Umoja disaster recovery infrastructure and minimize the recovery time from a failover or failback situation. These are two areas where quick action can be taken with no need for additional resources, he added.