September 2006

A.B.C. of e-Governance

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E-Governance is now accepted as the best means to provide government services to the citizens and businesses efficiently and economically. Most governments are spending large amount of pubic money on various e-Government projects. The study conducted by Heeks reveals that only 15% of e-Government projects in developing countries succeeds while 35% projects are total failures and remaining 50% are partial failures. The failures of the e-Government projects not only demoralises the champions of e-Governments but also result into the loss of public money directly and indirectly.

Heeks’ study concludes that central issue to the success and failure is the size of the gap that exists between ‘current realities’ (where we are now) and ‘design of the e-Government projects’ (where the e-Government projects want us to go). The larger the design-reality gap, the greater is the risk of e-Government project failure. Seven dimensions viz. information, technology, processes, objectives and values, staffing and skills, management systems and structures and other resources such as time and money are found necessary and sufficient to provide an understanding of the design-reality gap. Heeks suggests that the projects must be planned so as to have less design-reality gap for better success rate of the project, and further argues that another reason for failure of e-Government projects in developing countries is the gap between the rationality required in Information System (IS), system design and the socio-political reality of the developing countries. The success rate are far better in developed countries due to their hard or rational approach toward life while developing countries often follow soft approach based on subjectivity.

It is miserable that almost 85% of the e-Government projects fail to achieve their objective in developing countries. The success of the e-Government projects in these countries can be ensured only after considering the three important prerequisite called A (Administrative Reform), B (Business Process Reengineering) and C (Cost-Benefit Analysis) of the e-Governance

There are other obvious reasons like digital divide in the developing countries, low literacy of computers and infrastructure constraints like Internet connectivity, lack of steady power connection etc. are responsible for the lower penetration of e-Governance among the masses. For example, while countries like USA, Korea, Australia, Singapore have more than 50% Internet connectivity for their citizens, the developing countries like India, Pakistan have less than 2% Internet penetration. However, it may take several decades to overcome the problems of illiteracy, infrastructure, change of law and cultures. The design-reality gap or hard-soft gap is also based on the socio-economic reality of the country, which can be bridged only gradually. While these studies identify the reasons for the failures of the projects, they fail to provide a solution. These studies also fail to appreciate that at least 15% of the e-Government project succeed even in the developing countries despite the infrastructural problems and resource constraints. Therefore, there is need to find solutions which can be implemented in the developing countries based on the present realities.
In the given perspective, three important prerequisites have been identified to ensure high success rate of the e-Government projects. We call it ABC of e-Governance, where “A” represents ‘Administrative Reform’, “B” represents ‘Business Process Reengineering (BPR)’ and “C” represents ‘Cost-Benefit Analysis’. All the e-Government projects must be studied from these perspectives to ensure success of various e-Government projects.

Administrative Reform

Thus goes the famous adage “Charity begins at home”. However, most of the e-Government projects are implemented without the government putting their house in order. In most of the government department, while the front-end of the department gives the impression of an automated department, yet in most of the (backend) offices, the processing of the files and documents continue to be manual. The government officials have to often take a printout of the application filed by the applicant through email and do the processing in manual mode. For example, in the Indian Customs department, almost all inter-official works are still done on the manual mode and the automation is limited only to the assessment and clearance of the import and export of the cargo. The employees get their salaries, by cheque, apply for their leaves on paper and get all the approval on paper documents. All the financial sanctions and official correspondences are made using paper documents. Even when emails are used in the extreme situations, it has to be officially confirmed by fax or hard copy of the documents.

Yet, the governments pay little attention for Government-to-Government (G2G) and Government-to-Employee (G2E) aspect of the e-Government due to its low visibility while Government-to-Citizen (G2C) and Government-to-Business (G2B) are accorded high priority due to their populist appeal. Thus, while the department may be providing many benefits to the trade electronically, their employees may still be dealing with files and paper documents. Since the government employees are least benefited from any e-Government initiatives hence they are least interested in the e-Government initiatives, which excludes them from its purview. Following methods are suggested to bring administrative reforms before implementation of any e-Government initiative.

Legal Changes: The present laws are designed for the manual era where each government official had no access to the files of the other officials, which may be located at different geographical locations. Hence the officials have to use their discretion to take a decision based on experience and local factors. All these files are independent to each other and the citizens have no claim for getting the similar treatment from all officials. For example, in the import of the goods the rate of duty is often decided by first ascertaining the classification of the item the local tariff, which provides the rate of the duty and then determining the assessable value at which the duty is to be levied. In the manual system each officer decides the classification and valuation based on his expertise, hence the same item may be charged with different amount of duty in different ports and often in the same port. In the manual mode, it is inevitable since it is not possible within a limited time to enquire from other ports the correct classifications and valuations. However, the goal of customs is always to charge same duty on identical items. Therefore, the laws have to be changed to constitute a central assessment authority at the national level whose decisions must be binding to all the customs ports in the country. This would ensure not only faster clearance but also ensure that all importers are treated fairly thus reducing the scope of litigation. In other government departments, similar laws are required to be incorporated which ensures the uniformity all over the department.

Office Automation: It is observed that despite of all the implementation of several e-Government projects for the citizens, the government ministries at central and state level continue to rely on paper based documents and files for all their decision-making. The present office procedures require the paper documents even in cases of electronic transactions. The office procedure manuals are therefore to be changed to allow the electronic transactions as the legal means of communication without the necessity of paper documents. All the office activities like application of leave, leave records, receipt of salaries and allowances must be automated as much as possible. This will make the life of the government employees easier and make them the willing partner in the e-Government initiatives.

Change Management: Most of the government officials think that providing the computer and the software is sufficient for the automation process. They are often not aware how difficult it is to learn computers since they themselves hardly use computers. The computer-phobia can be reduced only by adequate training of the employees. Often the government officials who are associated with the development of the software are the most computer savvy, hence they assume that all the government officials are equally competent to use computer and have the same enthusiasm of the computerisation as them. The truth is just the opposite as most of the government employees’ (particularity the older generation) are quite reluctant to use computers. They must, therefore, be motivated and trained to work in the automated environment.

Further the software of the department must be designed in the most user-friendly manner, which can be easily understood by even the computer illiterate person.

Business Process Reengineering

The next most important step that must be taken in any e-Government project is to change the procedures in the government in accordance with the need of the computerisation. e-Governance may be perceived to be a marriage of (objective) electronic with (subjective) governance. The procedural changes must therefore be made to use the decision-support systems, which can provide the best benefits of the computer -human interface.

The human decision-making suffers from the human weakness like inaccuracy of the calculation, subjective interpretation of the laws and procedures and human bias based on race, sex, caste, language etc. Further, the human decision-makers are not immune from the pressures and temptations of the material world. Hence, the procedures in the manual decisions making are designed to ensure fairness by incorporating the concept of checks and balances. The decision of one lower rank official is therefore cross checked by other senior officers and the power of decision-making is delegated to different officers depending on their rank. Most of the manual process envisages many layers of approvals in each case to avoid or at least reduce the human weakness. Accordingly, the benefits of the automations would be unable to be achieved if the exis-ting process is merely automated. BPR is, therefore, the most necessary step to harness the full capacity of the e-Governance.

The benefits for BPR can be explained thus. Many e-Government projects deal with providing the government records like the land records through Internet or the public Internet kiosks at nominal charge. These documents are often used for taking loans from the government banks. The farmer often submits these records to the banks, which then follows the complex process of investigation from other banks, his past repayment records etc. to finally sanction the loan. However, since the records are in the computer system of the government itself, there should be no need for submission of any document to the bank. The banks can directly access these documents from their computers. Further, the banks can develop suitable software, which can automatically calculate the loan eligibility of the farmer based on his landholding, past repayment records etc. Hence if the person applies for the loan, and the loan amount is within the calculated amount of the bank software, the person may get automatically loan without any manual intervention. Many private sector banks are already following these processes. If the applied loan is more, then the software may provide the risk factor and thereafter the decision may be taken by the senior officer of the banks based on their expertise. Similar processes may be worked out in all government departments where the decisions are taken automatically in most of the cases based on the decision support provided by the computer program. The Indian customs has already implemented a computer program called Risk Management System (RMS), which provides automatic clearance to the low risk cargo without any manual intervention.

Interoperability: In most countries, there are different layers of governments at central, states, district and municipal level who have to often work together to provide a particular service. For example, for getting the passport from the passport office, many government departments may be involved. The person gets the form from the post office (Central Government). He attaches proof of address by submitting water bill (municipality), electricity bill (state government) and a bank draft by an authorised bank (Government or private). Thereafter, the passport office sends the form for police (crime) verification (State Government).

In manual system, the documents move from one official to another in a linear manner where each officer takes decisions individually. In the cyber space, it is possible to make just one document, which travels all over simultaneously, where each agency enters the information pertaining to them. Hence, the user is saved from the difficulty of the multiple entries for each department. Therefore, procedures of the government departments must be amended so that the documents of one government department are accepted by other government departments. The documents need to be designed in such a way that it takes care of the information to be provided by each agency.

Cost- Benefit Analysis

The cost of e-Government project is borne by the citizens of the country. In a developing country where even the basic necessities like food water and shelter are not available to most of the citizens there can be hardly any justification to spend the large amount of public money on the projects benefiting only a smaller section of the population. Therefore, every e-Government project must be analysed critically like a business investment. The highest priority must be accorded to those projects where the perceived benefits are more than the cost. For example, the computerisation of Interstate Check posts in Gujarat enhanced the revenue collection by three-fold within two years and the total project cost was paid back within a period of six months.

Therefore, the government by investing into the projects where the return is high not only improves the government efficiency, reduces cost of governance but also cost no money to the public. These projects by improving the efficiencies of the government earn extra revenue, which can be utilised for the implementation of other e-Government projects. Further, the government can use the infrastructure of these projects for other less viable e-Government projects, which can benefit a large segment of the society.

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