Tags: Innovating on Business Operations
The UN has been able to run several exciting new experiments in our business operations. Changing the way we work is an opportunity to save money, offer better service, and even test out ideas that could be implemented on a larger scale.
Why do we need innovations in business operations?
The UN operates in 165+ countries, often under difficult conditions. Accompanying governments with new sustainable development tactics often requires the full UN system to leverage each other’s assets to avoid duplicating costs while retaining decentralized operations. It necessitates smart use of ICT to facilitate programme implementation in remote and isolated areas.
The UN also models ways to improve its carbon and human rights footprint. This means using renewable energy sources, while at the same time reducing waste and promoting recycling. The development of “green” UN premises is a key driver for this agenda, as well as more effective use
of our fleet, reducing travel frequency and reduction of our consumption patterns where possible. It means using labour and sustainability standards while procuring goods and services, both for the UN as well as for supply chain partners.
Innovations in business operations are designed to find new or non-obvious ways to reduce costs, improve humanitarian access to remote or dangerous areas, support governments to ensure equity in the implementation of their basic service policies and use data to inform how investment decisions are
made. A key assumption of the innovations tested as joint UN ventures is that the UN can test small-scale methods that can later become models for governments in their own logistics, procurement and design endeavours.
Innovations in the use of ICT can facilitate better ways of working – for example by supporting programme implementation in remote or crisis-affected areas.
What we’ve done
In Pakistan, the UN country team has established a policy which requires business operations to be as compliant with UN fundamental principles as programme work is. Despite initial hesitation by several staff, they’ve been able to develop guidelines and have started to run training sessions with staff on human rights and environment, equipping them in turn to undertake assessments with partners.
In Laos, the UN tested car-pooling between agencies. This cut down on the size of the fleet and its emissions. The pilot project showed how the UN can use carpooling to reduce costs, increase efficiency, and make a positive environmental contribution.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the UN Country Team tested new ICT tools to support joint operational processes. With all agencies now housed in one building, the ICT team crowdsourced ideas for apps that could help streamline processes and enable the different entities to work together more effectively. The team has created all-agency apps for vehicle, meeting room and workstation booking on the country’s One UN intranet, as well as for IT, building management and communications services requests.
- It is helpful to use evidence to encourage behavioural change. The success rate in getting people to adopt new behaviours is greater when change-makers can demonstrate tangible potential impacts such as cost savings.
- Being able to show initial or early results helps get people on board. Instead of going for full implementation immediately, starting small and achieving quick wins can be a better way to persuade others about the value of a project. This can also help move the project towards a “tipping point”: as more UN agencies become involved, more agencies want to join in with the experiment.
- It’s essential to keep the end users in mind at all times. For example, the fleet drivers in Laos weren’t accustomed to using car-pooling style mobile apps and this created some teething problems when it came to setting up the service. Having stakeholders involved in the design from the beginning helps you create something that’s easy to adopt and use.
As many of the processes where we are testing innovations are common to UN operations around the world, there are huge opportunities to streamline and roll these innovations out to other UN country teams and even beyond.
Where innovation focuses on streamlining operations across agencies, individual agencies need to prioritize the advantages to the UN system as a whole. It will be important to find appropriate ways to share costs and allocate funding to business innovations, as well as finding ways to learn and replicate good practices.
The UN needs to maintain awareness about innovation and emerging ideas outside of the UN. What new practices from other sectors can we adopt and adapt to improve the way that we work?