World Food Programme Puts Bots to Work

How Robotic Process Automation Helps Organizational Efficiency

The UN International Computing Centre opened its Robotic Process Automation Centre of Excellence (CoE) in 2019; the World Food Programme (WFP) was among the first UN Agencies to explore this new range of digital capabilities.

With Robotic Process Automation (RPA) solutions, organizations can transform routine, manual data transcription processes with automated software programs that run whenever needed, completing repetitive, rules-based tasks that otherwise expend precious human capital.

RPA frees up people to do what people do best – innovate, collaborate, motivate each other and fulfill an organization’s substantive mission and mandate. For WFP, this means achieving Zero Hunger (Sustainable Development Goal 2), whereby countries can draft and implement policies that promote food security and nutrition objectives.

UNICC’s service delivery has been exemplary, constantly adjusting to our changing needs and timeline, as WFP was new to RPAs and automation in general. After go-live, the RPA support too has been proactive and attentive, to make sure bugs and quirks to newly-implemented RPAs were promptly fixed. Our experience in working with UNICC has been really good; we have received timely estimates for development, testing and deployment, clear and competitive costs, as well as simple instructions on how to set up attended bots or scheduled unattended bots.

Masimilliano Merelli, Head of ERP/SAP Services, WFP

Among the opportunities to increase organizational efficiency, WFP and UNICC identified three task workstreams where RPA can be applied:

  • Processing outstanding employee travel advances as needed
  • Downloading and distributing an investment status report once a day
  • Checking the financial sections of annual country reports periodically.

The joint team agreed to use an RPA platform by UiPath, a seasoned RPA software vendor. The UNICC team went to work in close collaboration with WFP’s focal points to assess all processes carefully to define steps, decision points and rules – and to design a software solution.

They then developed, tested and implemented each process, connecting the components of each automation solution to UNICC’s shared RPA CoE infrastructure, from network to workstations to thus enable WFP’s business users with each bot.

At every stage, testing and security were paramount. The first two processes were ready to go live in about four to six weeks.

For outstanding travel advances, UNICC developed an unattended bot (a software robot that runs end to end without human intervention) that would send emails nudging responsible parties, thereby ensuring timely financial reconciliation and saving the travel unit valuable hours processing requests older than 60 days.

Photo: UNICC/Allen

The solution for investment status reports required UNICC to create an unattended ‘treasury user bot’ that could access the investment report platform, locate and download needed reports and then send them to a common treasury mailing box. The bot freed up staff to do more interesting and value-add work, with reports arriving as needed. UNICC onboarded WFP users for these solutions and provided technical support for their administration.

The WFP Country Reports process was more complex. To fulfil their agreements with donors, WFP country offices must publish Annual Country Reports (ACRs) on the performance of their projects. The Contribution Accounting and Donor Financial Reporting unit typically checks the financial section of these ACRs to make sure the data accurately represents WFP’s global operations. Then it reconciles them with data in WFP’s Enterprise Resources Planning (ERP) system and ensures they are consistent with other reporting.

This review process is routine, but complex and painstaking, as it involves three separate sub-reports. After a detailed testing period, UNICC has now delivered this process in production and WFP’s teams are already engaged in extending the solution to more complex sub-reports and global scale-up.

Leveraging UiPath’s technology, UNICC took about seven weeks to design, develop and deploy two unattended bots that would run step-by-step through the processes of checking the sub-reports. WFP is able to verify specific financial key figures in these ACRs much more quickly, conduct periodic checks more easily and make timely adjustments throughout the fiscal year.

All these bots are now running on UNICC’s servers, connected to a UiPath solution called Orchestrator, hosted within UNICC’s shared RPA CoE infrastructure. While UN Agency staff and stakeholders get a good night’s rest, the bots stay at it till every task is completed.

WFP’s decision turned out to be incredibly timely. The COVID-19 pandemic hit the global economy hard and budgets tightened everywhere. In all sectors, leaders have been looking for creative ways to make the most of their resources, and that’s exactly what RPA helps us to do. It delivers operational efficiencies when and where organizations need it most.

Photo: Unsplash/UX Indonesia

Beyond these current solutions, WFP has other areas of interest involving RPA solutions, including:

  • Business transformation consulting
  • Automation pipeline generation and value assessment
  • Invoice processing with advanced OCR (optical character recognition)
  • Financial reconciliation
  • Travel claims
  • Authorizations
  • API integrations (ServiceNow, PeopleSoft, SAP, etc.)
  • Project results and reporting
  • Records management
  • Telephone bills reconciliation
  • Digitalisation of vouchers
  • Processing advanced shipment notices
  • Funding requisitions
  • Medical service clearance
  • Vendor screening and compliance adherence
  • Drugs screening validation through public websites
  • Time sheet management.

Nagesh Vepa, Practice Lead of UNICC’s RPA Centre of Excellence, noted that the best hyper automation solutions delivered to WFP come from a quick, well-informed marriage of minds with a top-down and a bottom-up approach to problem-solving – one that considers not only an organization’s overall operational goals and budgets, but also the untapped or latent skills and talent of its employees in delivering the organization’s mandate.

New Strategic Partnership: NetHope

ICC is proud to join hands with the NetHope community to learn from and grow strong in an effort to enhance and refine the way that both organizations serve their communities and constituents. ICC aims to provide insights for NetHope communities of practice about ICC and its Partner Organizations’ best practices and lessons learned. NetHope is strategically positioned within the NGO community much like ICC is with the UN community.

We are excited to join the NetHope forum, where we can provide insights and gain an understanding of the wider NGO community that often works with our UN Partner Organizations.

Sameer Chauhan, Director, ICC

NetHope empowers committed organizations to change the world through the power of technology. This consortium of nearly 60 leading global nonprofits unites with technology companies and funding partners to design, fund, implement, adapt, and scale innovative approaches to solve development, humanitarian, and conservation challenges. NetHope has three new partnerships – with ICC, the Salvation Army International and with War Child Holland. See the NetHope press release here.

Each of these outstanding organizations collectively touch millions of people worldwide. Digital technology has provided an opportunity to scale up their impact, and they recognize NetHope’s collaborative and convening role in progressing nonprofit digital transformation.

Liz Bronder, CEO, NetHope

About NetHope

NetHope is a consortium of nearly 60 leading global nonprofits, whose members deliver over 60 percent of all annual, international, non-governmental aid. The NetHope community strives to transform the world, building a platform of hope for those who receive aid and those who deliver it. See their website here.

UNRWA and ICC Sign Ground-breaking ICT Partnership Agreement

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) signed an agreement with ICC that aims to enhance opportunities for Palestine refugees in Gaza. With this agreement, ICC will be able to benefit from the skills of UNRWA ICT personnel in the delivery of services.

ICC, in its firm commitment to supporting the local constituencies of UN Agencies in the delivery of ICT services worldwide to over 35 UN Agencies and 25 related organizations, is excited to open up this partnership.

This agreement will strengthen the ICC capacity to deliver reliable ICT services driven by best practices. With its world-class technology and state-of-the-art infrastructure, together with the vast cross-domain experience of its very knowledgeable staff, ICC is always ready to offer UN-friendly shared solutions to United Nations organizations and international institutions with similar missions and value.

Sameer Chauhan, Director, ICC

UNRWA, as a Partner Organization, already subscribes to ICC’s ICT services. This ICT services support partnership agreement brings closer collaboration between the two entities, with ICT skills development and delivery being the new bridge for partnership. Now skilled and professional Palestinians ICT personnel at UNRWA can share their skills with the wider UN transformation efforts.

UNRWA employs young and qualified Palestine refugees at its IT Service Centre (ITSC) in Gaza to provide service desk, application development, infrastructure and information management services to all five field offices of the Agency. With this agreement, ICC will be able to benefit from the skills of UNRWA personnel in the following areas:

  • ICT technical capacity augmentation
  • ICT end-to-end solutions delivery
  • ICT operations and maintenance support.

Through this joint project, young and skilled Palestine refugees will be able to contribute to the digital transformation of the UN in the IT domain without the restrictions of geographic borders.

Kaan Cetinturk, UNRWA CIO and Director of Information Management and Technology Department

Strengthening refugee capabilities and increasing livelihood opportunities are two pillars of the UNRWA strategy towards Palestine refugees and constitute direct contributions to the UN Sustainable Development Goals 1 (No Poverty), 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth) and 17 (Partnerships for the Goals).

About UNRWA

UNRWA is a United Nations Agency established by the General Assembly in 1949 and mandated to provide assistance and protection to some 5.6 million Palestine refugees registered with UNRWA across its five fields of operation. Its mission is to help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip achieve their full human development potential, pending a just and lasting solution to their plight. UNRWA services encompass education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, protection and microfinance.

UNRWA is confronted with an increased demand for services resulting from a growth in the number of registered Palestine refugees, the extent of their vulnerability and their deepening poverty.

UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions and financial support has been outpaced by the growth in needs. As a result, the UNRWA programme budget, which supports the delivery of core essential services, operates with a large shortfall. UNRWA encourages all Member States to work collectively to exert all possible efforts to fully fund the Agency’s programme budget. UNRWA emergency programmes and key projects, also operating with large shortfalls, are funded through separate funding portals.

 

 

In support of:

UN DSC and ICC Deliver Jambo, an Inter-Agency Phone Book App

Find. Connect. Say Hello to UN Colleagues

Find, connect and say ‘Jambo!’ (‘Hello’ in Swahili) on your smart phone to United Nations colleagues from other organizations with the Jambo App developed by the UN Digital Solutions Centre (UN DSC). The UN DSC is a partnership between the World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) with the support of ICC.

Collaboration and communications between different UN Agencies are crucial to address global challenges and achieve the 2030 Agenda. Most UN Agencies have robust communications within their organizations, but until now a combined global directory has had limited contacts.

To facilitate cooperation, especially given the outbreak of COVID-19 with millions of people working remotely from their homes, the UN Digital Solutions Centre (UN DSC) has developed a phone book app enabling colleagues from across UN Agencies to find and contact each other.

The Jambo app, funded by the UN DSC  and developed by ICC in less than a month, currently contains contact information for staff at four member organizations – UNHCR, WFP, ICC and UN Women. The UN DSC is offering all other UN entities to join for free.

The telephone directory app uses provided organizational credentials to log in. UN personnel can search for colleagues by name and find information such as email address, phone number, UN Agency and other standard Active Directory data. Jambo users can call or send messages and add notes about contacts through the device’s native phone and email functionalities.

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Additional features, such as alternate languages and a fully-encrypted chat, will soon be added to the application, with all systems hosted under UN Immunities and Privileges.

The UN DSC encourages all UN entities to say hello and join Jambo for a UN-wide contact information database, strengthening inter-agency collaboration and enabling each to better serve the global challenges related to their mandates.

The Jambo app is available to staff of participating UN Agencies for download at Google Play and Apple App Store.

About the Digital Solutions Centre

The UN Digital Solutions Centre is operated in partnership by the UN World Food Programme (WFP), the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and is supported by the International Computing Centre (UNICC). By leveraging new technologies and UN expertise, the Digital Solutions Centre aims to create a suite of digital solutions that can be shared among UN Agencies to transform common business operations and streamline time-consuming transactional tasks. Solutions developed by WFP and UNHCR will be made available to the entire UN system.

Note: Additional features such as chat may be introduced as paid services in the future.