UNICEF wastes $5.8m migrating to MS Outlook/Exchange

Most email-to-email migrations cannot be justified in terms of ROI, especially when the existing infrastructure will be retained for applications.  

Migrations that are purely based on a senior executive’s personal preference are even more difficult to defend.

A migration that is thought to have cost $5.8m to complete, when those funds would otherwise have been passed to sick, needy and starving children around the world is plain shocking…

InnerCityPress.com covers a recent leak from a whilste-blower within the UNICEF organisation:

UNICEF logoUNITED NATIONS, August 24 — The jewel of the UN system, its children’s agency UNICEF, now not only refuses to provide simple budget information such as how much it spent flying country representatives to New York for a photo op with director Ann Veneman — it defends without putting a dollar value on an initiative to switch all of UNICEF from Lotus Notes to Microsoft Outlook.

Whistleblowers within UNICEF say the switch was entirely Ms.Veneman’s idea, that she worked on Microsoft as George W. Bush’s Secretary of Agriculture and proposes to spend $5.8 million entirely unnecessarily. Below is what Inner City Press received from within UNICEF, then UNICEF’s official response.

Here is another example of how UNICEF under the inept leadership of Ann Veneman wastes its public and donor contributions. We are extremely concerned about what is going on in our Organization. Signed by: Concerned UNICEF Staff.

$5.8M being spent to please Ann Veneman to install Microsoft Outlook as her e-mail preference.

In the name of the Office Modernization Investment Project, UNICEF is spending USD5.8M, which would have gone otherwise to the world poorest children, to switch from the current well-functioning IBM Lotus Notes to Microsoft Outlook/Exchange. Not only this project was opposed by some of UNICEF’s own IT experts because there was no compelling technical reasons for such migration but also confirmed by the world’s IT consulting leader, Gartner Group (please refer to the research paper dated 22 December 2008) that the migration from Lotus Notes to Microsoft Outlook/Exchange environment would yield no return on investment (ROI). Furthermore many parts of the IBM Lotus Connections packages are far better than what Microsoft has to offer. This research paper goes on to say that end-user demand, for example, senior executives who came to appreciate Outlook on their previous assignments, is the No.1 e-mail migration driver, based on emotions and not focusing on business issues.

According to the whistleblower, this is what is exactly happening in UNICEF. When Ann Veneman came to UNICEF in 2005, the first thing she complained about was her e-mail; “why aren’t we using Outlook? I want us to move to Microsoft.” For the last four years she has been pressing the IT division to migrate from IBM Lotus Notes application to the Microsoft environment to which she was accustomed while working with an US Government agency. Ann Veneman fired her first IT director in 2006 giving him the golden hand-shake, and then personally involved in selecting the new CIO who was familiar with Microsoft Office Suite. As soon as the new CIO joined UNICEF in the summer of 2007 she pressed him to migrate into the Microsoft environment. It was supposed to happen over a year ago…..He has just gotten his two year contract extended on the condition that he would finally deliver on the commitment made to introduce Outlook.

This is quite ironic when the UN has recently upgraded its IBM Notes to version 8 (from 6.5) for about 30,000 employees. The latest version apparently is quite powerful and users love it. Even non-IT people in UNICEF are saying it’s hard to cost-justify migrating e-mail from IBM to Microsoft. Some staff who used to work with other agencies using Microsoft emphasize that IBM Lotus Notes products are superior to Microsoft. Calculating the e-mail migration cost is relatively easy. But calculating a tangible return on investment (ROI) is much harder, yet UNICEF’s own business case proposal inflated this cost savings which were disputed by some of their own experts.

In the current economic environment, moving e-mail users from Notes/Domino release to Outlook/Exchange is difficult to justify when you think about unnecessary user training for over 12,000 staff, 80 percent of them are spread over 150 field offices all over the world. To make the matter more complicated, other mission critical data are stored in Lotus Notes applications

Of course this Office Modernization Investment Proposal went through various internal review processes but controlled by the CIO and Ann Veneman whose only interest is to make sure she gets “Outlook”, no matter what. No one dares to say in public this is a waste of money and time in UNICEF.

In response to an enquiry from InnerCityPress.com, UNICEF simply say this:

UNICEF decided to migrate to Microsoft Exchange/Outlook because doing so meets organizational needs and priorities. The process was based strictly on organizational needs and cost-saving options that we have studied carefully. UNICEF has looked at the ongoing licensing burden, as part of its assessment of options, and found significant cost-savings based on this decision. The evidence shows this effort will be a building block in a superior email and communication environment. UNICEF is one of several UN agencies taking this step.

Clearly there is a story to be told here, and if I was one of the stakeholders in UNICEF, I am sure I would be asking questions right now as to how this was allowed to take place.

Stuart McIntyre is a Senior Strategist at Fostering Community Limited. He curates a number of product-focused news sites, is a lapsed podcaster, founded the Social Connections user group and regularly speaks at conferences and events. This blog represents his own slightly-eccentric and usually-controversial opinions!