August 2008

e-Governance in Urban Local Bodies

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The core operations of the municipal corporations are to deliver key citizen centric services such as grievance redressal, issuing of certificates, tax collection and providing vital civic services. All these services are primarily focused on improving the quality of life of the citizen in the urban local body.

Introduction

Sustainable development, access to services, equal opportunities, safety, governance and citizen participation are some of the key issues administrators of the modern cities face today. The urban population in India is set to grow to 40% as per publicly available estimates. This is going to put a considerable pressure on the infrastructure.

To improve the quality of life of the citizen, Government of India has launched the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) with the aim of improving urban infrastructure and governance. Similarly, the Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD) has undertaken a Mission Mode Project (MMP) for introduction of e-Governance in Municipalities across the country. This project is an important component of the National e-Governance Plan (NeGP), and is expected to impact a significant population of the citizens in the urban areas.

One of the measurable outcomes under JNNURM is deployment of e-Governance applications to meet the expectations of government, citizens, as well as businesses. Infact, introduction of e-Governance systems is one of the mandatory reforms at the municipality level, and is expected to result in reduced cost and time of service delivery to the citizens.

Basic services delivered by local authorities include education, health, public transport, water supply, sanitation, and environmental issues can benefit tremendously by the use of Information Technology (IT). IT has the potential to improve service delivery to the citizens at the local level and thus improving the relationship between governments and citizens.

Municipal operations, from an IT perspective, can be divided into three categories:

  • External (Government to Citizen, Government to Business)
  • Internal (Government to Employee)
  • Intra-governmental (Government to Government)

Citizen Data Integration

For a government, it is important to know who the citizen is, what are the key attributes that define him and how various benefits and welfare schemes can be delivered to him. Having an IT framework that enables Citizen Data Integration can help the government know the citizens better.

For example, initiatives such as Multi-purpose Household Surveys help in collecting information about a citizen from the housing perspective. The data collected includes basic biographical information and detailed information like property owned, employment status, details of land holdings, educational qualifications and more. Such information can also be used to determine the eligibility of citizens for various welfare schemes being planned by the government. This is what  Citizen Data Integration can enable. By drawing together a complete set of citizen data, Citizen Data Integration enables increased efficiency, reduced error rates, lower level of fraud and faster, higher quality decisions– leading to better outcomes and a superior customer experience.

Municipal Operations

Government to Citizen
The core operations of the municipal corporations are to deliver key citizen centric services such as grievance redressal, issuing of certificates, tax collection and providing vital civic services. All these services are primarily focused on improving the quality of life of the citizen in the urban local body.

One of the important component of a complete e-Governance solution is the Geographic Information System (GIS). The objective is to develop a system to assist in strategic planning and resource mobilisation and utilisation, streamlining municipal taxation and management functions and planning and management of day-to-day operations in all areas

The key for the citizen delivery framework is to render services to citizens quickly and hence help in reducing the overall cost. All citizen interactions should be integrated and provide true 24×7 and multi-channel communication. In one of the major local body in UK the citizen satisfaction level went up by more than 98%, whereas in another European city the number of services being offered on an integrated framework is close to 250. In Andhra Pradesh, the e-Seva project is delivering more than 20 citizen centric services. The framework is such that the number of services can be increased without much additional effort.

Government to Business

Local government also provides services to businesses. Businesses can be of two kinds – Business from which revenue is generated eg., trade licenses and procurement of goods and services by the government from vendors.

Establishments carrying out specific businesses are required to obtain a trade license. It is important to regulate this to ensure that this does not adversely affect the citizens. The issue of trade license is a means to ensure that the manner in which business is being carried on is in accordance with the relevant rules, standards and safety guidelines.

Procurement of goods and services for municipal functions are daily activities. e-Procurement holds immense potential in terms of effectively and efficiently leveraging information technology to centralise and standardise the procurement function. It streamlines the purchasing process and reduces costs thus providing better quality of goods and services to departments. With better view of procurement spending it helps in budget-based procurement and provide total spending visibility. In one of the biggest municipal corporation in south India the complete cycle of bill presentation to payment was reduced from 7 to 2 days, whereas one of the county councils in UK is on track to saving close to 1 million pounds.

Government to Employee

The employees form a major asset base. Efficient and effective utilisation of this asset  is important to ensure effective administration. The focus is increasing on attracting, retaining, and developing a skilled workforce to align with the goals. To do this, human capital systems are becoming increasingly important.

The development of an integrated HR system including payroll and self-service applications is envisaged to culminate into a Government to Employee portal that will increase the value proposition of the services provided to the employees. This gives employees direct access to HR information and transactions. Employee self-service not only reduces administrative costs but also makes more time available to HR staff for strategic activities.

National Municipal Accounting Manual mentions regulatory requirements and guidelines. This is another area for which solutions may be put in place for an integrated management of budgets and control spending; simplify fund accounting; maintain cash- and accrual-based sets of books and manage projects, grants, and programs.  This will help in reducing time to consolidate financial information as well as provide the officials with real time intelligence to take actions on. In one of the European cities the back office costs were reduced by over 20% and the administrative overheads were cut by over 5%.

Government to Government

Some of the key services like issuing of trade licenses require action from different departments.

 Today there are a number of applications deployed by urban local bodies to deliver better citizen services. However, the complexity and heterogeneity of IT infrastructure and applications present a significant challenge in integrating the processes across departments. This environment presents a challenge for business users to have a quick availability of performance measures

A simple rule-based case management system helps the movement of files between different departments in the urban local body and helps in automating the complete process. This enables an organisation to provide consistency of service over time and across all of its staff and organisational boundaries. It also fundamentally changes the focus of transactions from individual service activities to a more planned set of citizen outcomes.  In fact, one of the urban local body in western India was able to streamline their processes and were able to increase the revenue collection by more than 125%.

GIS and Spatial data

One of the important component of a complete e-Governance solution is the Geographic Information System (GIS). The objective is to develop a system to assist in strategic planning and resource mobilisation and utilisation, streamlining municipal taxation and management functions and planning and management of day-to-day operations in all areas.  This not only helps the officials to view details in graphical format but also help them take decisions. For example if there are 20 schools under a municipal jurisdiction, then GIS can actually help in knowing how many of these schools are serving what section of the population and whether there is a need to increase the number of schools.

There are four primary applications:

  1. Revenue Mapping – Showing details of all municipal taxes and charges like property tax levied on various assesses. This will help the officials by improving assessment and thereby increasing collections and revenues
  2. Municipal Infrastructure Mapping – Showing the details of municipal infrastructure like roads, solid waste management system, streetlight, building etc., thereby helping the city planners in town planning
  3. Resource/Assets Mapping – Showing specifically the assets for optimum utilization and hence providing better services to the citizens.
  4. Poverty Mapping – Showing socio-economic attributes of the poor households. This will help in targeting the correct citizen for the correct services.

Integration and Business Intelligence

 Today there are a number of applications deployed by urban local bodies to deliver better citizen services. However, the complexity and heterogeneity of IT infrastructure and applications present a significant challenge in integrating the processes across departments. This environment presents a challenge for business users to have a quick availability of performance measures.

Better services to citizens require insight and visibility into municipal operations.

The need to adapt processes quickly using existing infrastructure and services has led to the use of Service Oriented Architecture (SOA). Being able to analyse the performance impact of processes is a key advantage of SOA. This platform enables rapid development and adoption of processes using Business Process Execution Language, which allows the processes to be orchestrated across many complex systems using web services. New York uses a uniform, standardised reporting format across all agencies and all data types, and provides a single point of access for all users.  Most notably, it aggregates data across agency into ‘citywide themes,’ which represent groups of related services such as infrastructure, education, or public safety. This will increase accountability by making it easier to monitor agency performance for the most important measures.

 Citizen Interaction Channels

Citizens expect that the improvements that they see in private sector should be available in public services. Adopting technology that accommodates multi-channel access has become a prime concern for most governments. The complete framework of e-Governance multiple channels need to be taken into account.

In a country like India the Internet connectivity is still low, government has to look at alternative ways of delivering the services. The penetration of mobile phones is increasing exponentially and this is one channel for applications that needs closer look.

Summary

A more demanding and vocal citizen and fierce competition from the private sector means that the government agencies must make efficiency their top priority. It has become vital to deploy systems that empower government workers to follow processes and deliver the high levels of service expected. Today, there are hundreds of successful government IT deployments that prove the power of modern IT infrastructure. Deploying integrated, cutting edge IT solutions that are open standards based is not a matter of choice anymore, we have to embrace them

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