The ICT Department

The Vision

That ICT is a critical service and asset in ensuring a rural transformation in a world made better for poor people in developing countries by strategically improving their use of agricultural systems in which trees and livestock are important.

This will be achieved by using ICTs to ensure that the products of agricultural research are used to make a positive change in the livelihoods of poor farmers, from the research process through to product and knowledge creation and in the methods of management, dissemination, communication and learning.

The Mission

To provide ICT Services with infrastructure, connectivity, business systems and customer services that deliver value to our customers through facilitating the outcomes our customers want to achieve. Our services will minimise costs, enhance operating efficiency, innovation and creativity of the Centres and promote knowledge sharing and communication among the staff, partners and stakeholders wherever they are located in the world.

Values

The following list of strategic values underpins the ICT strategy that is being put in place. These are based on the overarching principles of connectivity, compatibility and collaboration.  ICT will:

  • Appropriateness: develop and maintain an ICT environment using appropriate technologies to ensure that researchers can continue as leaders in their fields of research and that managers and supporting staff can provide efficient and productive management and services;
  • Inclusiveness: ensure all staff whatever their location have useable and timely access to information sources and systems;
  • Excellent Service: provide effective customer support services in a timely and informative manner to all sectors of the Centres;
  • Respect: ensure that the Centres respect intellectual property rights of others by abiding by the licensing agreements on software and equipment that they use;
  • Excellence in Data Management: ensure that the vast amounts of knowledge, information and data belonging to ILRI-ICRAF are well managed, accessible for further use, analysis and decision making by others and are protected from the risk of loss and long term unavailability;
  • Sharing: share infrastructure and other ICT resources with collaborators and partner organisations whenever mutually beneficial and develop applications or systems in collaboration with others.

The ICT unit is grouped into 3 sections as follows

Management and Administration
Most administrative issues in the IT Unit involve recharging, liaison with external suppliers and approval of internal documents including purchase requests (we prefer to sign-off on all IT purchases). Our targets are:

  • To deal with (sign) all internal documents that pass through the IT Unit within 48 hours of their arrival. Or if more time is required to provide the expected response, to inform the appropriate staff when they can expect the documents to leave the IT Unit.
  • To provide Finance with accurate recharging information for the previous month before the end of the first full week of each month. For recharge information that is obtain from external sources (mobile phone bills, CGNET variable costs) the information should be forwarded to finance within 14 days of it being received.

Customer Service

The important support issues are responsiveness, feedback, and problem resolution. We aim to log all requests in a new Help Desk application. This will enable us and users to monitor and track all support requests that we work on. The help desk covers all IT and Telecommunications issues. Our targets are:

  • To assign requests to IT staff within one hour of the request being submitted. An email will be sent automatically to the requester as this is done. Requests submitted outside of normal working hours will be processed before 9am on the next working day.
  • For the person assign the request to provide initial feedback in the status report within one day of being assigned the request.
  • To resolve 95% of requests within the time frame associated with the level of priority assigned to the request or within the time period agreed with the requester. This information must be logged in the status report for feedback and monitoring.

Infrastructure

The central infrastructure includes the following equipment and services:

  • network and telephone cabling
  • hubs and switches
  • central servers and the applications installed on the servers
  • telephone PABX
  • external communications (Internet, IVDN voice, link to ILRI/ICRAF, Telkom voice).

If any of this equipment or services fails then many or all staff will be affected. Downtime must therefore be kept to a minimum and staff kept informed of the situation at all times. Our targets are:

    1. To ensure that internal servers and applications are available to staff 99% of the time during working hours.
    2. That planned downtime for maintenance, upgrades and new installations are carried out outside of normal working hours and that staff are provided with at least 48 hours notice of all planned downtime.
    3. That staff are informed about interruptions in external services (telephone, IVDN voice or Internet access) caused by problems beyond our control within 15 minutes of the problem occurring and regularly (every 4 hours) kept informed of the situation especially when the services is restored.
    4. That all data installed on Central servers is backed up to tape at least every 24 hours. Therefore no-one who stores data on a central server should loose any data that has been stored there for more that 24 hours.

Applications

The new developments range from upgrading or installing new infrastructure and applications to overseeing the development of new applications and systems. Most of this work is contained in the annual workplan and will have an implementation plan associated with each project. This work should be judged on meeting timeframes, objectives and client satisfaction as outlined in the implementation plan.

The Changing Environment

There are many influences affecting the world today nearly all of which have some impact on the way we make use of ICT within ILRI and ICRAF. Some of these external factors include:

  • Technological improvements: creating opportunities for access even in remote rural locations; improving accuracy and speed of data intensive research functions; improving collaboration and communication methodologies and tools; making free open source software (FOSS) available at low cost; powerful standards that will improve the value of knowledge sharing activities.
  • Government policies: improving educational standards and awareness of ICT in our target areas; lower taxes making equipment more affordable; de-regulation of the telecommunication sector bringing competition and choice to the voice and data communications markets; relaxation of restrictions on licensing and use of wireless and satellite communication technologies; and encouraging the spread of Internet access by charging local cost calls for all dial-up internet connections.
  • Increased threats and risks: producing a need for improved disaster resilience; two examples are terrorism in all parts of the world, (IFPRI are now concerned that a terrorist attack might result in them having to vacate their premises for an extended period of time); instability in countries leading to civil war or other political disturbances (as happened in Côte D’Ivoire leading to WARDA having to hurriedly vacate their campus).
  • Donor expectations: falling core funding requiring innovative ways of funding infrastructure and operations; emphasis on short-term research leading to quick impact and results targeted at the poor; a realisation that there is a need to close the digital gap between urban and rural areas and between women and men.
  • Global public goods: a need for research products to be made more accessible to different communities; a general move towards syndication and early publication of raw data; leading to the use of standards and better data management.
  • Intellectual property rights: influencing the flow of information around the world.

Internal factors in the Centres and the CGIAR system that are also driving changes in the use of ICT are:

  • Organisational change: ILRI published its revised strategy to 2010 and ICRAF recently is in the process of revising their strategic plan. Both clearly emphasise targeting of poor farmers for the products of their research. The research products in many cases are in the form of knowledge, methods or policies. At ILRI the strategic research will identify new tools and new approaches that often make use of the latest ICT innovations in biotechnology. At ICRAF the emphasis on regionalisation demands great improvements in communication and collaboration across the Centre.
  • Global organisations: require consolidated information which is accessible, usable and secure from any location worldwide; a move within the CG to a system built around global challenges not just individual centres’ needs; a CG emphasis on taking advantage of economies of scale involving sharing knowledge, best practices and experiences.
  • Knowledge-based organisations: a need to make access to our assets as easy as possible; becoming knowledge brokers particularly between developed and developing countries.
  • Collaboration and partnerships: a greater emphasis on multi-disciplinary research with multiple partners requires better communication and collaboration tools; in turn this requires a change in culture that needs capacity building to create an improved environment for sharing and collaboration.

ICT can play a major part in mitigating risks to the Centres but the reliance on technology leads to

Risk Management

Executing the Strategy

The strategy for ICT has been developed to easily integrate into the continually evolving strategies and business plans of the Institutes. The strategy is articulated under 5 thrusts. ICT will have to collaborate closely with many other sections of the Institutes, in particular those charged with providing Information services to ensure that the expected outcomes are achieved. The thrusts will provide a guide for the three year rolling operational plan. Many of the activities identified in the operational plan will cut across thrusts.

Connectivity and accessibility

ILRI, ICRAF and the CGIAR are working towards the concept of a boundaryless organisation. The ICT group will work with CGIAR Centres on system-wide projects that will make the boundaryless organisation a reality. We will use the infrastructure and technologies of the Internet to make information and applications available to all ILRI-ICRAF staff as well as collaborators and stakeholders wherever they are located. Using the same technologies ILRI-ICRAF information products will be made available to clients in all parts of the world.

The continuously evolving regulatory requirements will be monitored in the countries where we work. The ICT group will implement improved, more reliable and cost effective technologies such as wireless, VSAT and Voice over IP (VoIP) as the regulations permit.

ICTs will be implemented on the internal campus LANs on a switched network infrastructure using firewalls, servers, computers and associated equipment that are appropriate for the task in-hand.  We will make use of proven ICTs in inventive ways, rather than experiment with cutting edge technologies.

The equipment and the information, data and applications stored on them will be protected from both internal and external attacks through the implementation and adherence to a robust security policy that will be rolled-out throughout the CGIAR Centres. In case disaster of whatever magnitude does strike, ILRI-ICRAF will develop and maintain disaster recovery and business continuity plans that will enable us to recover systems and data and return to normal operations in an organised manner.

Access to internal data and information resources will be managed through an Active Directory with a single secure sign-on. One username and password verified once will provide access to all resources at the level permitted.

Access to Advanced Research Networks (ARN) like Internet 2, Geant and APAN will be implemented as soon as they become available in the locations where we work. These connections will enable fast transfer of data for backup or mirroring purposes and bandwidth intensive applications such as the Access GRID video-conferencing technology.

The mobility of the workforce is important to the way ILRI-ICRAF works. Cheap, reliable methods to access the internet from almost any location will be implemented. Once connected to the Internet access to all resources will be available through published Intranet resources or by creating a secure tunnel between a mobile user and the “home” network.

New technologies will enable the integration of telecommunications facilities into the computing infrastructure and provide fast, cheap communications for voice, data and video. These facilities linked with better collaboration tools for sharing and using applications will make separation by distance irrelevant.

Enhancing Operational Efficiency

The ICT group will continually improve the understanding and knowledge of all ILRI-ICRAF staff in the area of information and communications technology through formal training, seminars, online training resources, collaboration tools and daily communication with staff. Formal training will be outsourced to authorised professional trainers who have access to certified training materials.

Staff development for ICT staff is an on-going process. We will ensure that staff receive the appropriate training before new initiatives are rolled out to the Centres. They should not only be able to implement the project but also train and inform the staff on the objectives of the project and how the improvements can be used to best effect.

Through the implementation of a Help Desk system, the ICT group will deal more effectively with service requests and follow-up. A knowledge base of solutions to problems will be built up through this system and made available to all staff. The system will also allow for better monitoring and reporting which will be used to assess our performance indicators, manpower and training requirements and identify preventative measures that can be taken.

Regional offices should have access to professional ICT skills either through employing a full time staff member or by contracting an IT company to provide support and maintenance to agreed levels. ICT staff in the principle offices will provide backstopping in the form of policies, guidelines, software updates and licensing arrangements, advice, guidance and occasional site visits.

ICT liaison groups will be used to provide two way feedback between the ICT group and our clients. The ICT group will provide information on new initiatives, best practice and potential security risks while the liaison group members will disseminate the information to their colleagues and provide feedback to the ICT group on what’s going well, what needs to be improved and ideas for new initiatives.

Communities of practice will provide a forum for all staff who use ICT extensively in their work to share their knowledge and experience with others and discuss solutions and issues that can improve their work.

Information Systems and data management

Information and data will be managed in integrated systems. Information and data that has been entered once should not need to be entered again. For management, a Business Information System (BIS) will integrate information from the various departmental systems providing timely information in various forms that will enhance resource management, decision making and planning.

An audit of critical processes within each Organisational Unit will be made and maintained. This will inventory all information assets whether electronic or non-electronic and equipment required for the process. The custodians and users of the information assets will be clearly documented. This information will be used to develop the Business Continuity Plan and also to identify and prioritise the information system requirements.

For research, the ICT group will work closely with the Joint Research Methods Group (JRMG) on data management policies and implementation to ensure disaster resilience, good documentation, quality assurance, and accessibility for all Institute data enabling researchers to harness knowledge that was previously unavailable or difficult to obtain.

A systems development policy will indicate the ICT standards that systems must meet to ensure compatibility and integration with existing and planned systems, accessibility to potential users wherever they are located and a policy of ownership and free distribution to our partners and collaborators.

Workflow systems will be developed using Intranet technologies that will greatly improve the speed and efficiency of processing forms in everyday use. It will also provide an opportunity for common systems throughout the Institute whatever the location.

Existing systems that meet the majority of our requirements will be implemented as a first choice. These may be sourced from other CGIAR Centres, collaborators or by purchasing off-the-shelf packages or existing systems available from developers. If existing systems do not meet our needs then application development will be outsourced to local developers. The design and implementation of contracted systems will be overseen by the ICT group. Smaller systems will be developed in-house if the staffing resources permit. 

The use of non-commercial or Free Open Source Software (FOSS) is encouraged when looking for specific solutions. These systems are often made available by Universities and existing or potential collaborators. The issues of compatibility, integration, future development and support need to be considered when evaluating these products.

The ICT group will work in close collaboration with those with overall responsibility for Intranet, Internet and knowledge management policy and solutions to ensure that the ICT environment supports the direction that the Centre has chosen to take.

Partnerships and collaboration

The ICT group will actively look for partners to share resources where this will prove cost effective and of benefit to all involved both inside and outside the CGIAR Centres.  Regional staff will share the services and infrastructure provided by the host organisation.  In return ILRI and ICRAF will provide similar access to services and infrastructure to organisations hosted on our campuses. CG Offices in the East and Southern Africa region will be invited to join the ICT group to harmonise and improve the quality of core ICT services in the region.

ILRI and ICRAF will continue to strengthen their collaboration in the area of ICT with the creation of a single ICT group and will exploit the possibilities to share communications infrastructure, computing and technical resources, procurement of bulk orders at discounted prices and sharing a stock of critical spare parts.

Active participation will continue in the ICT-KM program and with the CIO office of the CGIAR. We will lead and participate in the implementation of projects and activities that will be of benefit to the System as a whole and not just an individual Centre.

Outside of the CG we are looking at resource sharing with other research, non-profit and UN organisations. As such we will be members of the Inter-agency ICT Group that has been set up with other similar International and Regional non-profit organisations in Nairobi. We will strengthen our membership of KENET and aim to work more closely with its members in the educational and research sectors especially where this coincides with collaborative research projects being carried out by the Centres. 

Links to global and regional organisations (FAO, NEPAD, among many others) will be forged to ensure that we keep abreast of ICT innovations that they are promoting and that ILRI-ICRAF can either contribute to or benefit from by implementing the technologies into our research projects.

ILRI and ICRAF will take at least 8 student interns at each principle campus every year. This not only improves our linkages with local educational organisations but also gives us a good insight into the quality of students coming through the educational system in the countries where we work.

Resourcing and managing ICT functions

The ICT group will operate as a single unit, with staff with a contract in either centre providing support to both. Duties and activities of individual staff will be determined by needs and competences rather than any institutional affiliation. The group will be accountable to the appropriate Director at each Institute.

A single ICT Steering group will be set-up to represent the Centres. Its function will be to evaluate and prioritise major ICT projects, ensure that the interests of all staff, partners and collaborators are considered and that selected applications properly integrate into existing systems. They will approve ICT standards and monitor the operational plans of the ICT group. As well as providing advice and guidance to the IT Manager they will make recommendations to the Senior Management committees to approve the ICT strategy and policies as well as on other ICT issues.

CG Offices in the East and Southern Africa region will be invited to buy in, contributing either financially or with personnel already on board to the ICT group. The ICT group will use its local knowledge and access to resources to coordinate and harmonise ICT infrastructure and support services in the region.

All projects will include objectives that indicate the behavioural changes the implementation is expected to make on the way people work and not just how the technology will be implemented and used.

ICT at ILRI-ICRAF is funded from unrestricted core sources and from recharging for costs that are attributable. Project restricted funds will compensate for staff time when a project requires more than 1 week on work not included in a staff’s routine workplan.

Implementing a policy of charge-back for all parts, equipment and software purchased on behalf of ILRI-ICRAF staff and projects is essential to take these costs from the correct funding.  For indirect costs such as staff time and institutional costs, the ICT group will follow the guidelines set by the Institute.

Most capital purchases to improve the ICT infrastructure are funded from the ILRI-ICRAF core capital budgets. Future capital purchases will be based on a combined procurement plan that will take advantage of bulk purchases at discounted rates. Depreciation from capital equipment will be used to replace fully depreciated equipment or to purchase new innovative technologies that will bring improvements in the working environment.

Although traditional donors only rarely fund projects to improve ILRI and ICRAFs internal infrastructure, ICT will target new alternative sources of funding in an attempt to provide the most appropriate ICT equipment on which to carry out ILRI-ICRAF work.

All software installed on ILRI-ICRAF computers must be correctly licensed as stated in the software licensing policy. ILRI-ICRAF have standardised on the Microsoft operating system and the Office suit of products that we purchase at charity rates. All Microsoft licenses should include Software Assurance enabling the latest versions of the software to be installed. Anti-virus software must be installed on all computers before they are connected to the network. For software that will be installed the majority of computers the ICT group will attempt to obtain discounted site licenses, in many cases this will be organised through the ICT-KM office to combine with other CGIAR Centres.

In the long term, as local companies become more experienced, reliable and employ well qualified staff it may become cost effective to lease/rent computer equipment and outsource hardware and software support as well as application development.  However, it will always be necessary to maintain a certain level of in-house expertise to provide strategic direction to ICT in ILRI and ICRAF and to oversee the outsourced services.

Source: ILRI-ICRAF ICT strategy

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