The E-Gov Challenge



If this year’s Union Budget is any indication, the government clearly wants
to boost the social sector spending. However, the biggest question that the 108
crore Indians are asking is about how the government actually proposes to
deliver these services. Certainly, e-governance is the most suitable approach,
as mentioned in the Declaration of Principles at the World Summit of Information
Society: "ICTs should be used as an important tool for good
governance." However, for all the talk about e-governance, is it really
taking off in India?

On the brighter side: There are islands of success across the country;
last year’s government spend of $1.2 bn on e-governance; a strong IT sector in
the country; and last but not the least, the recent World Bank announcement to
support India’s initiative through a massive $500 mn loan, over the next four
year period.

Further, the World Bank is in discussions with the Center for providing Rs
25,000 crore financial assistance for a network to inter-linking all States and
Union Territories under the National e-Governance Action Plan (NEGAP).

Most of the projects in India have so far been made by sitting in an office and looking at a department’s computerization efforts, forgetting the central person-the citizen”

Satish Kaushal, country manager, Govt
(SWG), IBM

All this while the Indian Government has already announced its intention of
spending Rs 12,400 crore on e-governance. Not surprisingly, the country has
already moved up from 85 to 37, amongst 198 countries, in the fourth annual
survey conducted by Brown University in 2003.

On the flip side: The successful local initiatives have not been
followed through; support mechanism, service objectives, and service level
agreements-all not institutionalised; and high failure rates, to mention a
few.

Nevertheless, there is a definite push for e-governance from the government,
in tune with the resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly "to ensure
that the benefits of new technologies, especially information and communication
technologies, in conformity with recommendations contained in the ECOSOC 2000
Ministerial Declaration, are available to all."

But how do we make e-governance happen?
Summits discussing e-governance issues where all stakeholders put their
heads together to find out what needs to be done to make it e-governance happen
in India, are quite prevalent now.

What ails e-gov in India?
The essential ingredients that fails most e-governance projects in India,
include improper conceptualization and implementation, beside domain knowledge.
Strangely, in the country which boasts of being the IT service provider of the
world, people who understand government do not know IT, and not many who
understand IT have the necessary domain knowledge.

We can’t allow vendors to learn at our expense”

Prakash Kumar, Secretary (IT), Delhi

Another big problem: lack of stakeholder involvement. Most of the
time, the IT secretary or the IT departments attempt to replicate a project just
because it was successful in some part of the world. The logic: there should be
something intrinsically inbuilt in the project that makes it beneficial for the
user department, in terms of reducing labour.

The next problem is government process re-engineering (GPR). Most of the
time, either there is too much of GPR, or too little. Too much of it creates
many problems, in terms of changing rules and regulation forms, so much so that
it bogs down the project. Similarly, too little of it also create problems in
terms of meeting the state’s objectives.

In many cases, there is a lot of pressure to roll out a pilot project-even
before it has acquired critical mass without ownership at the political and
administrative level. Most of the projects are individual driven, and once the
champion is changed, the project dies a natural death.

For any model to be sustainable, there has to be some revenue stream built into it, or else the project will hit a roadblock in a year or two”

RR Fuliya, Commissioner & secretary (Electronics & IT Department), Haryana

Then comes the vendor factor, with IT companies trying to push their product
by over-emphasizing on technology without taking care of the main objectives.
Also, ignorance of technology ‘domain’ knowledge amongst government
officials results into a situation where vendors take governments for a ride,
with regards to their products.

According to Aman Singh, joint secretary to the CM-Chhatisgarh and CEO,
CHIPS, "As a country, we need to understand that there are primarily three
components of e-governance-people, process and technology, strictly in that
order. Unfortunately, majority in the country are obsessed with technology,
often at the cost of people and processes." Adds Prakash Kumar, Secretary
(IT), Delhi: "We can’t allow vendors to learn at our expense."

It’s all about processes
Technology has never been a problem for implementation of e-governance
projects, given the country’s pre-eminence in IT. However, the problem lies in
understanding the intricacies of implementation of meaningful e-governance
projects, as rightly put by Ravi Kant, Special Secretary (IT), West Bengal:
"Technology is a small piece of the puzzle. Execution is the key.
Governments need an innovative agenda-not an IT agenda."

In our country, the government is probably one of the biggest employers, and
the biggest sector, from the economic point of view. The main problem is
managing process change and change management within the government. Processes
are very much linked to government rules, regulations, and procedures. These
need to be changed. But changing them would be a very slow process, with long
gestation period.

Community: The missing link
Any e-governance project should always keep the ‘citizen’ at the core,
which has not happened so far. "Most of the projects in India have so far
been made by sitting in an office and looking at a department’s
computerization efforts, forgetting the central person-the citizen," said
Satish Kaushal, country manager, Govt (SWG), IBM. When Uttaranchal, for
instance, appointed IIT Roorkee to conduct a people response-assessment exercise
for putting up the various services on the portal called ‘Uttara’, it was
found that the citizens’ expectations were dramatically different from what
the bureaucrats were talking about. Therefore, whenever e-governance projects
are taken well beyond the pilot stage into the next stage, decision makers need
to look at the whole eco system.

As a country, we need to understand that there are primarily three components of e-governance-people, process and technology, strictly in that order”

Aman Singh, joint secretary to the CM-Chhatisgarh and CEO, CHIPS

While most agree that there is a need to involve citizens at the grassroots
level, in conceptualizing and strategizing an e-governance project, the fact is
that today most of these projects are conceived by the ‘champions’ without
involving the identified groups of stakeholders and consulting them to
understand their needs. Quite a few NGOs are propagating the
government-PPP-community-NGO partnership concept, but, overall, the country is
still pretty far off from the time where the benefits of ICT would reach the
masses in the real sense of the word.

Capacity building is a must
Apart from these, there are three other challenges in the form of people,
process, and technology. The most important part is people-not technology.
What is the government doing for capacity building? Only of late, government has
realized that it needs to do some capacity building. "They should have
taken up these activities of training generations of leaders who would have led
the e-governance movement in the respective states," said Aman Singh.

PPPs, are very important in calibrating the project and determining the goals in a cost effective manner”

R Chandrashekhar, Joint secretary & CVO-DIT

The good news is that the Planning Commission and the DIT have already
announced the policy to fund ‘capacity building’ under the National
E-Governance Action Plan (NEGAP).

Think beyond RoI
Last year about $1.2 bn was spent on e-governance initiatives in the country
and most of the projects so far are based on a return on investment (RoI)
matrix. Any e-governance project would allow cost reduction to the government,
but the important question is, will it enhance the operational efficiency? Will
it bring in higher revenue to the government? Will it bring better citizen
satisfaction? Experts suggest that all e-governance project needs to be judged
on a performance matrix based on certain parameters-not just RoI.

Explore new sustenance models
There is a confusion that a private public partnership (PPP) necessarily
means that citizens will be asked to pay for the services delivered. However,
this is not entirely correct. Introduction of ICT in good governance involves
appreciable capital cost and revenue cost. Public resources, available with the
government, are limited. Many states, with high fiscal deficit and rising
non-plan expenditure, cannot roll out e-governance projects for want of funds.
"Therefore, the governments need to explore avenues for funding," Kant
said, adding that, "even if the capital expenditure is made available, the
governments would have a liability for the revenue expenditure, which adds to
the non-plan budget."

What this means is that there has to be a mechanism for meeting the revenue
expenditure for e-governance projects, and maybe some contribution can come from
the citizens for using the services, but that requires innovative thinking.

E-governance will have to be driven by champions at different departments and the IT departments can, at best, do hand holding”

Vivek Harinarain, Secretary (IT), Tamil Nadu

While Singh believes that the citizen should not be made to pay, he agrees
that "for any model to be sustainable, there has to be some revenue stream
built into it, or else the project will hit a roadblock in a year or two".
RR Fuliya, Commissioner & Secretary (Electronics & IT Department),
Haryana suggest a way out when he says that a mixed approach of cross
subsidizing can be used in cases where situations demand.

Agrees Singh: "If we integrate the check posts through use of
automated smart cards or other similar technologies it would often lead to
increase in revenues. So, definitely, that revenue can be utilized to pay for
the project cost or cross-subsidize other e-services."

While Avinash Chaurasia, founder president, Force 3 is of the strong opinion
that the government should not try to take a short drive by charging the
citizen, Sivarama Krishnan, associate director, PwC said that in most of the
cases the question of sustainability is raising its head because the government
is only focusing on peripheral changes in e-government, without making requisite
restructuring at the backend. "Today, we are worried about how to raise
money for rolling out and sustaining an e-governance project without considering
the fact that if we substantially change the way we run the government, the
question of sustainability would not arise because this can possibly be absorbed
by the savings made."

Are we talking process re-engineering again?
Interestingly, most of the experts believe that one of the biggest
advantages of PPP is that the investment comes from another party, which is
driven by the bottom line. However, there should be service-level agreements to
ensure that the projects meet its objectives. "PPPs, apart from the obvious
ones in bringing together all the huge competencies that exist outside the
government, are very important in calibrating the project and determining the
goals in a cost effective manner" said R Chandrashekhar, Joint Secretary
& CVO-DIT.

Measure the success
While many of the India e-governance projects boast of winning national and
international laurels, including the Stockholm Challenge Award, many of these
projects have fallen flat on the ground with time. Experts suggest that it’s
high time that the country moves into the project management mode. The first and
the most important point is that the objectives, the milestones and the
benchmark should be clearly articulated before we embark on any e-governance
project. The evaluation of the project should be done against these milestones
and benchmarks. In this context, the emphasis should be on identifying
measurable results because what can’t be measured can’t be improved.

Says Singh: "In most of the cases, there are vested interests-often
those who have spent money and those who have implemented it-to declare the
project a success. Hence, there should always be a third-party evaluation of the
projects."

Can we bridge the digital divide?
"Digital divide has created a wide gap between the urban and rural
masses and if we seriously want e-governance to happen in this country, it is
important to attack this digital divide," said Dr GD Gautama, Principal
Secretary (IT), West Bengal. How to plug it then? The digital gap has to be
narrowed by putting in place a national infrastructure by developing and
nurturing the necessary human resources to design, develop, and operate the
national information infrastructure, e-enabled services, and associated chain
management.

"Technology is
a small piece of the puzzle. Execution is the key. Governments need
an innovative agenda- not an IT agenda"

Ravi Kant,
Special secretary (IT), West Bengal

According to Vivek Harinarain, Secretary (IT), Tamil Nadu, it’s a given
that most of the champions understand that e-governance is not hardware,
software, networking or mere digitization or computerization. "The ‘e’
aspects of hardware and software are tools you need to implement, after you
visualize the overall picture of what the service is that you want to deliver.
It is imperative, but e-governance is not the business of the IT department of
the government," he said, adding that "e-governance will have to be
driven by champions at different departments and the IT departments can, at
best, do hand holding."

Suresh Pachauri, Minister of State, Personnel, Public Grievances &
Pension had this to say:
"We need to ensure that digital divide does
not become a reason for denial of information. It has to be made available to
them in a language understood by them." And who should know it better than
him, for the Department of Administrative Reforms, under him, has been at the
forefront of driving
e-governance in the country, from the process-reengineering front.

Shubhendu Parth/CyberMedia
News (With inputs from Rahul Gupta in Mumbai)

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