Book review

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e-Government …the science of the possible
Author.. J Satyanarayana
Publisher Prentice-Hall of India Pvt Ltd
A123 Patparganj ,New Delhi 110001, +91 11 287654321
Pages ..235
Price Rs..267

Various dimensions of e-Governance, and e-Government in particular, have been discussed in the earlier pages. This section reviews the literature on the subject

The book in consideration is e-Government … the science of the possible by J Satyanarayana  [2004; Prentice-Hall of India Private Limited]. A Civil Servant by profession, the author is the  Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the National Institute for Smart Government in  Hyderabad. The book is an interesting blend of anecdotal discussion on the subject and  in-depth analyses of project level issues in e-Government. The initial discussion in the book on  basic definitions is well placed in that the subject matter of e-Government itself needs to be  clarified. The author derives from his own experience six thumbrules, which could be  encapsulated here as the need to see Information and Communication technology as a means  and not an end (end being ‘good governance’); and to focus on citizens and not computers i.e.  the process, the software and the planning should aim at service and not a fixation with  merely automating systems. Satyanarayana points out the benefits of e-Government to  governments, citizens, businesses and the ICT industry and underlines a successful  e-Government project as one that scores high on the consumer-satisfaction barometer.

The book scores well on account of sourcing of relevant reference points [using case studies  from the United States, United Kingdom, Singapore], all the while maintaining the caveat  that identical copying of application architecture and strategies may not yield similar results  for a country like India. It explains quite superbly the components for any successful  e-Government project as inclusive of effective Processes (which eliminate redundant or  repetitive efforts from users, allow better cost management, sensible procurement and  rational management), People (faster user training/ capacity building etc.), and Technology.

In particular the section on procurement performs an honest pros-and-cons evaluation of  outsourcing of e-Government projects versus in-house implementation of the same. What  refresh the discussion on procurement are the workable options of Public Private Partnerships  (PPPs) and the Cooperative Development Environment (CDE) model. In the light of efficiency  requirements, competitiveness, questions of economic viability and continuity of e-Government projects, the author stresses the importance of PPPs and CDE, and identifies conditions on the part of the government that are necessary in order to encourage private participation. These include:

1. The need for strong political will to plan, direct and implement e-Government systems
2. Public perception (awareness building)
3. Sensitised Civil Service
4. Transparent shortlisting procedures for bidders (tech suppliers)
5. Propensity for risk-taking
6. Proper visioning exercise
7. Creation of market potential

However, the literature remains silent on what the new services would mean for consumers  in terms of costs? Would the physical presence of the Government be completely obviated for  services available through electronic medium (this question is important as resource- challenged people with little or no literacy would be apprehensive of broaching new  technologies let alone using them for basic services)? Even for alternatives, which involve  private partners, there is no clear-cut discussion on long-term economic viability of  e-Government initiatives that might actually encourage a long-standing ‘partnership’ as  opposed to a one-time commercial service provision by private players. Such scenarios could  have been reviewed for all practical reasons.

Interestingly a section contrasting ‘e-readiness’ and ‘e-Government readiness’ is able to  highlight the dilemma of developing countries and their capacity at all levels (user,  personnel, application systems, etc). In order to participate in the digital economy,  Satyanarayana lists a set of 43 indicators and 6 macro and micro indices at the level of Policy  making (what are the telecom policies, how evolved are ISP policies, etc.), Infrastructure (how  good is the internet penetration, last mile connectivity, etc), Resources (political  resources, expenditure on training and nature of workforce at senior and junior levels alike. etc), and Usage (e-literacy, number of e-Government projects, etc). The clincher, however, is  a 10-step descriptive section on moving towards e-readiness that covers all aspects from the  visioning exercise, need for legislations, budgeting of projects to actual establishment of  government gateways. While such a section comprehensively guides the policy maker on the  road to putting in place e-Government systems, brevity takes the better of organised  presentation, as the book would have done well to organise all scattered details relating to  planning and execution of e- Government projects under the 10-step section. Moreover, in one  instance for the problem of reaching connectivity to remote areas the author only suggests  the use of the Value Measurement Model (for projects whose funding cannot be justified using  normal cost-benefit calculations). Further elaboration of cost-sharing models, or simulated  modelling of financing e-Government projects could have been useful for the reader.

“The visioning envisaged in the book through concrete recommendations is a first step to training the trainers in their journey towards electronic governance.

The sum and substance of the author’s discussion on the importance of technology and the  nature of the same to be adopted reflects the insight that his personal experience as  administrator and implementer of e-Government systems in India has given. He suggests the  importance of a centralised database with a modular design, a single-sign-on facility,  standardised metadata schemas i.e. structured data for inter-operable systems,  user-friendliness of application architecture, importance of platform independent language  such as XML, and even recommends brand-specifics for choice of application architecture  systems. As e-Government projects would involve large number of systems at diverse locations, the use of Open Source Software is aptly discussed in the light of cost savings,  avoidance of vendor-lock-in and the scope of adaptation to government needs.

While some may conclude that the sections on the importance of security management of  e-Government systems (threats in the user environment, in the transport medium and the  physical security of assets) give the impression of acting as fillers for the book, the sections  would still be recommended for one set of readership as a primer on security management. For  instance, user confidence could be raised by the use of Public key infrastructure or PKI to  meet the requirements of authentication, integrity, confidentiality and non-repudiation. The transport medium i.e. the space between users and the ICT assets of the e-Government system  could be secured by the use of Virtual Private Network technologies. Similarly, basic  definitions of viruses, anti-virus techniques, security standards, etc. would be useful at a capacity-building stage for system operators at all levels.

On the issue of digital divide, Satyanarayana looks at the divide as emerging from the  disparities in people’s obtainment of ‘digital dividends’ rather than the standard ‘lack of access  to the internet or possession of ICT assets’ cliché. This brings in a new perspective  wherein the thrust is on spreading out a dependable service that allows access with  convenience and affordability as the end goals all the while ensuring that the content is of  relevance to the user group and preferably in their local language. The focus on direct  economic benefits (cost and time savings) and indirect benefits (distributive justice and  improvement in quality of life of user groups) is well placed. The author hints at the role that  NGOs could play with the ‘participatory rural appraisal’ (PRA) methodology, with the  information available in instances where economically weaker sections are unable to use ICT. Though a few case studies are presented as efforts of bridging the digital divide, the core PRA  model could have been elaborated with descriptions on the simulated use of the exercise for  content matter relevant to healthcare, education, relief work, etc. for greater clarity. The  stress on NGO partnerships thereof could draw up a believable picture of social mobilisation at  the grassroots level.

Towards the close of the book the author deals with managing e-Government, which in a way  overlaps with much of the content covered in the earlier sections on formulating apt e-Government policies through capacity building and sensitising of users and personnel, citizen-centric services, development and use of sustainable, interoperable, and cost-effective technology, and development of partnerships in the public-private arena, among others. The  value addition, however, is in the form of a proposed management structure for  e-Government at the policy making (a proposed National e-Government Council), strategy (a  proposed Centre for Electronic Government), and the enterprise levels. The prescribed  components/structures for each level would certainly be useful to the policymaker. The  concluding sections capture case details of successful implementation of e-Government from  around the world (country portals, G2C, G2B, and instances of internal efficiency of e-Government systems).

While the book may be too ‘technical’ for a lay reader looking for an introduction to the subject  (with its detailed e-Government architecture models), the visioning envisaged in the  book through concrete recommendations is a first step to training the trainers in their  journey towards electronic governance. Satyanarayana has the depth of understanding of  technology architecture, implementing methodologies and change management from his  direct handling of pioneering e-Government projects like eSeva, CARD, eProcurement and  SmartGov that shows in the clarity of his presentation. No doubt the entire book is a superb  resource, and a must-buy for students, practitioners and policymakers involved with  e-Government issues.

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