Time for a Federal CIO?

DQI Bureau
New Update

For the first time since independence, we are seeing that the central

government and a few state governments are driving governance with a coherent

strategy based on their election promises and socio-economic agenda. That is not

to say that the earlier governments or politicians did not try to implement

their promises; but in most cases, they were isolated and disjointed, if not

insincere. As a result, many well-intentioned plans failed. And the electorate

never really distinguished between lack of success in execution and lack of

intention. The positives of a coherent strategy are that it is efficient on the

resources and the progress is easier to measure centrally.


Now, once you have a coherent strategylike the objective of an inclusive

growth in case of the UPA government at the centerthe next step is to try to be

more effective, build accountability and be resource-efficient. No marks for

guessing what could help. Yes, the role of IT could change from being a supplier

to that of a partner, as has happened in many leading enterprises. What it means

is that IT should not come after everything has been planned; it should come

right at the beginning.

The governmentat least at the centeris slowly recognizing this fact. The

decision to rope in Nandan Nilekani to head the UID Authority was primarily

meant for achieving this objective. And, he has shown that he means business. A

by-product, probably, was a positive publicity and momentum.


Another small but important step that the government has taken comes as part

of the budget speech of the finance minister wherein he announced the setting up

of a Technology Advisory Group for Unique Projects (TAGUP) for all unique

projects of the government with Nilekani as the head. While this does indicate

that the government has realized the value of interweaving technology with

planningand that is a great piece of newsthis approach is still project to


What we need is converting this to a process in the overall governance

scheme. It may still need special thrust for some projects, but they must roll

back to a coherent technology strategy for governance. At this point, it may be

a good thing to try at all levels, but is an absolute must at the central level.

Informationits collection, processing, dissemination and decisions based on

those informationis of utmost importance at this point. In a country whose

scale is next only to China and diversity is next to none, that is a mammoth



The answer could lie in appointing a high powered federal CIO who could drive

that agenda for the government. Let me clarify. I am not suggesting a US like

federal CIO and a federal CTO. The appointment of the latter is a tactical issue

now, and may be one of the different possible paths available; but a federal CIO

is a must.

Today, in governance like in many enterprises, there is no difference between

the demand and supply side of IT. NIC, by and large, plays that role. And, it

has done a great job in many cases.

But, NIC was formed at a time when governance was very different and the

approach to technology was that of a supplier-buyer and not of a partner. But,

NIC has got the ability to change and it should be reoriented a bit. But unlike

today, where many ministries do not take ownership of their tech plans and leave

it to the NIC, a small, internal team of the government should drive the agenda.

That should be the CIOs office. Whether it should be a separate department or

be part of the PMs office is open for debate.

Shyamanuja Das

The author is Editor of Dataquest.