Time to go the “I” Way



It is now getting increasingly clear that the pace of reforms in
this country, especially governance reforms, would depend on the speed at which
governments decide to take up the reforms of their information systems.
Information is the most valuable resource that organizations have, be it public
or private, and it is essential that governments realize this and seize the
initiative.

Myriads of e-governance initiatives spawning all over are
exemplars in this regard. Although considerable progress is palpable, the issues
of concern are the regional and sectoral imbalances and gaps that exist in the
e-Gov scenario in the country.

Too Many Gaps
While the country is talking of a nine percent growth rate, the governance
reforms would have to play a major role in sustaining the momentum associated
with this growth. The efforts in this regard are sporadic and incomplete.
Outdated Websites belonging to thousands of government and semi government
departments, meaningless computerization with absolutely no business process
reengineering, lack of real commitment on part of the apparatus to part with
information, despite a legislation making it a right, are some of the telling
signs of things not doing too well if one talks of governance reforms in our
country.

The government departments have two sides to their existence-external
and internal. The external one borders around its interface with its clients,
the citizens as we call them. Internally the organizations are in disarray due
to lack of proper and smooth systems, while externally the citizens are left
disillusioned.

A thorough system analysis would, however, confirm that nine out
of ten times, both the prevention and cure of this disease are possible if we
allow technology to take precedence over the norm. Internally,
technology-oriented solutions would ensure that the non-performers are left with
no cover and the decision support systems are on a stronger wicket with a
properly processed informational base. Externally, technology would ensure that
the discretionary advantages and favors possible in the tech-less system are
eliminated, allowing a level playing field to everybody, which in essence, is
the purpose of governments.

This however does not mean that technology by itself can make
governments transparent, smart and responsive, as there are a host of other
factors, which influence it.

To any casual observer, a government office is a place where
papers get stalled, where information is caught in the quagmire of bureaucratic
decision-making and red tapism.

So where do we go from here? To my mind the immediate need of
the hour is to make the administration get a citizen-centered focus and make use
of technology for storing, retrieving, processing, handling and doling out
information. However, to do this every office needs to do some ground work,
carry out system analysis to weed out incorrect procedures, lengthy formalities
and above all right sizing-get the right people for the right positions by
training and re-staffing.

Unfortunately, Information Technology in the administrative
parlance has been simply equated to computerization, resulting in myriads of
computers installed in government offices. There is absolutely no focus on the
information part of IT. Anybody who understands Information Technology will
agree that IT is more about information and less about technology. The wrong
understanding of this definition in the governments has, however, resulted in
needless addition of computers leading to a system, which neither has a citizen
focus, nor has evolved as a panacea to the maladies faced by the system.

An Eye for Solutions
In most of the cases, if every government department can take a lead,
analyze its functioning, simple, local IT solutions keeping citizens as focus
can be found. Many such decentralized local initiatives are exemplars in this
regard. The need of the hour is to build on the successes of these initiatives
and replicate them everywhere without reinventing the wheel. A strong political
and administrative will can achieve this in fairly minimal time.

IT in the
administrative parlance has been simply equated to computerization,
resulting in myriads of computers being installed in government offices

Due to the scale of operation and multiplicity of tasks what one
needs in a government system is creation and maintenance of databases that allow
faster and easier retrieval and sorting of data. Smooth front-ends that can
allow user-friendly access to these databases are the next step. Another issue
is networking and connectivity-making all these related computers and
databases talk to each other, share the information and live symbiotically. A
stand-alone computer serves no purpose and is an injustice to its inherent
capacity. These computers talking sub consciously without any human intervention
is the key to administrative reforms. It is also important that once the
databases are readied and set, any further transaction be compulsorily routed
through the database so that the database is routinely and sub-consciously
updated and at remains relevant and dynamic at all times.

The bane of most of the government databases is that they are
people-centric rather than being process-centric. It is therefore essential that
processes are ingrained into the departmental bloodstream, and the transactions
are compulsorily done through the databases, so that updated happens
automatically.

The possibilities of having common databases for multiple
departments, needs serious attention and promotion. The centralized maintenance
of databases at various strategic levels emerges out of this principle. Throwing
open these databases into the public domain, is the next logical step in the
completion of this cycle. Such an exercise not just helps in citizen centering
the whole process, but also enables purification and weeding of incorrect data.

One also needs to dispel the myth that IT solutions in the
government are an unaffordable luxury to nations like India. The fact is that,
IT is only a tool that influences the objective, and the equivocal objective is
to make the system more transparent, open and accountable. Most of the rural
areas suffer on account of various problems, including the lack of right
information regarding the markets, products, agriculture, health, weather and
education. If all this can be addressed through connectivity and IT, a sea
change can be brought in the conditions of the rural communities.

The results of mobile communication in the rural hinterland are
showing overwhelming evidence that similar reforms are possible, and would alter
the balance in the state-sponsored delivery mechanisms. Creation of a knowledge
and information economy can bring in plenty of opportunities, thus snowballing
into prosperity to the impoverished areas than any other rhetoric. All the
villages can become knowledge hubs, gain symbiotically from each other and
derive benefits from the global networks.

Another area where IT can improve things is in the delivery of
civic services. These services range from bill payments, certifications and
grievance redressal to citizen forums that can push the representative democracy
toward becoming a popular democracy. It can’t be denied that the interface
between the governments and the citizens, which today exists as that of a
benefactor and beneficiary has to be transformed into one of a principal and
client. Technology can surely act as a major catalyst in this regard.

To say the least, if we fail to act now, the risks associated
with the information gap may widen into an unbridgeable gulf that may increase
global inequality and leave the poor further behind. But if we approach the
matter with the same kind of urgency and application as the commercial
"dot-com" sector, then we have every chance of building a strong, new,
wired future that not only includes the world’s poor but gives them an
unprecedented opportunity to finally break out the poverty they have suffered
for eons.

You may be disappointed if you fail, but you are doomed if you
don’t try.

-The author is an IAS officer of AP cadre.
The views expressed are his own and do not reflect the policies of the
Government
maildqindia@cybermedia.co.in

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