March 2008

State of e-Government Projects in India

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'Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results' Albert Einstein

Introduction
e-Governance and technology adoption for better decision making, management and enhanced service delivery to different stakeholders including citizens have taken centre stage of the policy makers of India. Appreciating the criticality of adapting digital technologies for enhancing governance, both federal and state governments have put substantial thrust on e-Governance. The seriousness of e-Enablement of different ministries, departments and services got reflected in the National e-Governance Plan (NeGP) that India came up with. NeGP had announced twenty seven key projects to be executed in various ministries and departments of the government. Looking at the criticality of their being executed for better e-Enabled service delivery to the citizens, these projects were termed as Mission Mode Projects (MMPs) with the expectation that the corresponding owners of these projects would show enough seriousness to have these projects rolled out as national missions to ensure better service delivery to different stakeholders.

The intention and identification of these projects reflect the seriousness of the planning agency. Although, the plan and intention of identifying these twenty seven MMPs had been grand but till the end of 2007, the overall situation of execution of these projects does not seem to be very enticing. Either some of these projects have not yet started, else majority of these projects had started, but have not yet seen the light of successful execution and acceptance.

At hindsight, doing a post-mortem analysis and trying to understand why a particular project failed is obviously an easier task, easier than taking proactive strategies to make a project get implemented successfully. Had failure taught more than success, then given the fact that majority of the  e-Governance projects today are not in a state of success, would have ensured that we have a battalion of brilliant managers who can understand the success factors for implementing an e-Government project successfully and we would have found a number of the planned projects being rolled out successfully. Albeit, some of the project managers indeed seem to be learning from the failures, but that is not restricting the rate of e-Governance projects being unsuccessful. With the scale and scope of some of these projects going up, with the increased complexity of the proposed solutions and moreover with steep increase in the overall expectation from these projects, the challenge of delivery and acceptance of some of the  e-Governance projects have become more challenging.

The early leaders in this area among the world's nations made many mistakes as they set off down this road, wasting literally billions of dollars. Increasingly, these countries are now starting to get to grips with the complex set of cultural and organisational changes which are needed to derive full benefit from the opportunities which new technologies open up, and to integrate their e-Government programmes into much broader and more radical programmes of public sector transformation. Yet no country has got this completely cracked. Meanwhile, IT suppliers are grappling with the demands of winning contracts on an increasing scale and complexity, and of working ever more closely in partnership with the public sector to deliver huge change programmes. Such a partnership is a major challenge for industry as well as government.

The focus of this article is to draw attention of decision makers towards some of the pertinent problems hampering successful implementation of e-Government project in India. CHALLENGES FOR e-GOVERNANCE PROJECT EXECUTION IN INDIA Experiences across the globe suggest that the key challenges for successful execution of e-Governance projects are that of lack of strategic clarity, understanding of end-user needs, poor supplier management and lack of skills for executing these projects. Moreover, lack of sustained political will and leadership at the senior management level emerges out as critical success factors. Broadly, it has been strongly felt that the above challenges (as had been found by the developed nations) do play a very important role in India as well, more because India has started emphasising more and more on technology enabled channels for delivery of services. Rest of the article will focus on some of the pertinent issues that need serious consideration at all levels of e-Governance policy formulation.

LACK OF SYNCHRONISATION OF EFFORTS: NEED FOR PROGRAMME MANAGEMENT

In a number of projects, lack of synchronisation and disjointed efforts between different projects play an important  role in execution of whatever was intended initially. For example, the State Wide Area Netsork(SWAN)/Common Sercice Centres and State Data Centres (CSCs) and State Data Centres (SDC) schemes, which were announced at different points by Government of India, are required to be implemented in each state in a synchronised manner. However, these schemes were announced at different points in time and were taken up by different states with different priorities; effective execution of all these three schemes has started getting jeopardised. This jeopardy will lead to under utilisation or non-utilisation of expensive technology infrastructure assets. The problem of lack of synchronisation becomes more serious when we consider the asynchronous implementation of the MMPs which are supposed to feed these three elements of technology infrastructure with content.

Interestingly, each project in each department of each ministry at each state is perceived to be a unique project and has a different project team. No one can deny the fact that as of day, the government departments act in silos. One more new project is actually seen as a separate silo within the department itself. It is extremely crucial to understand how these different projects actually fit in the larger mesh of objectives and goals with which these projects were created. What is required is evolving an organisation structure and framework for effective 'Programme Management'. According to wikipaedia 'Programme Management' is the process of management|managing multiple ongoing inter-dependent projects. Programme management provides a layer above project management focusing on selecting the best group of programmes, defining them in terms of their constituent projects and providing an infrastructure where projects can be run successfully but leaving project management to the project management community.

LACK OF OBJECTIVITY IN SELECTION AND SCOPING OF PROJECTS

Looking back at the distribution of time and resources for a particular project, a typical skewed pattern is observed towards allocating lesser time and resources for actual project planning and preparation. Hence, for majority of the projects, we do not find a detailed project report detailing governance issues, service levels, expected outcomes, critical success factors for successful project completion etc.

Many frameworks and models exist today, for assessing an e-Governance project, after it is implemented. Using these frameworks like EAF 2.0, one can determine the success and impact of the project. However, this amounts to a  post-mortem exercise. What is needed is a tool or framework which will enable the decision makers to determine what is most required and what is most likely to succeed. Replication of a successful pilot may not always deliver a similar successful outcome, since, either the priorities of the local citizens may be a little different, or the organisational capabilities may be different or both. If a framework or a model can be built which can help the decision makers to assess the success rate of a future project, based on real time parameters, it will serve a better purpose than an assessment framework.

EMPHASIS ON REDESIGNING SERVICES WITH CITIZEN FOCUS

Although this principle is now widely known and accepted, in practice it is rarely followed. In majority of the cases,  e-Government project specifications are not being done after any in-depth understanding of the needs and requirements of the citizens and/or end-users and are actually done as a top-down exercise only. To ensure successful roll-out of implemented projects, it is necessary to ensure that proper understanding of end-user requirements are taken care of.  Moreover, in-depth study and re-engineering of existing business processes should be made an intrinsic part of the project preparation and planning phase. The current practice is to load this responsibility on the application software vendor. The vendor's approach is driven by the dual constraints of tight delivery schedules and achieving user acceptance for his software. The vendor thus is tempted or forced to accept the path of least resistance. On the other hand, the business process re-engineering, actually is a path of maximum resistance and the only mitigation strategy is Change Management. The application vendor's role should be to automate and implement the re-engineered processes which are already debated and approved by the customer organisation.

TECHNOLOGY BEING CONSIDERED AS A PURCHASABLE COMMODITY

Looking at majority of the e-Governance projects, it actually seems to confuse a third party observer. The basic intent of these projects, whether they are intended to deliver services to the doorsteps of common man and/or increase efficiency of the governmental processes or if they are meant as a competition to purchase hardware comes in question. As has happened, cutting across majority of the projects, a majority of these projects have dedicated resources and made Request For Proposal (RFPs) to the finest details of specifying hardware capabilities needed for project execution, happily shifting their focus from the service delivery aspect. It becomes crucial for the decision makers to understand the effects of technology obsolescence. It is important that the decision makers are made aware, looking at technology as a commodity to be purchased but rather focus on technology projects as modes of services to be delivered. In fact, it would make much more sense to seriously consider different PPP models for ensuring project delivery and execution.

LACK OF CHANGE MANAGEMENT PERSPECTIVES

The identification of the business process re-engineering and 'emerging citizen services' should be the two main prerequisites for an e-Government project. They also lay the foundation for drawing a road map for effective change management.

At present, the trend or common practice is to make the application software vendor responsible for defining these prerequisites. Ideally, this activity should be carried out by the 'inside government' stakeholders, since the activity requires a deep understanding of government functions, rules and regulations, and domain knowledge of the department or organisation. If that is not feasible, then the second best option is to entrust the task to those consultants who possess similar quality professionals in their ranks. Once the roadmap for change management is defined, the next stage is planning for its execution.

Another neglected aspect is creation of formal intra-organisational and inter-organisational communication channels. By the nature of governance and established practices, all formal communications inside a department, moves only within a narrow pre defined hierarchy. But the change management, which essentially aims at breaking these barriers, requires establishment of new yet formal channels of communications. There is a need for institutionalisation of such channels.

POOR VENDOR RELATIONSHIP MANAGEMENT

For majority of the e-Government projects, vendor relationship management takes the least of the priorities. Albeit, strong partnership with vendors are essential, in majority of the cases, the situation goes into a mode of winner's curse, where the vendor loses interest in delivering the best while the project deliverables get delayed immensely. This calls for a more detailed inspection of the roles, payments  terms etc. as mentioned in the RFPs. Non-standardisation  of the tender documents are also major issues across government agencies.

ISSUES IN PROCUREMENT POLICIES AND PROCESSES OF GOVERNMENT

It is necessary to devise a policy to enable procurement of 'Product and Services'. The current policies can only handle 'bespoke' software development and delivery. It is thus depriving e-Government projects the advantages offered by proven products and their implementation by similarly proven implementation vendors.

The current requirement for all MMPs to follow the age-old procedures of approval is causing interminable delays. The system of Empowered Committees (ECs), though established in several MMPs, is not yielding the desired  result, as they are not really empowered with the financial approval powers. ECs have to be made all-powerful in respect of the MMPs.  LACK OF SKILLed manpower As has been mentioned earlier, the whole intent of using tax payer's money for automating service delivery and enhancing government processes is not under question. The question ultimately comes in the silo structure that the government departments operate and the capability of the departments to absorb the complexity of managing these through technology decision making and execution.
This actually calls for a major re-look at the reorientation and capability building of the skillsets of the employees in different government departments to ensure an easier change management. In a scenario where a large number of government employees still think that computerisation will snatch away their jobs, discussing successful roll-out of  e-Governance programmes are but a major challenge.

LACK OF SUSTAINED MANPOWER THROUGHOUT PROJECT  LIFE-CYCLE

A host of initiatives in the country have fallen by the wayside due to arbitrary change in leadership. The issue has been plaguing IT adoption in governments in the country since the time governments in India have started adopting IT. Unlike non-IT activities of the government, IT has the peculiarity of being extremely intense and requiring focused implementation at a speed that is more than the speed of obsolescence of the systems as well as the requirements. Hence regular transfer policies of the government is highly impeding for a proper roll out of government systems. Depending on the seriousness of the government to embrace technology for better decision making and service delivery, it may be a good idea to seriously consider options of sustained manpower through out the project life-cycle.

In cases of e-Governance projects being taken up by the different entities of the Central Government, these management challenges can be addressed with lesser efforts for coordination. However, in cases where the execution needs to be done by different state governments and other local entities, the complexity of these challenges scale up substantially. For example, while considering technology adoption for the transportation department of all different states, serious and substantial effort needs to be put in towards identifying and sharing of best practices, knowledge sharing between transport departments of different states  thus ensuring an integrated and successful programme execution.

REFERENCES

The references for this article are available online at
www.egovonline.net

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