In line with the increasing demands from the international community for efficient and coherent United Nations system operations, the Secretary-General has made the pursuit of effective, transparent and harmonized administrative and management procedures one of his priorities since taking office. The Board’s endorsement of the High-Level Committee on Management initiative to develop a plan of action for the harmonization of business practices in the United Nations system is a concrete step in the advancement of that objective.

Driven by the strong belief that increased coherence in the working modalities of United Nations system member organizations can contribute significantly to their ability to deliver better “programmatic” results, work was undertaken during the reporting period to elaborate a package of proposals to harmonize business practices in the United Nations system. The development of the proposals and the assessment of priorities were guided by the aim of achieving efficiencies and promoting the delivering as one concept at the country level. A guiding principle in the development of the plan was also the awareness that any process aiming at achieving coherence within the United Nations system needs to be inclusive, take into account previous recommendations made by the internal and external oversight bodies of member organizations and be previously endorsed by their governing bodies.
The proposals address a number of key areas, covering all the major management functions of United Nations system organizations. The main thrust of the initiatives in the human resources area is to build a more coherent United Nations system that will emanate from an increased consistency in performance evaluation systems, employment arrangements and procedures. It will be a system in which staff are more mobile, are rewarded for good performance and not only for seniority and are motivated and trained with a renewed investment in training and career development programmes that allow them to maintain and upgrade the appropriate professional skills. In the area of financial management, the planned adoption by United Nations system organizations of the International Public Sector Accounting Standards (IPSAS) by 2010 has been unanimously praised as an important basis for simplifying and harmonizing business practices. In addition to IPSAS, related initiatives include the establishment of common cost recovery policies across United Nations system organizations, a feasibility study for putting in place common treasury services and the completion of a comparative analysis of organizations financial regulations and rules, leading to an action plan for system-wide harmonization. Most projects in the information and communications technology area address the need for a common and coherent effort to enhance knowledge sharing. Initiatives in that area aim at increased harmonization through the identification and sharing of best practices within the main Enterprise Resource Planning platforms; examine the potential value of common technology services, in particular data centres and data communications; and provide for the development of standardized knowledge-sharing practices and a common communications platform for an improved and consistent image for the United Nations system. Initiatives in the area of procurement aim at creating cohesive approaches and at improving the quality of procurement procedures and processes in United Nations system organizations. Those efforts would include sustainable procurement interventions, the development of guidelines and training materials for practitioners and suppliers, and initiatives to increase the access of suppliers from developing countries and countries in economic transition. Ultimately, all those efforts combined would positively enhance the professionalism of United Nations system procurement practitioners. The plan of action will also evolve to include projects that have not yet been developed, such as the creation of an independent system-wide capacity for evaluation and initiatives that would be proposed by the legal network.

The scope of the plan is limited to functions and processes for which the executive heads have responsibility. Many of the proposed projects incorporate deliberate efforts to enhance knowledge sharing, both internally, across functional borders, and externally, across organizations. Taken together, the proposed activities represent a new level of commitment by the organizations of the United Nations system for a realignment and harmonization of business practices to respond to the new political demand for a coherent and effective United Nations system.

The action plan for the implementation of the harmonization of business practices initiative in the United Nations system will serve as a reference framework for the High-Level Committee on Management’s programme of work for the next biennium. It is intended that working groups of interested organizations will be formed around a lead agency for each of the suggested projects. Expected outcomes from the individual projects include the following:

  • adopting international standards and replication of best practices;
  • facilitating knowledge and resource sharing;
  • enhancing transparency and accountability;
  • enhancing public trust and engaging stakeholders;
  • facilitating effective inter-agency coordination; and (f) achieving efficiency gains.

CEB Management Themes