The UN Foundation Builds a Better Tech Foundation

At the most basic level, the United Nations Foundation, the advocacy arm of the United Nations, connects people, ideas and resources in the quest to create a better world. Last year, the organization identified 17 critical goals that it hopes to accomplish by 2030. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was adopted by more than 150 world leaders in September 2015.

However, addressing these issues—including climate change, hunger, poverty, gender equality and education—is a huge task. It requires significant money along with powerful information technology.

“Our employees travel the world in support of the UN mission,” says Edima Elinewinga, executive director of International Technology for the UN Foundation, which has offices in New York City and Washington, D.C. “It is important for them to have access to essential information, whether they are in the office or at a refugee camp in Kenya. Communication and collaboration are critical elements in achieving results and attaining our goals.”

In the past, keeping upward of 300 workers fully connected was challenging—and, at times, frustrating. Many global locations offer limited Internet access, low bandwidth and an overall lack of security.

As a result, conducting business globally was difficult because employees typically had to rely on loaner laptops with a VPN and remote desktop connection at many locations. In addition, there’s an ongoing need to prove to auditors that the organization is adequately protecting its data, including financial data that involves audits and grants.

Finding a Better Way to Support Global Connectivity

In 2013, the UN Foundation began looking for a better way to support global connectivity. The organization turned to Dell to take its communication and collaboration technologies into the 21st century.

A variety of hardware and software systems were installed, including Dell Networking S4810 10GbE Switches, a Dell Networking W-3400 wireless controller, a Dell Storage PS Series iSCSI storage area network (SAN), and Dell PowerEdge R520 and R620 servers. At the same time, the organization migrated to Microsoft Office 365 and Skype for Business so its staff members could join audio and video conferences remotely.

“The idea was to provide maximum flexibility for our users, whether they are sitting in a Starbucks, in a train or at a site in another country,” Elinewinga explains. “They can communicate via videoconferencing or audio conferencing and can access a critical file or database without any barriers.”

The foundation’s employees use laptops that support encryption and other security features. “The environment provides the level of flexibility and security that the organization requires, and it serves as a base for future growth and expansion,” she adds.

It’s an approach that will serve the organization well moving forward, according to Elinewinga. She estimates that the UN Foundation has reduced telecommunications costs by about 50 percent by moving from a PBX to a unified communications framework.

More importantly, “The culture has changed dramatically, and a far more collaborative and connected environment has taken root,” she says. Employees now come together virtually and edit documents on a whiteboard, view presentations collaboratively, and share data and information anywhere and at any time.

The UN Foundation is now looking at adding more advanced data and analytics tools that can exploit the hardware and software currently in place. “We have an IT infrastructure and storage to fully support our mission as we attempt to address some very ambitious and difficult goals in the years ahead,” Elinewinga reports.