Background

In response to the Committee’s decision at its March 2012 session, organizations reported back on initiatives put in place to reduce costs and achieve efficiencies.  The submissions from organizations were compiled by the CEB Secretariat into CEB/2013/HLCM/4/Rev.2.

Discussion

The Committee was briefed on four of the initiatives that were submitted, selected based on replicability, potential impact in terms of efficiency gains, and relevance to the Strategic Plan.

The first presentation was by the three Rome-based organizations (FAO, IFAD and WFP) and focused on location-based collaboration highlighting two areas: Procurement and Travel.

The first concrete example of this collaboration was on contracts for electricity. Following that first experience, organizations established a common procurement team, hosted by FAO.  This team works together twice a week to handle all of the headquarter procurement for the three agencies. Since 2010 joint tenders totalling approximately $40 Million, have been carried out. Some of the commodities for which joint procurement has been used include electricity, petrol cards, stationary, catering services, cleaning services, mobile phones, and training.

An important lesson learned is that successful collaboration requires trust and hard work, as well as taking practical, flexible and sometimes difficult decisions. Trust has been built up over time and with that, collaboration has increased.  It has also spread to collaboration outside of Rome, with IFAD being hosted by FAO in many country offices. Next steps on the procurement front include consultations with legal divisions with the aim to set up common terms and conditions for contracts and joint procurement review committees.

On travel, the Rome-based organizations negotiated corporate fares, aligned travel policies, and developed a hotel programme currently in 25 cities which negotiates favourable rates with hotels in high volume travel destinations.  Staff members are then required to stay at these hotels that are paid for directly by the organization, leaving only the non-accommodation part of DSA to be disbursed to the staff member.  The potential for savings differs significantly from location to location, but is nevertheless considerable.

In the case presented, collaboration started with procurement as the catalyst but spread across different areas and was becoming a part of the working culture in all three organizations and has strong support from the heads of the three Rome based agencies.

The second topic was IFAD’s reward and recognition programme.  The Committee was briefed on how the system has been designed to ensure that the performance appraisal system is trusted by staff, on how the organization interacted with the ICSC and how funds were allocated.

To address the key component of the approach, trust in the performance appraisal system, the organization hired a consultancy firm to design the system and benchmark performance.  Furthermore, IFAD worked closely with the staff association on how to implement the programme. Concerns regarded the ability of managers to use the appraisal system in a consistent and fair way.  This was seen as a key issue for the success of the programme.  Therefore, a series of trainings were conducted to ensure that managers would apply the same standards and that the system would be used properly.  Furthermore, the information flow to staff was seen as critical and a series of briefings were held to ensure that all staff members were aware of the programme and of what it would entail.

To ensure that the programme was in line with international civil service standards, IFAD worked closely with the ICSC at the design stage.  This consultation was very positive and the organization received significant support from the Commission, which judged the programme to be in line with ICSC guidelines.

In terms of funding, IFAD was successful in getting support from its Executive Board to commit resources up front. This enabled the organization to create a recurring budget allocation for the programme. This also required an update to the organization’s ERP system.  The reward programme will be available to all regular staff and is subject to availability of funds. The system has two tiers, the 2% of staff that score in the top tier of a five point scale and the 10-13% that scores in the second tier of the scale are eligible for rewards.  The lump sum for the top scorers is higher than for those in the second highest tier, and ICSC guidance will be used.  The award is in cash and is not pensionable.  Non-monetary awards such as an additional three days of leave or priority in being selected for Country Office assignments are possible.

The third presentation was on WFPs “Connect System”.  The system focuses on rationalizing communications and reducing the related, considerable expenses. In 2010, WFP started to migrate towards a Unified Communications Platform, called “Connect” that was designed to improve the way workforce communicates and collaborates. The organization set out to give every single staff member, regardless of their location, a much improved email platform, a best of breed instant messenger client, a robust online collaborative space and a global calendaring system.

WFP now has over 10,000 staff in close to 400 locations using the tools. Using the system, during an average day, WFP staff receive close to 300,000 emails, launch 12,000 chat sessions and join 100 virtual conferences.

In addition to the intangible benefits this technology delivers, such as increased knowledge transfer and a feeling of being connected to the rest of the organization (especially important in the deep field), the efficiency gains are evident. WFP moved away from a decentralized technology that required the organization to procure, operate and support servers in each country, to a "cloud" based infrastructure, which is now infinitely easier to manage.  The organization estimates the yearly savings to be at over $3M/Year.

Virtual conferences and instant messaging, using Connect, are on the rise in the organization and 400 hours of meetings are happening every month and a quarter million instant messaging sessions are launched monthly. WFP estimates that the introduction of these new technologies is allowing its workforce to be more productive and is saving, on average, about 5 minutes per staff member per day looking up contacts and reaching colleagues alone. This means that, on a daily basis, WFP gains an extra 100 days of labour.

Furthermore, these meetings happening online do not require a room, extra electricity, a costly phone line or, someone to travel. As a result, it is estimated that the new technology is saving WFP about 10% of mission travel cost to the organization (about $2.6 M/ year).

Now that WFP is on board with this cloud-based technology, it will also be able to upgrade more easily and take advantage of the decreasing costs of bandwidth and storage. The upgrade of its old system took a year. The new one can be upgraded in just under a month. Although costly, WFP expects the project to have a positive return on investment within 3 years.

The final presentation was on UN Women’s application of the UN Secretariat developed PaperSmart meetings and focused on the discussions with the member States regarding the change away from the use of paper.

The PaperSmart initiative was used by UN Women for Executive Board meetings and entailed moving away from the use of paper for board documents and making them all available on line.  The initiative has been applied by the UN and many Funds and Programmes and uses a dedicated portal for the Board sessions, where all documents are uploaded.  These can then be accessed with any digital device. All documents are available four weeks prior to the session.

UN Women did not find it difficult to convince Executive Board members to change to the system.  In order to communicate the change, briefing sessions prior to the Board meeting were held to inform member States of the change and how it worked.  The key to the success appeared to be that all Board members had their own digital devices already, all of which are supported by the platform.

The Committee appreciated hearing about these initiatives and several organizations shared experiences with similar projects.  UNOPS reported on the implementation of a rewards scheme for several years and on how they had overcome any distrust issues and had been able to ensure timely completion of performance appraisals through making it mandatory to complete it on time for staff to be eligible for awards.  IFAD also noted the importance of on-line systems to make it easier to implement and monitor.  Timely completion of appraisals by staff was a concern raised by many members.  UNAIDS shared its experience with a self-booking tool for travel which had already yielded savings.

The Committee appreciated that the ICSC had been an enabling partner to IFAD and UNOPS and this was considered important as other organizations develop performance rewarding schemes. In this respect and in relation to many of the initiatives presented, the HLCM Vice-Chair noted that obstacles are frequently not in inflexible rules and regulations, but rather in organizations’ policies and procedures, as the joint high-level mission to Delivering as One countries had clearly reported.

Action

Took note of the report on actions undertaken by the UN system on efficiency and cost control measures;

Encouraged organizations to replicate as many of the initiatives reported as possible, where they fit with their operational model;

Requested organizations to report on implementation of additional initiatives again at the HLCM Spring 2014 session.