Digital Transformation at the United Nations (CXOTalk #764)

Digital Transformation at the United Nations (CXOTalk #764)

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One of the key strengths of the United  Nations is our ability to convene,   the convening power. You can't transfer all  the legal instruments that are applicable to   the physical existence and think that there will  be efficiency applied in the digital existence.  That's Bernardo Mariano, Jr., Chief Information  Technology Officer of the United Nations.  My role in United Nations revolves  around three levers: ensure, to enable,   and to secure. To ensure that digital  technologies, information communication   technologies supports the mandate of the  United Nations. The digital technologies  

enable innovations to really create efficiency  and make sure that we advance and accelerate   the achievement of sustainable-driven goals as  well as our common agenda, which is (what in   the private sector would be the equivalent  of a strategy) the next five-year strategy.   But as well as to make sure that our data  and digital assets are secure because the   cyber-attacks, we're not excluded from that. I would say, 40 years ago, a flag of the United   Nations was enough for everyone to say, "Okay,  let's not do anything. Let's respect the blue   helmets." Today, in the cyberspace, even in  the physical space, the United Nations flag   is not enough. So, we're not immune to attacks.  Securing the UN data and digital assets is one   of the core areas of that of my mandate. I think people don't realize that the  

United Nations has a very sophisticated and  elaborate broadcasting capability because   we all want to watch those meetings. Your  organization is responsible for that as well.  Yes, indeed. If you watch the security council,  if you watch the deliberations of the general   assembly, if you are able to follow those  discussions, behind that it's a great team   from my office that makes it possible. Together  with the other colleagues from the general   assembly meeting and secretaries, we make it  possible to make sure that these discussions   and the interventions of the heads of states that  you hear reach everyone in this world. Indeed,   there's a great team behind it, but also to make  sure that we protect it from any malicious attack   that would try to interfere in those proceedings. Before the UN, you were the CIO at the World   Health Organization. I just have to ask you  what was that like to be in the middle of  

WHO during the pandemic. It was intense, the first   pandemic in the digital era where, in addition to  what the virus was creating and was creating in   the physical system, the whole misinformation and  the whole digital issues that we had to deal with,   to the point that actually the term  "infodemic" was started and emerged.  Yes, I had an intense period. But I want to  thank the collaboration of the private sector  

of somewhere around 60 companies that gave a lot  of pro bono support, tech companies, gave pro bono   supports to the World Health Organization, but  also a number of universities and civil society.  While it was intense from the perspective of the  number of hours dedicated to address the challenge   that we had every day, but it also was rewarding  from the perspective of seeing nontraditional   partnerships emerge, especially between  private-public sector, to really, together,   work towards supporting to address and better  manage the pandemic. That was the rewarding part,   and it was great to be there. It was great  to be able to witness that common work and  

collaboration with a number of sectors that  normally we don't work together in partnership.  Your work at the United Nations, tell us more  about that and where you're focused. Then   let's dive into digital transformation  at the UN. Just set the stage for us. 

The strategy centered around three areas: digital  transformation, innovation, and cyber security.   Those are the three areas that the  strategy of the UN is centered.  That digital transformation, the strategy  speaks to the secretary general's common agenda.   And within the common agenda, there are 12  commitments. Out of these 12 commitments,   there is a commitment number 8 which  says, "Upgrade the United Nations."  Within that, "Upgrade United Nations," there  is one of the targets, which is "Quintet of   Change" that addresses data and then digital,  addresses analytics, addresses innovation,   addresses strategic foresight, performance  indicators, so addresses a number of areas where   information technology is not just an enabler.  It's actually a precondition to achieve the UN,  

the upgrade of the UN, or the UN 2.0. That's where the center of the strategy   is to really take an upgrade to the United Nations  to make sure that all the great work that we do in   the physical ecosystem, all the deliverables help  support all the work on peace and security that we   do in the physical ecosystem. There is some sort  of, I call it – I don't want to call it a mirror,   but perhaps a twin of that work in the digital  existence. How do we ensure that the upgraded UN  

operates better or as well as it  operates in the physical system   in this emerging digital ecosystem? It's interesting you used the term   digital twin. It sounds like you are trying  to replicate the activities of the UN in the   digital sphere, but in some cases even  do it better – from what you're saying.  Yes, indeed. The question that I ask when I  interact with my colleagues – the United Nations   secretary, heads of somewhere around the 60  entities, and those 60 entities deliver different   parts of the mandates, let alone the agencies,  funds, and programs that we have in the United   Nations, so it can add up to somewhere around  100 entities across the system delivering all   the 17 targets of sustainable development goal. Now, we have been operating in this physical  

ecosystem, and the question I ask and how I  start to trigger the conversation about the   digital transformation, it is about what are we  doing as United Nations in the digital ecosystem.   What are the services that we have available  in the physical ecosystem that we want to see   then in the digital ecosystem? And how are  we either doing advocacy or actually run   operations in that digital ecosystem? Basically, what is the UN--?  If I take the example of, for instance, gaming,  so a gamer is operating in that digital ecosystem,   where does he find United Nations when he or  she is actually inside the game operating in   that particular ecosystem, let alone in other  ecosystems? This conversation started because,   when I visited the tech sector in San  Francisco (when I was at the World Health   Organization) that was the conversation I  was having with Google, Facebook, Amazon,   and Apple about the presence or absence of  United Nations in the digital ecosystem.  Please subscribe to our newsletter and  subscribe to our YouTube channel, so you   can stay up to date on our amazing live shows. You began with the examination of the role of the   UN and then the digital aspect followed from that. Traditionally, depending on the generation. My   generation, perhaps I would say the Web was  a great thing. Today's generation, the Web is  

actually pretty old. So, there is the metaverse  that is starting to emerge, but there is the old   social media, there is old platforms. If you take, for instance, Google,   or take Facebook, and today everybody, before they  go to a doctor or do something, they Google. Based   on that, they are informed in that space. If the United Nations is not present in   those platforms and ecosystems, the answers we  want to give to the world (be it government,   be it individuals) will also be absent. If  there is absence of United Nations' perspective,  

then that void, that vacuum will  be filled in and can be potentially   filled in by either inaccurate information or  misinformation that then takes its own life.  Therefore, the role is to really make sure that  what we do in the physical ecosystem, we create   those capacity capability information and access  in these digital existence. Of course, we have to   remember that a little bit more than half of the  world is connected, so there is the other part   that's not connected. So, we need to operate  in this hybrid world in those two ecosystems.  Talk to us more about this ecosystem  concept that you've described a few   times – that you've mentioned a few times. I think it starts with what piece of  

information you have or what impact you  want to make in the world. Based on that,   it goes to how do you want to reach your  audience, be it individuals or government.  Think about this analog perspective where,   for instance, you use the radio to pass a  message or to inform about anything you're   doing. Then you actually forget about the  Internet. You forget about social media.  If we operate in one channel, then basically we  have part of the world listening to us. Therefore,   the work of the United Nations, the  services that United Nations provide,   the capacity that United Nations brings to  government, people, and societies needs to   be delivered in those multiple channels. Those channels, I divide those into the   two ecosystems. One is the physical ecosystem  where actually somebody from United Nations  

goes to a beneficiary and delivers the aid (if  it's humanitarian) or speaks with a government   or two governments to discuss about peace  and security. Or the other ecosystem where   perhaps two governments are starting to attack  each other in the digital ecosystem, so it   could be actually a precondition of a war where it  starts in that digital ecosystem where then if we   are able to intervene earlier, so we are able to,  of course, avoid impact on the physical ecosystem.  We have an interesting question from Twitter.  This is from Arsalan Khan. He's a regular  

listener and always asks such good questions. He says, "How do you develop a five-year strategic   plan with input from 190 members" – I'm not sure  if I have that number correct – "given the fact   that they will not all be at the same stage  of digital transformation? How do you create a   common understanding from these member states when  you're trying to develop a common single plan?"  Think about 193 member states, and you wanted  to say that, okay, perhaps the outcome of a   strategy will be an average strategy, meaning  that the strategy will not be excellent or will   not be so bad. But the way we operate in this is  that basically, first of all, we engage with the   private sector to support us in that movement of  the strategy. We engage with some experts that the   country sent to work with us to really fine-tune  that strategy and the member states approve.  But like any role for any CIO, there are two  elements that the CIO's responsibility is   important and cannot be underestimated. One is of  course to share the vision, so the way forward.  

But the other one is to actually educate your  own audience about the importance of that   particular vision. Meaning that if a country  maturity on digital or on technology is low,   it is my responsibility to actually create,  raise the awareness of that particular member   state to help them understand the importance  of that particular vision in the strategy.   That's how I address the different levels  of maturity across countries on technology. 

But also, the same is applicable even internally  within the different entities that we have.   There's a different level of maturity in terms of  technology that my role is for those who are early   adopters, they are advanced in that maturity  level. So, of course, they quickly understand   that vision. For those who are not, then it's  my responsibility to actually bring, raise that  

level by creating that enabling environment for  them to understand the importance of that vision.  Your vision is very, very forward-thinking, the  idea of replicating the physical ecosystem into   the digital world, anticipating relationships,  digital relationships that may not be happening   yet. Are there challenges getting  so many diverse points of view on   board with this or does everybody sort of get it? I mean there are challenges (based on what I just   described) in terms of understanding. But also,  there are challenges around the risk appetite   of different member states vis-à-vis those  frontier technologies and solutions. But also,   there are challenges related to different  interests of the different member states   that are members of the United Nations. Those challenges are there, and if I   take that and bring it within a company, we  also have similar challenges meaning that   there are some people, some entities will  say, "Let's do it." Some others will say,  

"No, let's not do it," because of the different  levels of risk appetite for each one of them.  One of the key strengths of the United Nations is  our ability to convene, the convening power. We   mastered that ability to convene and try to find  consensus, start to find understanding, and trying   to chart a common agenda, a common strategy. But, yeah, behind the scenes, it is not as   smooth as I am describing because it requires  a lot of negotiations, a lot of interactions,   a lot of informal interactions (in addition  to the formal interactions) to make sure   that everyone is on the same page. We have a really interesting question   that's just come in from LinkedIn.  This is from Suman Kumar Chandra,  

who says this – and he's talking about  this ecosystem and getting everybody on   the same page – "After you share the vision  with all of the entities and the countries,   how do you measure the success of digital  transformation when all of these countries   are at different levels of maturity?" He  wonders if you can give some examples.  The basic question is, how do you measure the  success of digital transformation in such a very   diverse environment in which you are operating? My office, in this case, we support the   secretariat. I mentioned the UN 2.0. But also,  we support entities that support countries,   so we work in partnership in those instances. But then, within the countries, if I give an   example of counterterrorism, we work with the  United Nations Office of Counterterrorism,   supporting a number of countries to  develop the capacity to address this   problem in two areas. One is basically on  the travel area, so counterterrorism travel,   and the other one is counterterrorism financing. Within that, we do have, for instance,  

countries such as Norway that are  very advanced. They already created,   for instance, a passenger information unit  that really is able to work within the country,   within the national setting, to track this issue.  But remember, counterterrorism is not national,   it's transnational, so any country  alone cannot solve that problem. 

Together with United Nations Office  of Counterterrorism, we promoted the   establishment of a personal information,  passenger information unit in countries in   such a way that they can share practices and  all the rest. From the technology standpoint,   my team supports that with the technologies. Now, within that technology, we do have a   situation where, for instance, in Norway,  they have already some systems. We need just  

to integrate the system we developed with  them in countries such as my own country.  I can use Mozambique because I am from Mozambique.  Then I will not offend anyone. Perhaps the level   of maturity – not perhaps. For sure, the level  of maturity is low in the technology front,   so then we support the establishment of a system  almost end-to-end to address end-to-end processes.  On one end, we have an end-to-end process. On the  other end, we have perhaps an application program  

interface that interfaces with an existing system  that just adds that component of counterterrorism.  That's how we address the different maturity, and  both from a technology perspective but also from   financial support that some countries will not  require that. The other countries will require   that. Some countries will not require a lot of  training, some will, so that's how we address it.  That's one of the challenges of the UN  across all services we provide because   we have countries with a different level  of maturity on pretty much everything.  You have a common mandate but then you work  individually with each country based on where   they are at the particular moment in time  and what they need. Then you help supply  

the capabilities based on those particular needs. Yes, and then the performance indicator is not a   cross-cutting performance indicator that says,  "Okay, every country should be here," but it's   a performance indicator that says this is the  baseline and that's the progress we want to see.  Actually, this is an excellent question  in terms of the performance indicator   of digital transformation. Being the  chief information technology officer,   I would say the most senior technologist in  the United Nations, I also chair a group that   brings all the CIOs and CTOs of United Nations. In our next meeting in Geneva, in Switzerland,   next month, this is one topic that the group is  bringing to the table to find a common ground.  

We are bringing some private sector companies  to actually also support us in addressing the   measures or the elements that will  allow us to bring, within the system,   the performance indicators to measure the progress  of digital transformation in the United Nations.  The example I gave to you was related to  countries, so how we support countries. But   certainly, the key performance indicators  to measure digital transformation is what   we need to make sure that we can either  decide that we are static, regressing,   or progressing in that transformation. On this note, Arsalan Khan comes back,   and he says, "How do you gain consensus with  such a large group, 193 member countries?"  The strategy, for instance, if I take the strategy  as an example, it goes to a group of experts that   we have. It's a smaller group of 30+ members that  then they are the ones who actually provide the  

recommendation of whether what we wrote in the  strategy is in line with the other strategic   elements of the targets of United Nations. That group of experts provide the recommendations   to the 193 member states who then, in the  general assembly, they meet and they look at   those recommendations from the experts. They look  at what we provide. They look at the answers we   provided to all the questions from this group of  experts. Then they make a decision based on that. 

Let's talk about data. Can you describe  or tell us about the role of data in   your digital transformation efforts? If you actually look at the top ten   largest companies or richest companies in the  world, you will see at least three of them that   leverage on data: Amazon, Alphabet, Google, Apple  – to name a few – even Facebook. So, the largest—  Data is a new, I would say, valuable asset.  But to leverage on that, on data, there are a   number of capabilities that we need to develop. As part of the secretary general data strategy,  

we need to, first of all, attract more  professions on data science. But also,   we need to leverage on the diverse data sets that  we have, and we need to develop capacities and   democratize data analytics, which we are doing. But also, making sure that data privacy is an   increasing part because we talk about human  rights in the physical ecosystem. Human rights   in the digital ecosystem requires data privacy. Those are the kinds of work that we're doing,  

the type of work we're doing within the United  Nations secretariat, but also across the United   Nations systems to make sure that the asset  that today is very valuable, which is data, it's   preserved, it's nurtured, and it's used for the  benefit of all and to really advance the goals,   and especially the sustainable development goals,  that we have agreed with the countries, the 17   goals, in addition to the 12 commitments of the  United Nations secretary general common agenda.  That is the work that we do on data. I'm assuming that your organization,   your team, is also responsible on a technology  level for ensuring that there is some (to the   extent possible) consistency on the kinds of  data that's being collected and providing the   infrastructure for that. Or is that left just  to the individual countries? How does that work? 

One of the areas on data is the development  of interoperability capabilities within,   across, because the United Nations is like a  large, multilateral, federal system of many,   many entities. Then, of course, there  are data sets and siloed data across.   Similar, if you take a government at the  national level, you also have silos of data.  We look at what the private sector has done to  leverage on data, how interoperability was a key   component to make sure that one version of the  truth is there and not two versions, but also to   make sure that duplication does not exist in terms  of data, in terms of how we leverage on that data.  Basically, with that in mind, and with that goal  in mind, we address it in two prongs. One is,  

of course, internal work. But the other one is  how do we bring the private sector to collaborate.  We have great work. Even when I was at the World  Health Organization, we had great work with a   number of private sectors to create, for instance,  the World Health Data Hub. Some countries,   plus private sector, came together to create that. The World Health Data Hub is not about a data   warehouse, like bring all the data together  into one system, because that's an old concept.  

It's about how do you leverage on the data  that exists in those siloed systems that   create that interoperability framework. The same thing that we promote countries   to do, the same thing that we work with the  United Nations Tech Envoy to really establish   that digital cooperation. There is a digital  cooperation report from secretary general   that addresses that to make sure that countries  leverage on those platforms of interoperability,   be it open-source or not, to actually being able  to better use the data assets that they have. 

Arsalan Khan comes back again. Arsalan is on a  roll today. He says, "How do you ensure that there   are checks and balances that the data is being  used properly, that there's no data manipulation   of other members? How do you ensure that?" Cybersecurity is a key component. But as I said   before, data protection and privacy is key. First, from the policy perspective. You   do have countries that don't have that,  updated data protection and privacy. But   we look at it from, one, the policy itself.  Second, the capability to protect against  

any malicious attempt to either manipulate,  change, or access (or access and sell, perhaps).  We work in those two fronts, from the policy  perspective and operational perspective, to make   sure that the data is protected. There are United  Nations agencies that work with beneficiaries,   so we do have data protection and privacy  enforced to ensure that the data is not misused.  At the national level, of course, we promote  and encourage countries. If they don't have   instruments to then look at the international  instruments (from the policy perspective)   to protect the data of their citizens. Chris Petersen comes back, and he says,  

"Does the UN take a position on the rollout of  global technology services (such as Starlink, for   example) and the power to turn that off or turn it  on at will by private entities?" It's a little bit   more into the policy side. I'm not sure if  you're comfortable taking a stab at that one.  I think the question is what role of private  sector have in delivering services such as   Internet like Starlink. But also, you  can talk about Facebook. You can talk   about even Twitter, right? I think that's where I say,   in that digital transformation, the new  partnerships between public and private   sector needs to be strengthened. But not only  that. The legal frameworks that we have in the   physical ecosystem needs to be changed to in the  digital ecosystem because you can't transfer all   the legal instruments that are applicable to the  physical ecosystem and think that they will be   efficiently applied in the digital ecosystem. We encourage countries, through the different   mechanisms that we have in the convening power  of United Nations, to raise that awareness,   to make sure that countries look into those areas  to ensure that as the new business models emerge,   the protection that is required and the  security that is required is preserved.  

I can give you an example from that (that I  give normally when I speak about those things).  Think about Amazon and the bookstore. The  bookstore used to exist selling books in   many countries. Today, the bookstore perhaps  doesn't exist anymore because people just   order from Amazon. But Amazon does not have a  shop in that country. It's a global company.  The rules of even taxation need to change because  suddenly the bookstore that was registered in a   specific country was paying local taxes  and whatnot. It doesn't exist anymore.  Think about Uber. There is a change in this  digital transformation of different sectors. 

I just gave you an example of a retail sector or  books, but also the transport sector as it relates   to Uber. But there are many other sectors  where then countries' rules, procedures,   and legal frameworks needs to be adjusted to make  sure that the protection of the consumer is there.  From the United Nations, our role, as having a  convening power, brings countries together. We   bring the private sector in to discuss the rules  of engagement as we embark and transform different   sectors to make sure that the physical ecosystem  and the digital ecosystem coexist in such a way   that one doesn't impact negatively on the other. Your view of digital transformation seems   extremely broad. It's not just the technology but  it's all of the other pieces. How do you translate  

the physical world into the digital realm? As you  said, it may be technology itself as the enabler,   but you've been talking about things like  business models and legal frameworks,   for example, so you have a very broad view. We have a digital business transformation   strategy for peacekeeping, just to give  you an example. That's peacekeeping,   right? Peacekeeping, what is peacekeeping? Peacekeeping, we go to a country after the   security council decides, gives us the mandate,  and we establish a peacekeeping operation. The   peacekeeping operation normally in  those countries means a huge camp,   which is a very physical infrastructure that we  establish there for a number of years, operating   thousands of staff (both civilian and military  personnel) that operate in that environment.  The digital business transformation for  peacekeeping, if I take one example,   smart camps means that we need to transform how  we manage that camp in the digital ecosystem,   meaning we do have a program called Unite Aware  that basically we have a reflection of the camp   in the digital ecosystem. What are we doing  in terms of power generation? How much fuel  

consumption we have. Where we have incidents.  All that is created in this digital ecosystem.  I wouldn't call it a twin, but it's a  reflection of what is happening on the ground.   For that requires transformation of the business,  transformation of processes, a change in   capabilities of people to actually create new  process procedures. That's where, when I say   digital transformation, we should read digital  business transformation, where technology is a   piece of it but the business is a bigger piece. We have another question from LinkedIn,   and we're just about out of time. We have  a few more questions. You can see I love  

taking questions from the audience. I'll  ask you to answer these relatively quickly   because we're just going to run out of time,  and I try to get everybody's questions in.  Okay, this is again from Suman  Kumar Chandra, and he says,   "Can you give one or two examples of how digital  transformation at the UN helps people at the base   of the pyramid in a big way?" How does digital  transformation help those who are less fortunate?  We used to do cash grants. We do cash  grants in many agencies. I'm talking  

about agency funds and programs in the  United Nations, so across the system.  Meaning that if there is an earthquake or  cyclone, we can have an operation where we   give cash grants, so you help with the housing  and all the rest. But then we say, "Okay,   here is an amount of money for the family  to be able to go through that difficulty."  We transformed that into digital money where  then mobile money becomes a vehicle instead of   cash grants. With that, we are able to  track whether the expenses of the cash  

grant actually is addressing the need of that  family. Meaning, if the cash grant was meant—  If I give cash, let's say you can say $100 or $300  for a family in cash, I have no way to actually be   sure that actually the $300 was used for what was  the intended purpose. But with mobile money, then   that becomes possible to measure the effectiveness  of that cash grant. This is just one example. 

We have one more question. Again, I'll ask  you to answer this very quickly. Again, from   Arsalan Khan, he keeps coming back, and he says,  "Does your organization give advice to the member   states about the impact of AI on their workforce?" We do have a number of working groups on AI. Even   during my time at World Health Organization,  we have a working group to deliver the   ethical use of AI in the health sector. Yes, we do give advice to countries. Currently,  

we do have an interagency group that  works on the impact of AI, so yes.  The answer is yes, we do provide advice  not only on AI, the use of other frontier   technologies such as blockchain, and then  the elements of protections that countries   need to have to make sure that they ripe the  benefits of those technologies. But also,   we want them to make sure that they minimize  the risks that these technologies bring as well. 

Now we really are out of time, and so I'm going  to ask you one final question of my own. What   advice or message do you have to policymakers  in government on digital transformation?  Digital transformation, as I mentioned before, is  not just about introducing a new technology. It's   about introducing a new way of business. If I take health as an example,   we have the target for health for all, so  telemedicine is one way where technology   supports. Food security is another one. But all I want to say, first of all, is that   countries need to consider the creation of,  I would say, entities or assignment of some   entities in the government that track digital  transformation. I want to commend a number  

of countries that already established  either ministries or offices that track   digital transformation at a national level. But countries that are developing countries,   my message is digital transformation  can help leapfrog that development gap   if it's well used. If countries want to  leverage digital transformation, the whole   of government approach and the establishment of  cross-cutting services across government would   help governments to really leverage on digital  transformation to achieve the national goals but   also sustainable development goals. All I want to say is that it is   countries, from a policy perspective but also  practice, will need to put attention to it.   Of course, from the United Nations perspective  (and also, all the multilateral organizations),   we are there to help to make sure that countries  advance from where they are today to where they   should be (with the help of technology). Okay. Again, a very broad view of digital   transformation. I want to say a  huge thank you to Bernardo Mariano,  

Jr. He is the chief information technology  officer of the United Nations. Bernardo,   thank you for coming back to be a  guest on CXOTalk. I hope that you   will come back for a third time. A pleasure to be here. Thank you.  Thank you to everybody who is watching,  especially to those folks who ask such   excellent questions. Now, before you go,  please subscribe to our newsletter and   subscribe to our YouTube channel, so you can  stay up to date on our amazing live shows. 

Thank you so much, everybody. I hope you have  a great day, and we'll see you again soon.

2022-11-04 17:10

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