Interview

Go for National Level Projects : Satish Kaushal, Country Manager- Government and Education, IBM India

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Satish Kaushal, works very closely with Central, State and local Governments  across India and the sub-continent. He has been associated with ICT adoption in the  government sector for the past 10 years.

How IT can be leveraged to improve the efficiency and transparency in the government?

Information technology today, if used approporiately, is one of the best tools to bring total tranformation in government service delivery. We can see the successs of some of the projects in India as well as overseas. Indian Railways after introducing e-Ticketing system has been able to provide a complete relief for millions of passengers in the country. Likewise MCA 21 with the use of IT, is now serving the corporate India with much greater efficiency and the Bhoomi prjoect in Karnataka, all these projects over the period of time have used Information Technology. So, once people start using Information Technology, the business process re-engineering happens, greater efficiencies are introduced, people get better services and the expectations are higher. They start leveraging the technology and with the help of technology people get services on their finger tips from anywhere and at anytime. The process of reaching different government functionaries are being reduced to a significant level and the services are being delivered directly to the customer. In that way, it brings in transparency, it brings in efficiency and it brings in a level playing field for the people.

What is your suggestion towards incorporating ICT into the overall public sector reform strategy?

At a policy level, three elements have to be achieved. One is that the entire e-Government framework should be supported by the legal framework. We can not think of just introducing technology without the appropriate laws supporting the outputs of any e-Government project. Second, greater emphasis has to be given to training of the people. A policy level decision should be taken that no e-Government project should be deployed unless and until there is significant investment towards training people and government employees to remove the fear factor. Third, the technology adoption around open standards. Government should have the choice on usage of products, which brings in greater innovation, which can come only through open standards. In summary, legal standards, open standards and training are need of the hour. Lastly, as a policy matter, if we have to take the e-Government to the next phase, the procurement processes of the government have to change drastically and the government should introduce e-Procurement.

How do you see the current e-Governance scenario in India? What are the key barriers for increased usage of IT in the government?

If we go by the worldwide e-Readiness, we are somewhere at the fifteeth at the global level. It means, quite a large number of countries out of 110 countries, countries are above us. In e-Readiness we take large number of factors like connectivity, training, content etc. So, it is a sum total of many elements. From a statistical perspective, we are way behind and lot of things to catch up.

But, yes, things are improving. Our connectivity after the SWAN is poised for a much better adoption of technology as well as lower tariff on the connectivity. This would give a catalytic push to the government to percolate Information Technology upto the village level. Secondly, today the business environment, which helps e-Readiness, has proven that our own set of people have shown tremendous adoption without training on ATMs, mobile phones. From that perspective, the business environment is changing and that is going to force Information Technology adoption as well as delivery from suppliers at a much better pace. Therefore, we think that in years to come, with government investing in NeGP and people ready to do business with the tools of IT, India’s e-Readiness ranking will improve drastically.

National e-Governance Plan (NeGP) is being implemented
through Public-Private Partnerships. How is IBM facilitating the government in establishing the right partnerships to implement the MMPs under the NeGP?

In view of the current scenario, I think the momentum which, was there few years back,  seems to be slowing down a bit. I am not saying it hass slowed down, but it seems to be. India is  earning today one of the best foreign exchange, it is because of our IT companies, whereas the  technology adoption is far below than many other countries. It is strange to see that, while  India is sending its developers, project managers, consultants, they have changed their skill  sets from just a infrastructure provider to a value provider in terms of foreign exchange. But  the technology adoption in the country is not moving in the same pace. This is a cause of  worry and it needs urgent attention. The government can accelerate this development.

I think the government should spend lot of time towards educating masses by providing  nationally implemented projects rather than state sponsored pilots. If there are clear cut  visible national projects, then there will be a very big momentum coming from the end users  itself. Second, more focus must be given to e-Learning and e-Training, so that in the local  language people in the rural areas of the country start demanding the government services  with much greater speed and that would be a very clear pull factor for technology adoption in  the country. The third area is the cost element. The cost of infrastructure should really come  down. It is still on the higher side, for that Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) and Open  Standards are the real answer rather than re-writing the same application softwares again  and again. If SOA and Open Standards are leveraged, then whatever has been developed they  should become real objects for the next set of applications. This development should take to the  next level of e-Governance applications.

What is your priority areas as Country Manager-
Government vertical in IBM India?

We are focusing largely on public safety and security projects. We are working closely with  municipal corporations what we call it as e-Municipalities, through which the local self governance improves. We are focusing on training and education projects, so that we can  ensure a high quality education in the country. This is the biggest focus we are having currently. We are looking at projects like Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan or School Education Projects  and fi nd out how information technology can be best used in these projects. Fourthly, we are focusing on workforce improvement. We are also working closely with  governments in the area of portal development so that they can have a national portal and  portals in the area of education, health and agriculture. These are some of the initiatives we are undertaking.

What is your opinion regarding Public-Private Partnership
(PPP) mode of implementation of NeGP?

Our view is that, IT use by government for better service delivery to the citizens can best be  arrived by involving all the stakeholders and PPP is the only answer. We do not think that  government should keep on spending on building applications alone. The best model could be  that there are organisations who are ready to put in their spin on the game and provide  services. Government does the best what it is known for ‘governance’, and if the private sector  or NGOs or communities can come forward and bring to table the value which they  have experience in, this will be a true public private partnership. IBM is collaborating with  organisations which are ready to take large projects to the masses by putting some  investments and IBM provides them the technology at a lower cost with an International  experience, so that the upfront cost is low. We strongly recommend that public private  partnership, in which IBM becomes a thought leader, IBM becomes a good technology  provider.

What are some of the challenges in deploying open source solutions in India? How can these be overcome?

IBM provides solutions based on open standards. Our partners adopt them and build services  among them and as per the requirements of the government align with the government. When we put in solutions around open standards, there is a typical mindset that we should use  only the same product or the same platform which we have used before. This mindset  should change. Second, we do not have a very clear policy or guideline from government of  India on standards so far. So, a lot of time goes in educating most of the people regarding what  should be the platform to use to build the applications.

What is your opinion regarding m-Governance in
enhancing the reach of government services to the citizens?

Using mobile technologies for delivering government services is helping citizens adopt and  understand the benefi ts of technology. But, governance through mobile devices, I think we  are far away from that. If governments can provide services to citizens uniformly throughout  the country through citizen services centres or through various other government projects, I  think that would be a good step to move forward in the next fi ve years.

What is your message to the policymakers for IT usage in
the government?

Adopt open satndards, change procurement processes and go for national level projects.

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