Good infrastructure is vital, says charity IT head

Early adoption of ITIL and VoIP are some of the moves that have made running IT for a global charity effective, says Unicef CIO Andre Spatz. By Rodney Gedda

Managing IT for 11,000 people in 300 locations across 158 countries is made bearable by a unified approach to controlling the underlying infrastructure, says Unicef CIO Andre Spatz.

"It's a piece of cake," Spatz joked in his presentation at the recent HP software forum in Sydney. "It's such a complicated environment. Think about the political environment, not just the infrastructure challenges."

Spatz, who is based in New York, says since Unicef has a "long-term presence", it needs to make changes sustainable, and that's what makes infrastructure critical.

Unicef is part of the United Nations but not funded by it — two-thirds of Unicef's budget comes from voluntary sources and the rest from the private sector.

With about 85% of the staff in the field and the rest in its headquarters, Unicef has "quite a challenge delivering services for children," he says.

"We're running global infrastructure and everyone has the same wherever they are.

"We have servers, desktops, a global helpdesk, SAP at core and a custom-built system for running field [operations]. This is on an IP-only global network with quality of service and we have deployed VoIP in more than 150 locations for over two years. Who said VoIP isn't ready?"

Spatz says all this has to be managed and "it's not simple [so] that's why we use HP OpenView."

Unicef started to put in service management as a core component of its infrastructure in 1998.

"In 1998, ITIL was not top of mind but service management was," Spatz says.

"We have implemented a lot of pieces — global service desk, network surveillance and a service information portal which allows us to see the status of our infrastructure."

Spatz describesd the results as "fairly dramatic" since Unicef now has consolidated operations and global visibility from one centre.

"We can redeploy IT in locations that need to be rebuilt or restaffed," he says, adding that in several countries it was Unicef that trained the first ITIL-certified professional.

"We have deployed according to principles and standards. It's a permanent challenge to deploy enterprise service management to have standard processes."

When asked how he can justify the ROI from such a project, Spatz replies that it's because IT is a fundamental enabler of the organisation. To make the Unicef effective, it needs to make use of money in the best way, he says.

"All business processes are technology-enabled, Logistics, SAP, fundraising, and web content — all information is electronic," he says. "It's compelling and strategic as well [and] not IT for the sake of IT. If we don't deliver, the organisation can't meet its objective."

Vendors think they can get a foot into Unicef's door by playing the charity card, they're grossly mistaken, he says.

"We have done due diligence and are not a charity in terms of contract negotiation.

"We are master of our own technology choices. I don't need help with the selection of technology."