Background

In March 2011, under the guidance of its Sub-Committee on Improved Efficiency and Cost Control Measures (Phase 1), HLCM completed an exercise (CEB/2011/HLCM/14) that identified quick and high yielding actions for increasing efficiency or controlling costs in the areas of:

  • Procurement and Common Services;
  • Governing Bodies, Meetings and Conference Services;
  • Greater application of ICT in our existing businesses and operations;
  • Adoption of new or re-designed ways of doing business; 
  • Efficiency measures in Human Resources management.

HLCM recommendations were discussed by CEB at its Informal Breakfast session on 2 April 2011, after which the Secretary-General requested HLCM to support the overall change management process that he had asked the Deputy Secretary-General to lead, by undertaking further work on how the UN system can “do more with less”.

The HLCM Sub-Committee’s second phase was subsequently initiated, under the Terms of Reference reflected in CEB/2011/HLCM/15. The tasks were:

  • The identification of selected actionable and high yielding ideas and/or summaries of experience on how CEB member organizations have successfully increased efficiency or controlled costs in the last one or two years.
  • The creation of a prioritized list of joint actions that could be adopted by all or clusters of CEB member organizations, in the functional areas under the purview of HLCM.
  • The initial identification of relevant financial, human resources and procurement regulations, rules and policies applicable in the UN system, whose review would be recommended for the modernization and effective management and increased cost effectiveness of UN system organizations.

Concurrently with the HLCM’s work, the UN Secretariat established a Change Management Team (CMT) on 1 July 2011, led by Mr. Atul Khare, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping.

In order to deliver on the CEB request, input on measures already adopted and on proposed new ideas was collected through an extensive consultation process, which resulted in a preliminary report on Improved Efficiency and Cost Control Measures (CEB/2011/HLCM/19). This report highlights some of the initiatives (those where there was enough data on baselines and proven or expected savings), which are being undertaken in a system-wide manner under the HLCM Plan of Action for the Harmonisation of Business Practices. Approaches that have successfully yielded, or promise to yield, significant savings for individual organizations (and can therefore be replicated by others) are also highlighted in the report.

The expected result of this exercise is the identification of high-yielding and proven measures for improving efficiency and cutting costs that can be implemented on an individual or system-wide basis, and contribute to the broader work on how the UN system can “do more with less”.

Discussion

The Chair of the Sub-Committee broadly classified the measures and ideas reflected in CEB/2011/HLCM/19 as falling into three categories:

  • Harmonization:  Activities that achieve economies of scale.  This approach is known but success is difficult to achieve.  It is, however, clear from the submissions that some progress is being made.
  • Reducing inefficiencies: This can be done as single agency activities, since efficiency is internal. Organizations can, for example, focus on travel, procurement, or energy etc. and learn how others have adopted measures in these areas.  These ideas are generally straightforward and fairly easy to implement.
  • Staff cost reductions: Staff costs add up to a considerable proportion of the total costs for most UN organizations. This is an area where some potential savings could be made.  The preliminary paper includes some measures in this area.

A fourth area not falling within the mandate of the Sub-Committee and, more broadly, of HLCM, therefore not reflected in CEB/2011/HLCM/19, would include measures to change not how we do business, but “the business we do”. This would, for example, include a review of obsolete, ineffective or duplicate mandates.

Recognizing that no one size fits all, since organizations have different mandates and business models, the Committee recognized the value of sharing experiences and committing as a system to joint endeavours with high potential impact. The Committee also tasked its various Networks to undertake a professional review of the relevant parts of the preliminary paper, to better inform further discussions and facilitate the inclusion of additional measures/ideas, if supported by adequate analysis and financial evidence.

Action

The Committee:

Noted the initiatives for improving efficiencies and cutting costs reported by its members and encouraged a rapid scale-up or replication of these measures, where possible. It recognized the added-value of larger, system-wide savings generated by initiatives already undertaken or in the pipeline as part of the HLCM Plan for the Harmonization of Business Practices, and recommended active engagement in such projects by all member organizations.

Requested organizations that have put forward new ideas, or submitted preliminary information on implemented efficiency measures, to complete their submissions to the CEB Secretariat with comprehensive financial evidence by the end of October 2011.

Agreed to organize a Round Table discussion in November 2011 with interested HLCM members to address difficult and recurring issues on improving efficiency and effectiveness that their organizations are confronted with, and to discuss and compare promising initiatives.

Requested the CEB Secretariat to work with the Chair of the Sub-Committee and with organizations to complete the Report by the end of November 2011 and submit it to the Change Management Team of the Deputy Secretary-General, as per CEB’s request at its spring 2011 session.