March-April 2005

Government online: Opportunities and Challenges

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MP Gupta, Prabhat Kumar and Jaijit Bhattacharya, 2004; Tata McGraw-Hill Publishing Company Limited, New Delhi
595 pages; Price not available ,ISBN 0-07-058323-4

e Government, a relatively new phenomenon world over, has come with a great development   promise but without the blueprint for its deployment. With a promise to put    government online (providing services to citizens on anytime anywhere basis), it introduces a new quality to the governments and consumers of public services. However, with the lack of understanding of the complex issues of strategies, technological issues, change management requirements and business process reengineering warranted for online government, we  experience less than full satisfaction with the results achieved.

Government online: Opportunities and Challenges by M.P. Gupta, Prabhat Kumar and Jaijit  Bhattacharya helps the readers in understanding the concept of online governments. It makes  an informed attempt in preparing a strategic and technical framework for  implementing the single window government concept, in addition to learning about  initiatives in various parts of the world. The diverse backgrounds of the authors – M.P. Gupta  (an academician), Prabhat Kumar (from the government), and Jaijit Bhattacharya (from the  corporate world) has enabled them to address the issues in a comprehensive manner  touching not just the technology issues, but management related matters as well. The book is  organised into three sections in eighteen chapters that deal with the key issues involving e-Government.

The first section starts with the famous statement of Mahatma Gandhi: After attaining  Swaraj (Self Governance), We must attain Suraj (Good Governance). It deals with strategic  issues through six chapters dedicated to the emergence of the concept of governance and its  history, new paradigms and value propositions, deployment of e-Government initiatives,  leadership issues, reform processes, and a discussion on public private partnership models  (involving private sector and civil society organisations). This section is of use to readers  interested in understanding the process of governance, various models of e-Governance  presented by researchers, corporate entities and academicians. The section also presents lots of case studies with the key learning practices.

The second section of the book also contains six chapters and focuses on the technological  aspects of implementing e-Government. The section has been designed in such a way that  readers with a non-technical background can also understand the processes involved in  making the technology choices for the e-Government projects. In this section the authors  elaborate on the issues concerning appropriate architecture and technology standards. Details  on technologies like citizen identification systems, smart cards, bio informatics, and geographical information systems have been provided besides discussion on ebusiness models,  data management and security. The chapter on benchmarking

e-Government projects and government websites may be of relevance to government agencies  entrusted with the task of sanctioning funds for various projects. The last section  focuses on the key requirements, and proposes some solutions from the industry perspective.  The solutions for treasury management, citizen identification solutions and secretariat  information system have been detailed. The influence of the author with the corporate  background on this section is evident.

The final word of caution from the authors rightly points out that Government Online should  not be seen merely as a technology solution as technology cannot solve the problem of poor  governance, corruption and frustrations of the citizens. Corruption may easily turn into  e-corruption; bad government may become bad e-Government and rising user frustrations  may turn into e-frustrations if government online comes merely as the computerisation of  existing practices as, “e-Government is like a large canvass on which the people can draw a  new view, the citizen-centered view of their government”.

Overall, the book is an attempt by the authors to cover almost everything related to strategic  and technical aspects of implementing single window government. The book is intended to  present a holistic view on e-Governance charting a roadmap in terms of strategy and  technology for transforming the existing government to e-Government or online government.  Readers looking for a book that can act as a step-by-step guide to implementing  customised e-Government projects based upon the local needs will not find satisfaction from the book.

Additional focus on preparing a project report for e-Government, knowledge management tools, e-Governance assessment frameworks, specific benchmarking tools and techniques, and  ‘to do’ checklists for e-Government initiatives would have been useful, though the book has  been able to put together some outstanding international cases which shed light on the  numerous ways in which different approaches can be developed to realise the vision of  government online.

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