Incompatible Gear Spells Trouble
In order to keep information flowing, Mayordomo and his team of civilians must keep open the communications channels that connect 11,000 peacekeeping troops from more than 30 countriesa task compounded by the fact that many nations have brought in their own, incompatible computing gear. Any equipment failure could have disastrous consequences. "Think of it," Mayordomo says. "Koidu is overrun by rebels, and were saying, Wait just a minute, someone is changing the network switch." If the rebels take to combat or hostage-taking, they wont allow a timeout for reconfiguring a piece of equipment.While most corporate project managers might not have to worry about battling armed insurgents, many of the difficulties faced by the U.N. mission are similar to the hurdles faced by project managers looking to set up mobile computing environments in remote locationsunreliable power and communications lines that are vulnerable to harsh weather, limited availability of replacement parts and on-site support personnel, and remote users who dont comply with standards and procedures.But Mayordomo also must deal with the rugged terrain of Sierra Leonea tropical country slightly smaller than South Carolina thats dotted with forests, swamps and mountains almost 2,000 feet tall. There are few paved roads and only one airport with a paved runway. If computer equipment breaks down in Koidu, theres no running to CompUSAa replacement has to be flown in. Mayordomo, a Filipino who originally trained as a mining engineer, was recruited by a U.N. economic-development program in the late 1980s to consult on the use of software he had written to analyze the potential of a mine versus its operational cost. He switched to the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) in 1996, after funding for the mining project dried up, and served as a technologies manager to peacekeeping missions in the Republic of Georgia, the Central African Republic and Congo. In 2000, he was named DPKOs chief of information technologya title he still holdsand is responsible for computer-vendor and technology choices across all missions. But in June he gave up his New York office for a chance to get back into the field. "When Im in New York, I put things into effect but never get to see how its working," he says. So now he splits his attention between setting DPKO technology plans and overseeing the practical details of keeping the systems in Sierra Leone functioning. While the scale of the mission is smaller, he has the freedom to blur some boundaries, particularly the one between information and communications technologyhard distinctions within the U.N.s bureaucracy.
Next Page: Figuring out the best technologies for peacekeeping communications.