December 2014

Maha-enabler of online services

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MahaOnline has proved a shot-in-the-arm for citizen services delivery mechanism in Maharashtra. Despite initial hiccups, the initiative has been of immense help in overall digitisation exercise in the state, says Prasad Kolte, CeO, MahaOnline in conversation with Poulami Chakraborty of ENN

Prasad Kolte

Prasad Kolte,
CEO,
MahaOnline

MahaOnline is an ambitious IT venture of the Government of Maharashtra. How successful has it been towards achieving its goals?
MahaOnline is a joint venture between the Government of Maharashtra and the country’s premium IT company, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS). The idea behind partnering with TCS is to adopt and leverage their best practices with regard to the various IT projects they are currently working on across the globe. This will help in efficient digitsation and effective implementation of eGovernance in the state.

Founded in 2010, MahaOnline was meant to enforce total digitisation in Maharashtra. In the last four years, we have implemented lots of eGovernance-related initiatives like eOffice portal. Besides, several small websites and small applications in the government setup have been initiated. Initiatives like Common Service Centers or EPRI projects — which we refer to as Sangram – eChallan or innovations like home delivery of the CSC services are the major e-initiatives taken up by the Maharashtra Government. In fact, almost 75-80 percent of IT engagements in Maharashtra are done through MahaOnline.

MahaOnline has emerged as a platform for IT implementation not only for the Government of Maharashtra but also for several universities and central government offices in Mumbai and elsewhere, which are involved in IT projects

Thus, MahaOnline has emerged as a platform for IT implementation not only for the Government of Maharashtra but also for several universities and central government offices in Mumbai and elsewhere, which are involved in IT projects.

You said that MahaOnline is a government initiative to connect with the citizens. But has it been equally effective in connecting with the rural masses as well?
We came across several challenges when we started introducing IT initiatives. Same was the case even while implementing the EPRI projects…we faced a number of challenges. The EPRI project is one of the most important projects of the central government and was conceived way back in 2006. But since MahaOnline came in existence much later, in 2010, some developments with regard to EPRI implementation had already taken place. In fact, several private companies were already handling the projects, and as we started our work as a fresh entity in the market, the initial challenges came from them. During those days, IT companies were practically acting as the CSCs. So, it was difficult to establish MahaOnline as a separate and one of its kind of entity. MahaOnline being a joint venture of the state government and an IT giant, there were misconceptions among the masses about its usefulness, though it has now been duly bridged as its operations have shown effective results.

Apart from this, whenever online applications for any particular job vacancy are called in, there is a requirement to attach a number of documents like birth certificate and others to authenticate a candidate’s identity. In rural areas, there is lack of awareness regarding doing things online, like filling up forms. To address the issue, we adopted a holistic approach and designed a CSC model as part of our eDistrict project; as a result, a simplified process has emerged.

In rural areas, there is lack of awareness regarding doing things online, like filling up forms. To address the issue, we adopted a holistic approach and designed a CSC model as part of our eDistrict project; as a result, a simplified process has emerged

Please share your experiences of implementing IT applications in cities other than the metros of the state. How effective has been MahaOnline in these areas?
We have definitely faced challenges while operating in the Tier II and Tier III cities of the state. For example, to fill up online forms there are number technical things that a user needs to know about, as one should be technologically sound to do it all by oneself. To ease the process for them, we have CSC centres or Sangram centers even in Panchyats. Our officials there handle the technicalities for the less technology-savvy people.

We have also introduced a number of small ‘How to’ video channels and promoted them through facebook and other social media sites to create awareness among the rural, and Tier II and Tier III citizens. In these videos, we have put real-time demonstration of how to fill up online applications, attach documents, photos etc and several other simple procedures to be self sufficient and to be IT-savvy.

Since 2010 till 2014, how has been the journey of MahaOnline? How has it evolved during these four years of operation?
When we started in 2010, initially MahaOnline started its operation from the local TCS office with a small number of staff, who worked on minor projects. However, with the passage of time, we had our own office premise, with greater number of staff and much larger projects to work on. We have also opened our branches across the state — in Pune Nagpur and Aurangabad and several other parts of the state. We have been successful in bringing up training academies and we have district co-coordinators in all the 36 districts of the state.

Apart from these, we have more than 3,000 Sangram operators across each Panchayat of Maharashtra. With respect to the technological growth, we have independent DR centers and SPC racks and applications that are useful for website development. Initially, as we started, there was the concept of computerization, which has now been replaced by digitisation. The journey from computerisation to digitisation has been very eventful and a lot has been done to ensure paperless documentation in the government offices.

How much has the list of services provided by MahaOnline been updated during its journey from 2010 to 2014?
If we are to discuss the services and scale of functioning of MahaOnline then and now, there is a vast array of issues that needs to be highlighted. Of course, at the top level, there are minor changes that happened, but as we go to the grassroot level, there are countless small-big developments that have taken place, like mobile application development, G2C services, social media counseling etc.

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