The UNICEF Cloud: A Journey beyond the O365 SaaS

Thierry Beniflah, Chief of Technical Architecture, UNICEF
Thierry Beniflah, Chief of Technical Architecture, UNICEF

Thierry Beniflah, Chief of Technical Architecture, UNICEF

UNICEF was the first UN agency to adopt Office 365 (O365) as its cloud-based office suite in 2013, and in so doing, we became a fully mobile, digital workforce with integrated email, instant messaging, video conferences, team sites and telephony (under implementation). Since then, our cloud adoption has expanded beyond the O365 Software as a Service (SaaS), into other cloud services including, Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and Platforms as a Service (PaaS), thus optimizing and exploiting the efficiencies offered by the cloud.

Our cloud journey began with an important business driver in adopting O365: reducing money spent on MS licensing fees. The cloud offered 400K less per year compared to on premise licensing.

We proceeded to convince organizational strategists of the benefits of the cloud, as the new technology was introduced. Is the cloud as secure as on premise servers? What guarantees are offered on the protection of UNICEF’s immunities and privileges? Such questions were widespread and needed to be addressed. After partnering with internal stakeholders, we successfully negotiated terms and conditions that ensured that the risks of going to the cloud were clearly understood. The agreement now forms the basis of our cloud expansion.

By migrating to O365, we knew that our security would be strengthened, with some privacy tradeoffs in the area of compelled disclosure; an acceptable business risk universally inherent to the cloud. Private keys mitigate that risk.

  UNICEF employees benefit from the entire O365 suite of services, including novel ways to communicate and collaborate with external partners  

Our readiness activities included upgrades to Office 2013 for all UNICEF office desktops and the design and implementation of an identity and access management solution that enabled single sign on to all Office 365 services and integration with directory services.

Our rollout strategy was to deploy the entire Office 365 suite all at once and retire legacy systems, including file servers, local infrastructure, and disparate Intranets.

In the meantime, corporate culture and attitude shifted in favour of the cloud, as its advantages became understood, and we implemented the migration globally.

Today, UNICEF employees benefit from the entire O365 suite of services, including novel ways to communicate and collaborate with external partners. Applications such as Yammer and Delve have helped build a socialmedia culture within the organization.

“Yammer is being used by over 3,200 staff per month from across the organization and we have more than 100 active groups ranging from organization wide communities of practice and customer care communities to specific interest groups. Yammer connects staff across geography and functions to help solve work related questions, share experience and keep up to date with the latest developments” ~ Ian Thorpe, Chief, Learning & Knowledge Exchange, Policy, Strategy and Networks

Further strengthening SaaS, we added a new app store to our ecosystem in March 2017, solidifying our mobility strategy. Mobile versions of our applications are no longer an afterthought, accessible in one place, and are readily deployable.

Moving beyond SaaS, we adopted the Azure cloud in 2015 and it now forms a strong component of our PaaS and IaaS aimed at building operational and programmatic efficiency. While the O365 SaaS is universal, partners decide for themselves whether to go with our PaaS and IaaS offerings for their business systems. These expanded cloud service preclude the need to build new infrastructure and platforms each time we deploy an app, and reduces time to market since development, testing and running are all done in one environment, as opposed to in three separate ones, as in the past. A plethora of custom built apps are now available to us and maintenance and enhancements are easier to deploy with added speed. We also have the added advantage of allowing partners to access data behind our firewall, with mobility capabilities.

To date, Azure hosts key programmes such as Primero, a programme that enables child protection in more than eight countries.

Looking ahead, our vision is to continuously unify and integrate SaaS, PaaS and IaaS. We will continue to combine a variety of cloud and on premise services to meet the unique needs of our diversified business units; working with the business to create innovative ways to leverage IT in the interests of children.

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