Struggling with the Basics

By David F. Carr  |  Posted 2004-01-28 Print this article Print

Nov. 3, The restaurant at the Hotel Bintumani, Sierra Leone All week long, colleagues and public affairs personnel have been warning Mayordomo about things he shouldnt talk about with a reporter. But for the most part, he has been content to show his operation warts and all. "I havent tried to filter," Mayordomo says. "Youve seen the firefighting, the tap dancing." One measure of success is the volume of complaints pouring into his office. "If its escalating, then Im losing control," he says.
In the big picture, he thinks he is making progress. Where U.N. procurement rules used to prohibit direct contact with vendors, as DPKO I.T. chief he has been able to establish long-term contracts with key vendors like Cisco and Hewlett-Packard that allow for more open communication. "How can they understand the way we operate, the way we do business, if we dont sit down with them face-to-face?" he asks.
But as UNAMSILs technology leader, he is still struggling with the basics, like getting better performance from his help desk. The issue is personal for him because many mission officials have gotten in the habit of calling him directly instead. Just this morning, he was on the phone with someone who called to complain about a network slowdown. "Do you have the 24-hour pager number for the duty technician? Youre laughing, but this has been published since I got here," he told the caller. "Do you want the number or not? When you call me, I in turn call the help desk, so youre just prolonging the circle." Ultimately, the communications and information-technology organization needs to learn to function more like a business, he says. "If someone is not performing, get rid of them. If the equipment is not working, pull it out." There ought to be service-level agreements so the "customers"—the military and civilian constituencies within DPKO—have some guarantees about the reliability of the network and of the technical support behind it. DPKO needs to move away from improvising so much and to start planning better, particularly in terms of providing the technical manpower to support the rapid deployment of a mission, not just the equipment. He sees the pattern playing out again in Liberia, where the absence of a self-sufficient technical staff meant that he had to send in one of his people to fix a relatively simple configuration issue with the missions financial software. But, as difficult as it may be to set up shop in regions of the world torn apart by war, coups or other violence, it is even harder to settle into such a locale and reliably deliver and maintain network services throughout the life of a peacekeeping mission. "Were able to start up quickly, but were not able to sustain it," he says. "New deployments of missions are always chaotic, but that doesnt mean we should just accept it. Its not the first time were doing this. Weve been doing this for years."

David F. Carr David F. Carr is the Technology Editor for Baseline Magazine, a Ziff Davis publication focused on information technology and its management, with an emphasis on measurable, bottom-line results. He wrote two of Baseline's cover stories focused on the role of technology in disaster recovery, one focused on the response to the tsunami in Indonesia and another on the City of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.David has been the author or co-author of many Baseline Case Dissections on corporate technology successes and failures (such as the role of Kmart's inept supply chain implementation in its decline versus Wal-Mart or the successful use of technology to create new market opportunities for office furniture maker Herman Miller). He has also written about the FAA's halting attempts to modernize air traffic control, and in 2003 he traveled to Sierra Leone and Liberia to report on the role of technology in United Nations peacekeeping.David joined Baseline prior to the launch of the magazine in 2001 and helped define popular elements of the magazine such as Gotcha!, which offers cautionary tales about technology pitfalls and how to avoid them.

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