February 2011

Transformation, not tech is the essence

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Successful e-Governance rollouts are all about discipline, attitudinal changes and massive government process re-engineering

The essence of good governance is based on the premise that the laws and procedures are transparent, and clearly defined and understood by those governed and the implementation is both quick and smooth. To this effect, the governance in a developing country is a challenge, because a majority of the governed (citizens) are educationally and socio-economically challenged. To compound the issue, those in the government are also at times not very clear on various rules and procedures. Further, even the rules and procedures sometimes become hindrances in the path of governance due to a lack of transparency and procedural clarity.

Old ways won’t work

Public administration, governed by bureaucratic structures built on rational principles, that dominated the twentieth century, has failed to respond to changing requirements of the present times. E-governance, which is a paradigm shift from the traditional approaches in public administration, is about rendering of government services and information to the public using electronic means. This new paradigm has brought about a revolution in the quality of service delivered to the citizens. It has ushered in transparency in the governing process; saving of time due to provision of services through single window; simplification of procedures; better office and record management; reduction in corruption; and improvements in the attitude, behaviour and job handling capacities of dealing personnel.

E-Governance, however, is not really about the use of IT in governance but is a tool to ensure equitable and easy-to-avail good governance. It does not mean proliferation of computers and technology; it is basically a political decision that calls for discipline, attitudinal change in officers and employees, and massive government process re-engineering. Implementers and drivers of e-governance initiatives agree that the biggest challenge of deploying e-governance is not technology but change management encompassing cultural, organisational, process, people and technological challenges.

Traditional approaches of public administration are a thing of the twentieth century; the new paradigm is about transparency and procedural clarity

An e-Gov country in making

E-Governance implementation has resulted into major benefits for some countries in the world. Countries like United States, France, and Switzerland have effectively implemented e-Governance modules. However, countries like India are still under the development process and efforts are being made to convert the IT-aware governments into IT-enabled governments.

India today has perhaps the most ambitious e-Governance plan. At the highest level in the government, there are dedicated secretary-level officials, there is an approved budget of more than billion dollars at the central government level, and there are secretary-level officials in the state governments with additional budget. Yet, many e-Governance projects sometimes suffer due to political instability.

Having said that, a substantial amount of work is being done which will ultimately help in shaping up a modern and developed India. As an example, you can take one of the real estate projects going on in Uttar Pradesh. This is one of the attempts to provide computerised allotment of properties in the state. In some other places like NCR, Bangalore, Mumbai and Kolkata as well, such concepts have been implemented. In the areas of agriculture, education and power too, major steps are being taken. One can now look forward to better education, better power supply and better agriculture. Almost all the agricultural colleges have started campaigns to move from one area to another through online conversations and note down the problems of farmers.

Bigger benefits are out there

The intent of undertaking most of the e-Governance engagements was initially to provide citizen services in a better way, but it has slowly changed over the last few years into increasing public sector efficiency, improving transparency and accountability in government functions and allowing for cost savings in government administration. ICT can help reinvent governance in such a way that existing institutional arrangements can be restructured and new innovative arrangements can flourish, paving the way for a transformed government.

What e-Governance can ultimately aim to do is to utilise the ‘people will’ to ‘immunise’ projects from the changing mood of leaders. For example, there was resistance from the political class to the widening of the scope of railway reservation system originally developed by CMC. But the citizens at large felt the benefits directly, and as a whole they could articulate their desire that no political class could resist. Today, Indian Railways is the largest e-commerce service provider in India surpassing even ICICI Bank and has been a great example of enabling change. What other e-Governance projects like Bhoomi, e-Seva and Bangalore-One should do is quietly build ‘loyalty’ and ‘people support’ that would ultimately make them into a sustainable service available to everyone.

What e-Gov projects should strive to do is to utilise ‘peoples’ will’ to ‘immunise’ projects from the changing mood of leaders

It is a well established fact that retaining a customer is more profitable and cost effective than acquiring a new one, therefore customer retention and loyalty is a major focus area for organisations worldwide. E-Governance can transform citizen service, provide access to information to empower citizens, enable their participation in government and improve economic and social opportunities, so that citizens can make their lives better. Only then will e-Governance make a difference to the average citizen; after all, e-Governance is merely a means to achieve efficient, effective and ultimately every citizen’s government. When governments embrace connectivity with their citizens, it will eventually help build loyalty among the citizens.

It is imperative for governments to ensure that they lay strong emphasis on conceptualising a project, keeping all its constituents and inter-dependencies in view, and follow a holistic implementation strategy that strives to deliver the right benefits to all stakeholders. This strategy should focus on exploring what is possible, and then drive the change while fighting with the existing sets of challenges. Technology, at the end of the day, should function as just an enabler and as a tool to drive this change. The real benefit of e-Governance is not measured by the level of use of technology to simplify the operations, but by the application of technology in bringing transformation and innovation in the government functioning, to enable better governance.

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