August 2008

Indian Society: Is it Ready for Online Government Services?

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Introduction
Government of India through its National e-Governance Plan has been promoting various e-Governance initiatives in India. e-Governance provides an excellent opportunity for improving governance. It is a Strategic tool, which will improve Quality of life of Citizens across various sections of the society. It aspires for an efficient and effective Government, which is transparent and open, and which provides Citizen Centric Services in quick and efficient manner. Most of the Sates across the country are also initiating e-Governance efforts at State level. A successful implementation of e-Governance will lead to an effective and efficiently working Society.

For the successful implementation of Government’s e-Governance initiatives,  it is essential that the Government Departments and Infrastructure be ready to support these initiatives. It is also important that the Citizens of India, for whose benefit these initiatives are being taken, should be aware and capable of utilizing and reaping the benefits of these initiatives. The question on our society’s readiness for e-Governance needs to be debated, discussed and answered.

This article presents a field study conducted to find the status of Indian citizen’s readiness and awareness towards various e-Governance initiatives and services.  It is an attempt to study the awareness level and usage of computers and Internet for various online Government services, amongst a sample of citizens from the Delhi state. The findings are then analyzed and possible recommendations formulated. These recommendations are based on the actual inputs received from the prospective users of these  e-Governance services, who are from various sections of the society. These recommendations can be used by the various Government agencies, Municipal corporations  and  the Delhi State Government to make their e-Governance initiatives more effective, efficient and fruitful.

The pilot study involved field research around a sample of citizens with a focus on studying the factors and limitations around the awareness and usage of online Government services. Samples were taken from various sections of the society. The data was collected and analysed. A diary of events (Table 1), documenting each interaction was maintained. The diary of events was based on a framework of qualitative questionnaire. Based on the inputs received, and analysis of data collected, awareness levels in terms of e-Governance were compared and evaluated.

The results were amazing and lead to some patterns. The recommendations based on these results are later presented in this article. These recommendations may be a useful and crucial input for the Government of India and other Government agencies in evaluating the success of various e-Governance initiatives. The findings may  be used by various stakeholders within the Government in designing and formulating the guideline and policies to promote e-Governance adaptability amongst Citizens.

It may be emphasized that this was a pilot study with a small sample size. The study can be enhanced and possibly done on a larger sample and or across different segments of the society.

Citizen Awareness for e-Governance: A Field Research Study

This field research study was focused to study the awareness levels of citizens in our society, in terms of their e-Governance adaptability and understanding. The study possibly helps us answer the question on ‘Is the Indian Society ready to reap the benefits of e-Governance?’

This field research, involved discussions and observations with specific set of citizens from Indian society. The sample was  chosen from Delhi state. Qualitative in-depth, un-structured interviews, for the following subjects or focus groups were conducted: senior citizens, college students, corporate employees, housewives and shop owners Analysis Data collected from the various groups, was summarised. Analysis was done on following key factors.

  • Citizen awareness of computers
  • Citizen awareness of Internet
  • Citizen usage of computers
  • Citizen usage of Internet
  • Citizen awareness of online government services
  • Citizen usage of online government services

Apart from this data, the insights and inputs from each group were summarised. There were interesting facts which came out of the study and which have been highlighted in the following sections. These insights and observations can be useful inputs for the government and related agencies to make their e-Governance initiatives more effective and applicable.

Following sub-sections give the details of the findings of this study.

Senior Citizens



Data was collected using the informal, participative, focus group discussions from a set of six senior citizens, in the age group of 60 years and above.  This group was constituted of retired educated senior citizens. The data shows that most of the senior citizens were aware of computers, Internet and credit card availability. Very rarely, they used computers, Internet and credit cards. Some of them who use computers use it only for word processing. Most of their children use these facilities and that is how they have come to know about this. Some of the senior citizens were aware of railways and passport online facilities. Only one of them was aware of  government online services (electricity , telephone bills) – this was through newspaper, and by observing related information on the hard copy of the bills. Those filing IT returns, from this group,  do it manually. Most of them use pre-paid mobiles and none of them is aware of Delhi Government web site or online services. Inspite of some of them being aware of the online government services,  none of them uses online government services.

Couple of insights which came out during the focus group discussions with the senior citizens group, are highlighted below:

(i) Insights on the  best way of promoting online services: This group thinks that the online services can be promoted by making them aware of the same. They think they can learn if proper exposure is given to them. They recommend trainings on the awareness and usage  of these services at school and college level as the best ways of promoting these services. They also think that media, including TV, newspaper, actual paper bills can be a good way of promoting these services. Another way according to them is to promote and advertise usage of these services by advertising for the same, across the actual service counters, where people visit for manual usage of these services.

(ii) Insights on the biggest hurdle in using online services:  security, lack of awareness and inadequate capacity are the key concerns according to this group which prevent the usage of online services.
The group does not feel confident and safe to share their information online, they are afraid of security breach or frauds related to online transactions.

Lack of awareness of these services is another major factor. The group is not aware of many of the online government services. Some of them feel that learning at this age is difficult. Some feel that there is no need for them to use online services. They think manual ways are better and they do have time to use the services manually and are used to doing it this way.

Lack of availability of infrastructure including computers, Internet was another reason pointed out by some of these people.

Students



Data was collected using the informal, and participative discussions method, from a set of five students, from Indian Institute of Technology and Delhi University. These students were doing their management, computer or engineering courses. The age group of this sample was from 22 to 30 years.

Most of the students from this sample were aware of computers , Internet and credit cards. Almost all of them had access to computers and Internet, but a few of them used credit cards. Some of them used debit cards instead. The students have been using Internet generally for chatting, e-mail exchange, download of study material and for social networking, like being a member of a yahoo group or orkut.

Students in general are aware of online railway reservation and online air bookings. Some of them have used their debit cards, which has been provided by their savings bank, to book online tickets, including railways and movie tickets. Most of them use pre paid mobile phones and recharge them manually.

Most of this community is not aware of any online government services, specifically online electricity, water bill payment etc. In fact they are not involved in any such transaction. They are aware of online railway bookings. None of them is aware of Delhi Government’s web site.

Couple of insights which came out during these interviews and discussions are highlighted below:

(i) Insights on the  best way of promoting online services: Most of the students feel that the best way to promote online services, is to make them aware of these services through media – newspaper, TV, by publishing the information on the manual bills, by advertising the information at the manual bill counters. They feel that it is possible to make people aware of online services by teaching about the use of these services at school and college levels. Some of them also expressed that this is possible by actually doing the same i.e. Learn by doing.

(ii) Insights on the biggest hurdle in using online services:  Awareness, lack of resources and security have been the top three hurdles in using online services, according to this group. They also think that the society in general, which includes their parents, are resistant to learn and are happy to use manual services.

Some of them also pointed out the lack of education and language as a barrier in using online services.

Corporate Employees

The sample was taken from the employees of a Multi National Company. This included employees from sales and services organisation. The age group of this sample was from 30 – 40 years of Age.

All of the respondents in this sample were aware of computers, Internet and credit cards and All of them were using Internet, computers and credit cards in their daily routines.

These respondents have been using Internet for various facilities including e-mail, browsing, trainings, using online services, bank account transactions, mobile payment bills and more.

These respondents, in general are aware of online railway and air bookings. Most of them have used debit cards / credit cards to book railway or air tickets or movie tickets. Most use online facilities for mobile bill payment, some also for land line telephone bill payment. Some of them are  aware of online services – like electricity bill payment,  and do pay it online, but interestingly, not through government sites, but  either through BSES, which is the local electricity company  or through citibank, which is the bank linked to their salary account, and which has provisions of online payments. Most of them were  aware on online tax filing procedure, but none of them have used it, they use manual method or engage agents instead. Interestingly, none of them is aware of Delhi Government Web site.

Insights from this group, which came out during these interviews and discussions are highlighted below:

(i) Insights on the  best way of promoting online services: This group of respondents feels that the best way to promote online services is by making people aware of these services, which can be done through media, by using newspapers, TV, promoting and advertising at the billing counters, on the print bills , and by putting promotional hoardings etc. Some of them suggested on the job training as a best option of promoting online services. Others pointed out to the availability of the infrastructure at an affordable rate to everybody.

(ii) Biggest hurdle in using online services: According to this group, awareness ,security and resource availability are the three major concerns in using online services.

Housewives

The sample constituted of women with varied educational background ranging from undergraduate to post graduate and with age groups of 38 to 55 years.

Most of the respondents from this sample, were aware of computers, Internet and credit card. Interestingly, they used credit card more than computers and Internet. Not to guess, this was mostly for the shopping purposes. The ones with higher educational background, having an engineering or diploma have been occasionally using computers and internet, as compared to the others, who do not see any need of using the same. Most of them use pre paid mobile phones. Some of them were aware of online railway bookings, but rarely, almost never have they used any of the online services. None of them was aware of online government services. Most of their husband’s take care of bill payments. None of them was aware of Delhi Government website.

Insights from this group, which came out during these interviews and discussions are highlighted below:

(i) Insights on the  best way of promoting online services: This group of respondents feels that awareness through TV, radio and newspapers is the best way to promote the usage of online services. Trainings at school level and voluntary efforts by private organisations to promote learning of online services was another suggestion given by this group. Another suggestion was to learn by doing,suggesting institutionalisation of these services and mandatory usage.

(ii) Biggest hurdle in using online services: Awareness, inadequate capacity and lack of  knowledge are the top hurdles according to this group, in using online services. Some of them feel that learning at this stage is difficult, everyone does not have facilities, infrastructure and access to these services. Language according to some is another barrier. Security of information was also brought out as a concern area by a respondent having a technical background and experience of using computers and Internet.

Shopkeepers

The sample constituted of respondents having varied education – ranging from undergraduate to post-graduate. The range included garment wholeseller ,a garment shop owner, a hair Saloon – barber, a STD booth / photocopier booth owner and a Business man (Architect ). The age group varied from  25 to 50 years.

Most of the respondents from this segment were aware of the computers, Internet and credit cards. Almost none of them personally uses computers and Internet for online services.

Some of them did use credit cards. Some of them have people working for them, who do the computer work, but personally they do not use computers or Internet. Some of them were aware of online railway bookings, but most of them have been using manual methods or agents to book tickets. A very few of them, specifically the independent established businessmen, take the help of their employees to do online railway, air booking and mobile payments. None of them was aware of Delhi Governments website.

Insights from this group, which came out during these interviews and discussions are highlighted below:

(i) Insights on the  best way of promoting online services: Awareness through TV, specifically other news channels, and through newspapers is a recommendation from this group. The subgroup also recommended learning by doing comparing it with the mobile phones, citing an example of usage and awareness of mobile phones what was and what it is today.

(ii) Biggest hurdle in using online services: Awareness and non affordability are the biggest hurdles according to this sub group, in using online services. They also question on the advantages and gain of using online services, and want to understand about its advantages specific to them. Some of them also highlighted on information security issues of using online services.

Summary

Summarising the observations, most of the respondents were aware of computers, Internet and credit cards but only few, specifically the corporate employees and students were using these facilities. Very few of the respondents were aware of online government services. Out of the government services, online railway bookings was known to most of the respondents. None of them was aware of Delhi Government web site and corresponding services. Figure 11 shows the consolidated views on awareness and usage of computers, Internet and credit cards. Figure 12 shows the consolidated summary of awareness and usage of Government services.

Recommendations

Based on the results of analysis mentioned in previous section and the insights, following recommendations are suggested to various government agencies in order to make their e-Governance campaign more effective and successful.

Make People Aware: Awareness has been one of the major hurdles pointed out by every subgroup. To make people aware of the services available online, their usage and advantages need to addressed by the government agencies. The awareness initiatives can be built around media including TVs, radio, newspaper or advertising across the counters, on the paper bills etc.

Institutionalisation of complete framework to ensure learning at all levels, on the job learning and embedded learning is recommended to be an integral part of the society.

The users and citizens need to be convinced on the security aspects of online transactions. There needs to be some sort of assurance on this aspect.

Availability of infrastructure at an affordable and attractive price is another recommendation, which government agencies need to seriously consider. The intention should be to make Internet and computers as easily available as telephones and TVs.

Conclusion

Government of India is rightly spending  time and resources to enable e-Governance services across the country. These services are important both in terms of Governments immediate priorities and its long term vision for the development. These services are meant for the Citizens of the country. This pilot study, reveals some amazing facts on the awareness and usage pattern of these services, amongst the citizens. The citizens are not  fully aware of the availability, advantages and applicability of these services. Most of the citizens are not using any online Government services due to lack of awareness, security issues, lack of knowledge and lack of infrastructure.

This study, did bring out the awareness and usage levels for these online services for the pilot group of people considered under this study and showed the lack of awareness and usage of these online services amongst various sections of the society.

Based on the inputs received from various subjects, a set of recommendations have been presented , which may be considered by the Government agencies to make their e-Governance services more effective and efficient.

This study can be further expanded to a larger audience and or to different states across the country to have a complete picture of the actual status of the society in terms of its readiness for e-Governance.

Acknowledgement

Author thanks Prof. Amrit Srinivasan and Dr Vigneswara Ilavarasan of HSS, IIT Delhi, for their guidance in conducting this qualitative field study. Thanks to Prof Vinayshil Gautam of DMS, IIT Delhi for his continued guidance, support and innovative ideas. A special thanks also to all the respondents for taking time off their schedule and providing valuable insights and inputs

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