Programme, Financial and Administrative Committee
EIGHTH ITEM ON THE AGENDA
Information Technology Strategy
1. A detailed Information Technology Strategy for the period 1997-2000 is currently being formulated to succeed the Information Technology Strategy and Implementation Plan which was prepared in 1992 for the period 1992-96. With the 1997-2000 strategy nearing completion, it was thought appropriate to present a paper highlighting the main features of the new strategy in response to requests by some members of the Committee for information.
2. A key function of the ILO is the collection and dissemination of information on labour issues throughout the world. The primary objective of an Information Technology (IT) Strategy is to define the IT environment to ILO officials and to facilitate the accomplishment of their objectives through the selective use of new technology. The ILO operates on a worldwide basis which, coupled with the ongoing decentralization process and the implementation of the Active Partnership Policy, creates the need to establish more effective worldwide data communications to facilitate access to information held at headquarters and in the field.
3. The ILO Information Technology Strategy for 1997-2000 is based on the requirements collected from a wide range of managers within the Office, and also refers to the ILO Information Technology Strategy and Implementation Plan for 1992-96. A review of achievements to date of the 19 projects defined in the 1992-96 Implementation Plan was performed to define the status of the present IT and communications systems. While there were major achievements during the 1992-96 period, there were also lessons to be learned and technological objectives and directions to be revised. In 1992, for example, no one could have foreseen the explosive growth of the Internet and its associated technology.
4. Two major issues affecting future strategy are the subject of separate studies. The first study is an impact analysis study of the year 2000 problem, sometimes referred to as the Millennium Bug, which will assess the extent of the vulnerability of all ILO software and electronically stored information and recommend a plan to resolve the problem. The second is the IT Security Study, which will evaluate the ILO requirements for IT security policies, draft recommended policy elements and produce a plan for implementation of an IT Security Programme.
5. The IT user community has grown considerably since the last strategy was formulated, with a potential 2,000 users at headquarters and in the field. To ensure that an adequate sample of user views was taken, 82 ILO officials were interviewed in June, July and August of 1997, including four regional directors or their representatives, 17 directors at headquarters and 15 bureau and branch chiefs. The results were analysed and six broad technology directions were taken as topics for three workshops in which 22 officials took part in detailed discussions and activities. These were --
6. A table of requirements, listed by department, was prepared from the interview notes and priorities were assigned accordingly. This resulted in a matrix of 65 requirements which were subsequently condensed to six major requirement groups:
7. The ILO has made a major investment in information technology and the achievements to date show that an increasing number of staff at headquarters and in the field are using IT systems. The proposed strategy addresses the six major requirement groups to upgrade the current IT infrastructure gradually to satisfy the needs of the Organization.
8. The 1992-96 Information Technology Strategy and Implementation Plan recommended that an information repository be established to enable secure storage and controlled dissemination of information throughout the Office. While this has been achieved in part, implementation is not yet complete and it is therefore planned to continue with the gradual development of the repository based on feasibility studies, planning and budgeting criteria, in accordance with the recommendations of the External Auditors.
9. The management of, and access to, data and documents in all media and formats is a problem that most major institutions have to solve. The IT industry has responded to this, and there is a range of software products for enterprise data management that are used in industry to solve the problem. The first tentative steps towards identifying specific ILO requirements have already been taken, but this needs to be made a major task. A project manager will be designated with a multi-unit team to perform a feasibility study and deliver a costed development programme of incremental upgrades to the current systems.
10. Complementary to the Information Management Strategy is the ability to provide data communications between headquarters, the field and constituents, so as to make possible the collection and dissemination of information. The continued development of applications based on Internet and Web technologies to permit the communication of information is a key element of the ILO's strategy.
11. The 1992-96 IT Strategy recommended a Wide Area Network (WAN) Study to define the ILO's requirements for a worldwide network. While the Internet is currently providing an inexpensive alternative to a costly private WAN, a study will be undertaken to ensure that the most economical technology is used to provide the needed secure connectivity between headquarters, the field and constituents.
12. Increasing use of IT at headquarters will require increased bandwidth on the local area networks (LAN) coupled with more powerful servers and increased disk storage capacity.
13. Electronic publication technology in its widest sense, which includes the Web, CD-ROMs, print on demand and on-line databases, provides opportunities to improve the quality and reach of published information at a lower cost. Common technologies are required so as to reduce the difficulties users experience in the creation, search, retrieval and printing of electronic information. Moreover, a central cell of expertise is required to provide recommendations and advice Office-wide to take advantage of the various electronic publication technologies.
IT support, staffing and training
14. Providing support to a potential 2,000 networked computer users throughout the Organization would be prohibitively expensive without hardware and software standards. Since major investments are involved in acquiring software, any updates, upgrades and replacements must be limited to those that correct errors or provide significant new functionality that would benefit the majority of the users. Although centralized support should continue to be provided, units are encouraged to develop their own local IT expertise in so far as their needs and resources justify this course.
15. In these highly technological times, the Organization must be able to adequately staff and train itself to keep up with the rapid pace of IT technology development. Job descriptions must be regularly updated to reflect constantly changing IT skills. While centrally administered training is of vital importance, it cannot possibly meet the timely requirements of each and every unit. It must therefore be supplemented by focused training which can be scheduled at short notice at the unit level to meet unforeseen needs.
16. Project management should be the norm for all IT projects. In accordance with the recommendations of the External Auditors, large projects should be subject to detailed feasibility studies, strict planning and budgeting criteria before they are approved for implementation. During the implementation phase, a Steering Committee should meet regularly to assess progress and to ensure that projects are on schedule and within the budget.
17. Workflow technology is available for the rapid development of applications intended to automate day-to-day office procedures. Most procedures that deal with high volumes of correspondence are labour-intensive and involve flows of work between departments in different countries, and these would benefit greatly from workflow tools. Workflow products also integrate off-the-shelf document management products with existing internal procedures. A pilot implementation of workflow systems is recommended as a "proof of concept", to be followed by a feasibility study that will include the costing of projects using this technology.
18. Two reports will result from the IT Strategy 1997-2000 project: on the strategy study and strategy implementation. Both are expected to be completed by the end of 1997.
Geneva, 15 October 1997.