By Baselinemag  |  Posted 2004-01-16 Print this article Print

Remote personnel, incompatible computer gear, unreliable power and communications lines, and equipment-disabling lightning strikes are just some of the obstacles confronting the technology managers supporting the United Nations' peacekeeping mission in Si

. 3, The restaurant at the Hotel Bintumani, Sierra Leone">

Nov. 3, The restaurant at the Hotel Bintumani, Sierra Leone

All week long, colleagues and public affairs personnel have been warning Mayordomo about things he shouldn't talk about with a reporter. But for the most part, he has been content to show his operation warts and all.

"I haven't tried to filter," Mayordomo says. "You've seen the firefighting, the tap dancing." One measure of success is the volume of complaints pouring into his office. "If it's escalating, then I'm losing control," he says.

In the big picture, he thinks he is making progress. Where U.N. procurement rules used to prohibit direct contact with vendors, as DPKO I.T. chief he has been able to establish long-term contracts with key vendors like Cisco and Hewlett-Packard that allow for more open communication. "How can they understand the way we operate, the way we do business, if we don't sit down with them face-to-face?" he asks.

But as UNAMSIL's technology leader, he is still struggling with the basics, like getting better performance from his help desk. The issue is personal for him because many mission officials have gotten in the habit of calling him directly instead. Just this morning, he was on the phone with someone who called to complain about a network slowdown.

"Do you have the 24-hour pager number for the duty technician? You're laughing, but this has been published since I got here," he told the caller. "Do you want the number or not? When you call me, I in turn call the help desk, so you're just prolonging the circle."

Ultimately, the communications and information-technology organization needs to learn to function more like a business, he says. "If someone is not performing, get rid of them. If the equipment is not working, pull it out." There ought to be service-level agreements so the "customers"—the military and civilian constituencies within DPKO—have some guarantees about the reliability of the network and of the technical support behind it.

DPKO needs to move away from improvising so much and to start planning better, particularly in terms of providing the technical manpower to support the rapid deployment of a mission, not just the equipment. He sees the pattern playing out again in Liberia, where the absence of a self-sufficient technical staff meant that he had to send in one of his people to fix a relatively simple configuration issue with the mission's financial software.

But, as difficult as it may be to set up shop in regions of the world torn apart by war, coups or other violence, it is even harder to settle into such a locale and reliably deliver and maintain network services throughout the life of a peacekeeping mission.

"We're able to start up quickly, but we're not able to sustain it," he says. "New deployments of missions are always chaotic, but that doesn't mean we should just accept it. It's not the first time we're doing this. We've been doing this for years."


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