Two (or more) heads are better than one

Adhering to the timeless saying that two heads are better than one, IT officers from United Nations agencies in Bolivia are whole heartedly embracing the concept of a united, United Nations. With a number of joint activities, projects and agreements either already in place, or in the pipeline, agencies across this South American country are working together to become more efficient and more effective.

“The concept of inter-agency cooperation is not that new in Bolivia,” says Andres Justiniano, IT Officer for World Food Programme (WFP) Bolivia. “We have been working together for a while now.”

One of the joint initiatives already in place is the ‘Inter-Agency ICT cooperation, advisory and support agreement’. Signees of this agreement have agreed to provide ICT user support to each other during absences of their regular ICT Officers. “If I go on vacation, for example,” says Justiniano, “I can ask someone in ICT from another agency to look after WFP users so there is no disruption of services.” A formal Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) has been signed between the country directors. Signees of the MoU are Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), UN Development Programme (UNDP), Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OACNUDH), UN Population Fund (UNFPA), World Health Organisation (WHO), UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and WFP.

“Being able to rely on other agencies to support our users is an enormous help,” says Justiniano. “They know in a general way how our network is structured and what typical issues may come along. This makes them a much more reliable and more competent support system than any external IT person.”

Another project employed by Bolivia’s UN agencies is ‘Business Continuity Plan Support’. “There is a constant threat of road blocks or demonstrations which mean we can’t reach the office. WFP, UNDP and UNICEF are working on an agreement that we will lend each other workspace and equipment, and provide internet connectivity so that we can continue operating if our own facilities become unreachable.”

“We are also working to deploy virtual servers,” says Justiniano. “The idea is that the servers are ‘hardware independent’ so we can deploy the entire server in another physical location, if necessary, in an emergency. If, for some reason, the server becomes inaccessible, I can then go to my back-up and deploy most of the services on another machine in a different agency.”

Other joint projects in the pipeline include inter-agency wireless password sharing and remote online backup.

“The ICT working group meets regularly to discuss our operations and share knowledge. Knowledge sharing is one of the most important parts of what we do in ICT.”

“We are all in the humanitarian field and we are all in IT trying to help our colleagues so our programmes have the right impact,” says Justiniano. “It doesn’t matter which agency we are from, we experience very similar problems so if we can share, we can learn from each other’s experiences.”