Implementing Data as a Service for the UN Secretariat

23 January 2020 

By Greg Ogolla, Data Visualization and Reporting Lead, Policy, Strategy and Governance Division, Office of Information and Communications Technology

The Office of Information and Communications Technology’s Policy, Strategy and Governance Division (PSGD) is responsible for developing Secretariat-wide policy, strategy and governance standards for information and communications technology (ICT).

This includes the design, implementation and continuous adjustment of mechanisms to ensure that ICT solutions are aligned with the needs, priorities and standards of the United Nations, to efficiently support the United Nations programmes of work.

To further these objectives, PSGD’s Analytics and BI section has taken the lead in providing clients with assistance, guidance, tools and training related to data management and analytics. Over the last several years, the section’s Data Visualization and Reporting team, which I lead, has observed the exponential growth by which data in the Organization is generated and consumed, which has led to the multiplication of fragmented data sources, with no overarching data governance. We have also noticed that while the volume of data is growing, there is still not systematic business value attached to data in the UN’s culture. To help address these issues, since 2017, our team has taken on a series of projects intended to facilitate the enterprise-wide management and governance of data.

One of these projects is an initiative to implement the concept of Data as a Service (DaaS) within the Secretariat. DaaS aims at identifying the full range of the Secretariat’s data holdings and making this available to relevant clients, while observing the appropriate permission, security, privacy, and governance parameters. This universal access to data can be achieved with the implementation of an organization-wide data provision and distribution model that allows data owners to provide data to specific users in a well-governed and secure manner. The idea is to make all of the currently fragmented data available to consumers without having to be concerned with multiple data repositories, software, applications, and platforms. Instead, data owners will be able to publish and make available their data assets, which consumers can easily find and request to access.

To implement this DaaS initiative, PSGD is proceeding as follows:

  1. We are reviewing existing standard, policies, guidelines, and taxonomies related to data and records management in the organization.
  2. We are engaging with different Secretariat entities and establishing current sources of data in the organization with a view to determining which are usable.
  3. We are establishing a Secretariat-wide data catalog that will provide easy access to the Organization’s data assets, while also maintaining a robust governance framework that ensures its users comply with proper data governance policies and standards.

Ultimately, the data catalogue will simulate a marketplace setting by providing a central repository that:

  1. Enables data owners to register, annotate and publish their data sources, and
  2. Permits users to discover, understand and - with the right permissions and governance - consume these data sources.

This initiative is directly supporting the creation of a more coordinated data ecosystem at the UN insofar as it will help provide an environment whereby reliable information will be readily available to support informed decision-making across the Secretariat.

*The views expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations.