Microsoft Tech Huddle Introduces UN Digital Academy

ICC and Microsoft presented the UN Digital Academy at the UN Tech Huddle event organized by Microsoft’s Tech for Social Impact (TSI) team on 2 June. The UN Digital Academy is a new ICC service – a learning platform developed jointly by Microsoft and ICC that serves as a central repository of training resources and content to enable UN staff and stakeholders in their digital transformation journeys.

After an introduction by Microsoft’s Global UN Lead Alex Pinho, Shashank Rai, ICC’s Chief Technology Officer provided an overview of the service to an audience of 150 ICT experts from different UN Agencies.

We wanted not only to strengthen the way we provide technology and technical support, but to empower UN employees to use themselves these technologies in the most effective ways.

Alex Pinho, Global UN Lead, Microsoft

Shashank explained that the UN Digital Academy hosts bite-sized courses curated by Microsoft that are meant for end-users to develop their digital and technology skills. As ICC develops the platform, it is expected that it may evolve more broadly with additional quality content from other sources, including content produced by the UN, always tailored for the UN.

Alex highlighted how the UN Digital Academy was built as an ICC and Microsoft investment, with the goal of creating a really affordable platform. Additionally, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, ICC and Microsoft are offering all organizations three months of free access with a minimum 12-month subscription in 2020.

This platform is coming at a very right point in time, when the pace of change is unprecedented. The next big challenge we all face is to always be ready, a continuous learning platform is a very important piece to achieve this goal.

Shashank Rai, Chief Technology Officer, ICC

Apurva Chandra, Senior Program Manager at Microsoft Philanthropies, offered a demo to showcase key features to participants and answered questions at the end of the presentation.

ICC has participated in various Microsoft Tech for Social Impact UN Tech Huddles, now hosted virtually every two months. These events bring together ICT experts from different UN Agencies and Microsoft experts to share the latest cloud solutions and best practices to help UN Agencies digitally transform and accelerate the impact of their organization.

Girls and Women Talking Tech – Girls in ICT

The fourth Thursday in April – this year, April 23, 2020 – was International Girls in ICT day, a day that seeks to help create a global environment that empowers and encourages girls and young women to consider studies and careers in the growing field of information and communication technologies (ICTs). Organizations from all sectors were encouraged to undertake activities on and/or around that day to support the objectives of the day and to share information about their activities. To date, hundreds of thousands of girls have been involved in activities in over 160 countries. 

Social Media Challenge and Girls and Women Talking Tech 

In support of the day and of the EQUALS Global Partnership for Gender Equality in the Digital Age, International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and ICC kicked off the celebration with a social media challenge where women in tech across the UN and the private sector posted about what ICT for Girls Day meant to them, identifying any mentors they had along their tech careers and journeys.

Then, ITU and ICC began the video project portion of the initiative, a series of online interviews by girls in technology in conversation with women in technology.

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It is really special that I keep hearing both of our themes being exploring your passions and doing so with curiosity and a creative mindset. I hope that those whoever will listen to our discussion will encourage the young people in their lives to also apply these same themes to their dreams as well.

Emily Bennett, ICC Business Relationship Manager to Arushi Aggarwal, the CEO of Unknown16.

The objectives of these interviews are to: 

  • Interest and inspire girls and younger women with information about a range of ICT careers that can be had   
  • Bring before a broader audience some of the role model women in tech and share information about their career journeys and work  
  • Offer diverse examples of how ICT is being used to support achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and other UN goals 
  • Showcase initiatives that are working with girls to support them in ICT studies or future ICT careers 
  • Provide girls with a leadership opportunity to represent and promote a tech organization or their school’s support of STEM programs  
  • Support technology skills’ learning for girls and young women and promote it to a broader international audience. 

To identify the girl and young women participantsthey reached out to organizations working with girls and ICT with the idea that the girls selected as the interviewers would also have the opportunity to talk about the initiative with which they have been involved and activities they have done in tech. The women are at various stages in their careers and different levels of seniority, work with and in tech in different sectorsDuring these interviews, the women also asks the girl in tech interviewer questions about her career plans and journey with technology.

My advice for any young women aspiring to get into the tech field is to find mentors, which is easy to say but difficult to do. Finding someone who can learn from, and ask awkward questions is especially important. Especially in tech, when there are barriers that still exist, it is important to create the proper mentoring ecosystem for young women getting into IT.

Kate Krukiel, General Manager for the UN Digital Solutions Centre to Samantha Berenzon, a thirdyear Computer Information Science student at Baruch College.

ICC Women Participate in Girls and Women Talking Tech 

Some women staff from ICC have participated in this on-going virtual event. Business Relationship Manager Emily Bennett, General Manager of the UN Digital Solutions Centre Kate Krukiel and graphic designer Lorena Henriquez have all been part of the first wave of interviews thus far, with other ICC women also agreeing to be interviewed. Each woman gave their account of their dynamic careers in tech to young women interviewers who were either pursuing degrees in tech or beginning their careers in specific field in tech.   

This project will include many inspiring women in tech as available in the coming months, from different fields of tech, discussing various themes about their journey with aspiring young women in tech, pursuing a wonderful array of careers in ICT. Please visit ITU’s EQUALS Global Partnership YouTube channel to view all the past interviews and discussions in the series Girls and Women Talking Tech. 

ICC Assists with Documenting UN OCHA Central Emergency Response Fund’s Grant Management System

About the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund 

The United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) is one of the fastest and most effective ways to ensure that urgently needed humanitarian assistance reaches people caught up in crises. Established by the United Nations General Assembly in 2005 as the United Nations global emergency response fund, CERF enables humanitarian responders to deliver life-saving assistance whenever and wherever crises strike. 

As an essential enabler of global humanitarian action, CERF’s Rapid Response window allows country teams to kick-start relief efforts immediately in a coordinated and prioritized response when a new crisis emerges. CERF’s window for Underfunded Emergencies helps scale-up and sustain protracted relief operations to avoid critical gaps when no other funding is available. 

ICC Communications Team Assists with CERF Grant Management System Upgrade 

In 2016, Christine Servandoof the Performance and Accountability Unit CERF secretariatreached out to Prado Nieto, at that time Client Relationship Manager at ICC, to see if ICC could help in hiring a technical writer to manage the documentation for an upgrade to the CERF Grant Management System (GMS). Prado and Bill Allen, Communications Officer, ICC hired an expert tech writer to do the job. OCHA was so pleased they invited her back in 2020 for system upgrades documentation. 

Kirsten Sandberg, a technical writer, now also at the Blockchain Research Institute, came back to ICC through Uptown Communications, a New York based communications firm, with OCHA’s new Business Relationship Manager, Roberto Cruz, to assist with the upgrade of CERF’s grant management system. Kirsten’s role was to document the upgrade changes in the system, write step-by-step instructions for its different user roles and update the user manual – all in close collaboration with Bill as project manager and the GMS focal points at OCHA.  

Project Goals and Outcomes 

The goal of this upgrade was to make the system more accessible to users, more efficient in expediting grant funding to areas of need, and more transparent and granular in reporting on the populations served. Users can now access it from their mobile devices (tablet or smartphone) through the Internet browsers of their choice (e.g., Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox, Safari). They can also visualize, export and analyze allocation and project data.

GMS Upgrade Benefits 

The upgrade streamlined numerous processes and resulted in availability of data that is published in the real time through the new allocations module. The new functionality represents another major step forward in CERF’s transparency, information sharing and reporting on the fund’s performance. 

ICC Presents at Canadian Association of IT Professionals on Business Continuity Planning and COVID-19

The British Columbia and National chapters of the Canadian Association of IT Professionals (CIPS) have been hosting a series of webinars on the effects of COVID-19. ICC’s Lyle McFadyen was invited to present for their first virtual webinar of the series, entitled “COVID-19 Pandemic Overview”. Lyle has been a board member of the British Columbia chapter of CIPS for two years. He was initially invited to speak to attendees from the British Columbia chapter only, but the response to his presentation was so well-received, that he was invited to present to a larger global audience later in May, including participants from the United States, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Malaysia, Nigeria, India, the UK and Germany.

Planning and Preparation- First Step in Business Continuity Planning During COVID-19 

Lyle began his presentation highlighting how organizations should plan and prepare for the ways in which they will operate during this pandemic. He emphasized that having an up-to-date business continuity plan is an organization’s first step in any disaster response, or in the current case, COVID-19 response. The second step and next very important step would be to test that business continuity plan to see if it works and what you can improve upon. In the case that you do not have a business continuity plan, an action plan should be in place. An action plan, as part of a larger business continuity plan, can be applied to any pandemic. Lyle outlines these steps of an action plan that should help management and staff: 

Lyle speaks about how an organization can continue operations seamlessly during COVID-19 with the right Business Continuity Plan. Photo: ICC
  • Identify a Crisis Management Team (CMT) 
  • Review work from home capabilities 
  • Ensure that the Emergency Notification System is ready 
  • Develop communications during possible telework situations 
  • Review business critical services/operations 
  • Determine which teams are essential 
  • Work with partners, vendors and suppliers 
  • Remain flexible and adjust policies to fit the new reality. 

COVID-19 Case in Business Continuity Planning for Organizations 

Lyle explained that the right tools can help staff working remotely continue their usual workflows. Cloud-based systems like Office 365, Zoom, Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure have become increasingly critical while most of the working world is still remote. Also, the support of management is an important part of continuing operations. If the crisis management team and human resources is in constant communication with all staff, being accommodating and supportive, staff will feel like they are part of the solution and adhere to all new rules and emergency protocols.  

Challenges to Consider for Remote Work Situations during COVID-19 

Even for the most optimally prepared organization, there are still challenges that persist during a pandemic while staff is working remotely. There is an increase in cyber-risks and threats due to more people are online and depending on the web as a source of information for new developments during a pandemic. Work equipment, like laptops or monitors, can take a while to get to staff and be challenging to manage properly while remote.  Also, staff home with families may need to take time within their shift to go to stores operating during short hours and be with children and pets.  

Plans for Returning to the Office Post-Pandemic

Lyle also provides suggestions on returning to the office and accepting the “new normal” as the restrictions from the pandemic gradually fade. Things to keep in mind upon returning to the office include:

  • Social distancing should be continued.
  • Encourage flexible working arrangements.
  • COVID-19 has proven that working from home is feasible. Leverage that.
  • Adjust working hours to avoid heavy traffic and crowded public transportation .
  • Plan to keep some people working remotely, especially those in high-risk categories (living with elderly parents, pregnant, underlying medical conditions, living with young children, etc.) 
  • Keep measures in place to limit spread of COVID-19 virus .
  • Prepare the office by having it cleaned and having cleaning supplies available for staff.  
  • Conference rooms must be avoided! 

Lyle’s webinar presentation was shared with all participants and received great feedback from many, including those who made comments about taking this knowledge back to their organizations to measure their business continuity plans against the points that Lyle outlined in the virtual webinar. ICC has successfully applied these the steps which Lyle outlined, to our 100% remote working. ICC’s gradual return-to-office plans are still in the preparing and planning phase, to ensure the safest and most efficient return for ICC staff.  

New Partner Organization: UNAIDS

ICC is pleased to announce that the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) has been accepted as an ICC Partner Organization. UNAIDS (see website) leads the global effort to end AIDS as a public health threat by 2030 as part of the Sustainable Development Goals. Since the first cases of HIV were reported more than 35 years ago, 78 million people have become infected with HIV and 35 million have died from AIDS-related illnesses. Since it started operations in 1996, UNAIDS has led and inspired global, regional, national and local leadership, innovation and partnership to ultimately consign HIV to history.

The UNAIDS Business Relationship Manager is Nyuta Fortuna.

About UNAIDS

UNAIDS is a problem-solver. It places people living with HIV and people affected by the virus at the decision-making table and at the centre of designing, delivering and monitoring the AIDS response. It charts paths for countries and communities to get on the Fast-Track to ending AIDS and is a bold advocate for addressing the legal and policy barriers to the AIDS response.

UNAIDS provides the strategic direction, advocacy, coordination and technical support needed to catalyse and connect leadership from governments, the private sector and communities to deliver life-saving HIV services. Without UNAIDS, there would be no strategic vision for the AIDS response.

UNAIDS is a model for United Nations reform and is the only cosponsored Joint Programme in the United Nations system. It draws on the experience and expertise of 11 United Nations system Cosponsors and is the only United Nations entity with civil society represented on its governing body.

UNAIDS Co-sponsors

• UNHCR
• UNICEF
• WFP
• UNDP
• UNFPA
• UNODC
• UN WOMEN
• ILO
• UNESCO
• WHO
• The World Bank.

Enterprise Notification System, a Tool for Emergency Updates

Nearly every UN organization has staff, consultants and other personnel working remotely in this day and age. And due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 disease, many more and sometimes entire organizations are working away from the office. When this current pandemic has slowed, there will undoubtedly be a new normal where remote working will be further embraced. This introduces a new priority – know where your staff and stakeholders are at all times and have an effective tool to share emergency updates and alerts.

ICC’s Enterprise Notification System (ENS) is a communications service that allows ICC to connect with its personnel at any time and in any place. This enterprise tool delivers efficient two-way communications to employees during emergencies and unplanned disruptions. The system is available for use by other UN Agencies.

Notifications can be sent on diverse media, including email, mobile phones, landlines and text messages. The ENS tool also allows for instant communication with the entire organization or selected target groups defined by location and/or function.

During a crisis or disaster, normal methods of communication are unlikely to be available when you need them most. The ENS tool provides the communications backbone for crisis management and other critical enterprise notifications.

The ENS tool uses multiple communications channels depending on the type of notification or the escalation settings defined in the user profile. The ENS main features are:

  • User settings
  • Escalation settings
  • Broadcast groups
  • Notification templates
  • Schedule notifications
  • Notification response processes.

The ENS can be used in the following situations:

  • Sending alerts for an immediate threat (e.g. extreme weather, demonstration, terrorist attack) that requires contact with all personnel and follow-up action in case of no response
  • Triggering service continuity procedures following a widespread incident
  • Reaching out to personnel to request specific action with a confirmation receipt (e.g. update personal details in staff database, personnel-specific incident notification and contact verification).

ICC is now offering support to customize the ENS tool for its Clients and Partner Organizations. This entails configuring each subscriber’s ENS to manage its organizational users and groups, set up data collection specifications, create notification templates to use, compose and send alerts and notifications as well as allow relevant teams and organizational leadership to review notification reports.

The ENS service is managed by the Client with ICC providing tier-2 support and escalations to the vendor. The service allows the Client to ensure fast and efficient alerts to all organizational personnel. This simple, effective and efficient ENS tool provides excellent business continuity value to keep the UN family aware and safe during these challenging times and beyond.

COVID-19 Support – Crisis Communications App

A Core UNICC Capability and a New Service for Clients and Partner Organizations

With the outbreak of Coronavirus COVID-19, every UN organization has staff and stakeholders teleworking worldwide. In this situation, organizations can benefit from an effective tool for centralizing and managing its up-to-the-minute personnel work status, specific and changing geolocations and disseminating critical crisis alerts and updates.

Users can access relevant crisis information such as emergency contacts, company news, FAQs.

UNICC extended the Microsoft Crisis Communications app leveraging the Microsoft Power Platform to support its almost 500 staff and contractors, all teleworking from March through August 2020. The ability to locate staff at a moment’s notice and to send alerts is a critical function in a business-as-usual scenario; in a crisis like the current pandemic, it is absolutely necessary. Personnel may be sheltering in place at home or other unspecified locations – the app makes it a breeze for users to enter their current location and other work status details.

The Crisis Communications app, developed using Microsoft’s PowerApps, connects the organization to its staff with real-time updates. It also shares relevant and timely information to personnel. Users can access company and world news, helpful tips, FAQs, important links and emergency contacts. They can readily share their individual work status with their teams and the organization and make requests to the crisis management team.

The application can be customized to fit the needs of any organization. Some examples of the elements that can be adjusted or added to the app are:

  • Personalization of presence status
  • Text and number of email messages
  • Enabling user location capture
  • Adding functionality for segregation of information, for example by country or office.
  • Integration of information with local data sources
  • Creation of approval mechanisms
  • Customization of the dashboard aggregating organization’s data from other sources, for example with personal contact data.
The Crisis Communication app lets users share from where they are working. Photo: ICC

Users need to have a Microsoft Office 365 license and the organization requires the Microsoft Power BI license for the Power BI Dashboard, although other dashboarding tools can be used. If the organization uses Microsoft Teams, the Crisis Communication app can be embedded into it for a better user experience, but it is not a requisite. Other ways to access the application are through browser or by installing a desktop or mobile version on a computer or device.

The Crisis Communications app can be managed by ICC or by the Client to ensure fast and efficient crisis communications to all organizational personnel. This simple, effective and efficient tool provides excellent business continuity value to keep the UN family aware and safe during these challenging times and beyond.

3D-Printed Masks for Hospitals – ICC Support for COVID-19 Pandemic Response

Technology and creativity are always good allies for solving problems. Especially now, in times of crisis, we can all leverage our resources and skills and use a bit of imagination to help in the best way we can. Some ICC colleagues are participating in hackathons to build software solutions, others watch out for cyber threats to alert users. In this case, Antonio Angelotti, a Service Desk Technician at ICC used his 3D printer to produce masks and valves to be used in hospitals.

Since 2001, Baslug (Basilicata GNU/Linux Users Group), which Antonio chairs, has been disseminating open source and free software, exploring new technologies, such as drones, tracking satellites, antennas and they recently started organising radio amateur activities. In 2014, they bought and assembled several 3D printers and have been using them to print useful objects, like small screwdrivers and knobs and also random items just for fun, such as keychains and egg cups.

A couple of years ago, Baslug, together with other fablabs, makerspaces and hackerspaces, founded an independent and self-financed collective: Officine Mediterranee. With the COVID-19 emergency, Officine Mediterranee discussed various ideas on how to help hospital workers, dedicated people on frontline of the crisis. The teams decided to use 3D printers to fabricate respiratory objects such as masks and valves.

Protezione Civile picking up ABS filament to deliver it to other 3D printer owners who want to print masks. Photo: ICC/Angelotti​

The first plan was to provide a batch of 500 face shields to 118 operators in the region of Basilicata, Italy. Since then, the team has printed over 2000 face shields. They are also working on Charlotte valves, an element that can be attached to diving masks to turn them into respiratory machines.

The group is following health protocols and a medical team validates the work. The Italian Department of Civil Protection (Protezione Civile) is helping with the logistics by collecting and delivering both raw materials and finished products.

Baslug is helping in ways that they know how and  we welcome other ideas and ingenuity to support the COVID-19 pandemic response.

ICC Provides Analytics Support to UNDP’s Crisis Bureau for Assessment and Response to COVID-19

The UNDP Crisis Bureau coordinates speedy, effective and predictable responses to emergency situations of all kinds, from natural disasters to civil conflict, now including the novel Coronavirus pandemic.  

For early warning and response, the Crisis Bureau needed data used to inform UNDP’s assessment of and response to the COVID-19 crisis in support of national partners. 

To that end, ICC’s Data and Analytics Unit worked with the Crisis Bureau to build and deliver in record time a data warehouse solution that sources information from various data sets – two from the World Health Organization (WHO) and one from Johns Hopkins University – displaying it in mapping visualization dashboards.  

The COVID-19 data mart provides the number of confirmed cases and deaths and related statistics from the novel Coronavirus globally, nationally, regionally and locally, to visually interpret global and national trends as well as projections, models and forecasts

WHO reports cases at the country levelwhile Johns Hopkins University data shows information for various modalitiessuch as the province level in China, at the city level in the U.S., Australia and Canada and at the country level across the globe.  

Power BI Dashboard used for testing, validating and monitoring the COVID-19 data ingested in the data warehouse. Photo: ICC

COVID-19 data is extracted from sources on an hourly basis, reconciling web response restrictions imposed by the different platforms where data sets are hosted.

The information is then loaded to a staging area, transformed and finally extracted in presentation-ready formatinto the data warehouse. From there, the UNDP team can easily build their own dashboards with real-time information for analysis and interpretation. 

The COVID-19 data warehouse and dashboard capabilities designed and implemented by ICC’s team will help the Crisis Bureau assesand deliver effective strategies to respond to the ongoing pandemic.   

Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Planning

ICC’s BC/DR service provide continuity planning, testing, and training services comprise a comprehensive management and support system for Clients seeking to improve their organizational resiliency and improve their ability to react. The main goal of this service is to help ICC Clients:

  • Safeguard life, property and the environment
  • Minimize confusion and enable effective decision-making in a time of crisis
  • Minimize the loss of assets, controls, revenue, and impact on customers
  • Continue business operations – providing products and services even during a crisis
  • Facilitate the timely recovery of business-critical functions
  • Satisfy any legal, regulatory or contractual requirements, including ISO-IEC 22301:2019 certification.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Office of Investment Management (or OIM – formerly, the Investment Management Division or IMD) and UN Women are all subscribers to ICC’s new Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Planning (BC-DR) service. This new service supplements many areas of their business, ranging from ICC advisory (continuity planning), infrastructure, platform, cloud management, and information security.

UN Women has ICC-performed annual Disaster Recovery planning reviews, complemented with training, surveys, and testing exercises. ICC has been working with OIM to enhance its Business Continuity, Disaster Recovery, and Information Security posture. ICC is also helping OIM obtain two certifications; one for ISO/IEC 27001 (information security management) and ISO/IEC 22301 (business continuity management). UNDP is a newcomer to this service.

For several clients, ICC reviewed Skype for Business service sizing with validations. The service sustains significant usage increase. Additional VPN gateways have been set up and enabled in Valencia, with enough capacity for increased number of simultaneous users on connections to the VPN.

For specific Clients, ICC also worked on:

  • Scaling up MS Teams Telephony from 80 users to scale up to 2.5K; Setup in 2 weeks
  • Polycom AV Conferencing /Teams integration, global rollout – worldwide
  • Fast tracked VDI transition to operations; Provision of 100+ VDI instances; Increase of capacity to 250+ VDI instances
  • Implementation of a Cloud Management Gateway to manage laptops over the internet
  • Integration of new laptop models and improvements on the deployment process for big rollout
  • Set up of additional SSLVPN licenses
  • Implementation of a Cloud Management Gateway to manage laptops over the internet
  • Roaming laptops and MEMCM communication
  • Integration of new laptop model for large rollout
  • Build of a new terminal server and terminal server licenses installation
  • Supporting increased demand for VPN usage
  • Help managing devices over the internet with VPN + Split tunneling
  • Implementing Cisco Jabber client to extend IP Telephony to teleworking devices.

ICC has five Partner Organizations who signed up for this service prior to the onset of COVID-19, including ADB, UN Women, UNDP, OIM and ICC. Numerous others have benefited from sizing and scaling for the current context of crisis management.