January 2008

Looking Back Moving Forward

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Neel Ratan is the ED of PwC, India, which is the leading e-Governance   consulting company in India involved in several state and national level projects. Neel has been in the sector for long. Long enough to give some sound advise.

It has been more than two years that I wrote an article, in this very magazine, about the National e-Governance Plan (NeGP). This article about NeGP had described it as a comprehensive ‘programme’ of the Government of India that was ‘designed to leverage the capabilities and opportunities presented by the ICT to promote good governance across the country. The reason for using the terms ‘designed’ and ‘programme’ for the national plan was then deliberate as I had opined that gaps existed between the design and the institutional mechanism required to ensure that the objectives of NeGP are translated into reality and therefore, it still had a ‘long way to go’. I propose to articulate my thoughts in this article i.e., evaluate the progress made by NeGP, as requested by the publishers, against the above background.

A lot has happened

A lot has happened in the last two to three years. October 2004 was the time when NeGP in its  current form started to take shape – World Bank identifi cation mission visited India in  October 2004, which was followed by State Consultations by Department of IT, Government  of India, on NeGP in early 2005. During this intervening period, there were three key achievements that I would want to talk about:

Endorsement by the Government:
The cabinet approved NeGP in May 2006, with it   comprising 27 Mission Mode Projects, 8 components, an implementation strategy and a management structure. There is on-paper, a management structure which is endorsed right from the top i.e. the Prime Minister and an e-Governance advisory group headed by the Minister – Communications and Information Technology.

Awareness on Good Governance:
Possibly it is biggest achievement till date. In the last three years, e-Governance has progressed beyond the realm of seminars and workshops and is now part of the government priority at all levels – central, state and local. I also feel that most of the states and many of their secretaries understand the whole concept of e-Governance and its linkage to good governance. This is no small achievement.

Service Orientation:
Another key achievement for many IT projects in government (may not be true for all IT projects and all government departments) is the increased structuring of projects aimed at ‘procuring services’ and not ‘procuring hardware and software’. This has helped create structures and models that better leverage private sector expertise and management. I see large number of projects where payments are no longer made upfront but are annuity based, linked to performance and service level agreements. This is indeed a very positive outcome of the NeGP.

WHAT’S HAPPENING ON THE GROUND…

An important indicator of the success of any programme is action’ on the ‘ground’ and it is  indeed worthwhile looking at the progress across some of the 27 Mission Mode Projects (MMPs).  I have categorised these into three groups. The reason for this categorisation is two  fold. One, it allows the readers to evaluate the pace of progress of individual MMP’s and second,  it can help policy makers formulate separate strategies for MMP’s in different categories.

Category 1: ‘Delivering Service’ – Many of the projects under this category are Central   Mission Mode Projects that have been driven by individual ministries and their relative success may be largely attributable to the ministries concerned and not necessarily to the NeGP. Primary among these are MCA21, Pensions, Central Excise, Income Tax etc. Most of these projects are what I would refer to as “delivering service”. Having said that, I do believe that NeGP provides a framework to closely look at the relative successes and design of these projects and align them to the service orientation (service and service levels) goal of NeGP. This would facilitate leveraging common infrastructure, common standards and policies which are required to move closer to the ultimate goal of “connected government”.
Category 2: “On the right direction” – The second category of MMP’s are those which I  believe can deliver services within the next twelve months. What is important for this to be achieved is “dedicated and continued leadership” on the part of the owner ministries. MMP’s that would fall into this category include State Wide Area Network, Common Service Centres, State Data Centre, Passport, Standards etc. Management structure of NeGP can play a key  Role in “supporting” the owner ministries implement MMP’s in a time bound manner by “regular monitoring”.
Category 3: “Still Not There” – A large number of MMP’s would fall into this category, namely the MMP’s that are still discussing and defi ning the project scope/ coverage /  roadmap / implementation modalities etc. These are MMP’s which I believe that NeGP Management Structure needs to focus on. Success of NeGP cannot be achieved without the success of these MMP’s. MMP’s in this category include Municipalities, Land Record, Agriculture, Commercial Tax, eDistrict, Unique ID, Police, Gram Panchayat, Employment Exchange, eOffi ce etc. Many of these mission mode projects are caught in the “government procedural cobwebs” which the NeGP intended to address.

Going forward, it is important for government and in particular for the department of IT,  Government of India and the Apex Committee, to undertake a serious stocktaking of what we  can learn from the experience so far – what has gone well and what has not and how can we  translate ‘mission mode’ projects into ‘time-bound’ projects. I say this only because NeGP was  designed to be different – different from previous initiatives because it looked at ‘programme’  and not ‘projects’, ‘mission leader’ and not ‘administrative owner’, ‘outcome’ and not ‘output’,  ‘integrated’ and not ‘insular’. The next section highlights some of the key limitations that I  believe are limiting the pace of implementation and the impact of NeGP.

Are We Happy with the Progress We Have Made…Is
There Still a Long Way to Go?

I believe, though not surprised, that most people are also not too satisfi ed with the pace of  progress so far. I do feel that they have made signifi cant achievements and need to be  applauded for the same while simultaneously appreciating the long road ahead. According to  me, the following fi ve aspects of the ‘programme’ require focused attention:

Capacity and Bandwidth: I think this is the biggest issue that is limiting the envisaged progress. The lack of capacity and limited bandwidth to conceptualise and implement is not  just limited to the government but extends to the service providers also, although it is much more acute in the government. The delay in the fi nalisation of the capacity building component of the NeGP has further accentuated the problem.

Funding:
Funding continues to be an issue. In my interactions with the states, I have come across multiple occasions wherein e-Governance initiatives did not see the light of the day because of the lack of state fi nances. Funding from NeGP/centre has not been forthcoming as most mission mode projects are still fi nalising the contours of the projects (category 3) and thus unable to fund any projects. Further, funding from the World Bank is still to happen as the bank undergoes its elaborate fi duciary and the due fi nancial diligence process before releasing the funds.

Limited Early Success:
There has been limited visible success attributable to NeGP. This is   to some extent because of the unrealistic expectations that the states had built up because of the initial hype around the NeGP, the framing of state e- Governance plan etc. While it is diffi cult for the centre to focus on few states as it has to be seen as ‘equitable’, I do think ‘nothing succeeds like success’ and the policy planners’ need to selectively focus on a few states (that have the capacity, motivation and leadership) to visibly show the success of e- Governance. This would serve as the best advocacy tool for NeGP and e-Governance.

Sensitivity at the Top: In the beginning of my article I did congratulate NeGP for the  awareness it had created, especially in the IT departments of states. However, I also believe this awareness is much less pronounced in the ‘political leadership’ of states and within the owner ministries at the central levels. This needs to be addressed to improve the pace of progress.

Ownership / Procedural Cobweb:
Although NeGP espouses ‘centralised planning and decentralised implementation’, there seems to be a lack of ownership at individual ministries/ department level, as the programme is seen as driven by IT (in many cases wrongly perceived). This together with the procedural delays in government is impacting progress. The delay in implementation of some of the core components i.e. core policies and standards, e-Offi ce, common infrastructure, capacity building etc., have contributed to the problem.

IN SUMMARY

Well begun is half done. I think the progress of NeGP is best summarised by this. Having said  that, the 2nd half of the journey is long and arduous. It is also a time to review the progress  till date. Such a review, especially with respect to the issue of capacity to manage such a  programme would be useful for transiting the planning phase of NeGP to ‘realising the benefi  t’ through the NeGP.

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