U.N. official: Technology can aid with crisis prevention

United Nations Chief Information Technology Officer Atti Riazi speaks at the December meeting of the CIO Roundtable at Fordham University.

United Nations Chief Information Technology Officer Atti Riazi speaks at the December meeting of the CIO Roundtable at Fordham University.

The spread of the Ebola virus in West Africa is an example of how a lack of investment in innovation and technology has a huge impact on the global community, the chief information technology officer for the United Nations said recently.

Speaking during a December meeting of the CIO Roundtable, held at the Fordham University graduate school of business at Lincoln Center, Atti Riazi talked at length about how technology helps with the U.N. mission of response to global crises.

But technology can do more than assist with responding; it can also help prevent a crisis, she said.

A deadly virus outbreak is “something that happened 50 years ago. It happened again 10 years ago, and we ignored it.” Now, with more than 15,000 people infected, the world is paying a price for that inaction.

“It’s a global world,” Riazi said. “We can’t just say, ‘it’s them.’ Ebola crisis is a huge crisis for all of us.”

Riazi, a U.S. national born in Iran, was appointed to her position at the U.N. in 2013. Previously, she had served as CIO for the Metropolitan Transit Authority of New York, where she helped implement the MetroCard system for the city’s subway and bus system.

She also was the CIO for the New York City Housing Authority and had served as the CIO and Senior Partner of Ogilvy and Mather.

The response to Ebola is fraught with problems, she said. Worries about the illness and quarantines for those returning from West Africa complicate efforts.

“But if we had known about Ebola … a month earlier, could we have been more effective? And could we have done better as a human race, as a society, as a world?” Riazi said. “And that takes us to technology and analytics, because there is so much data out there … But if we begin to connect the dots, we can predict. And if we can predict, we can plan better and deal with crises better.”

Riazi and her peers gathered at the event, organized by Associate Professor Aditya Saharia, discussed various ways of forwarding the mission of the U.N. to respond to and prevent crisis through technology, with some even offering to volunteer their time to help with global efforts to mitigate hunger, disease and violence.

The CIO roundtable meets monthly in the university’s Lowenstein Building at Lincoln Center. For more information, contact Saharia at saharia@fordham.edu.

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