In a recent conversation, facilitated by the National Association of Software Services Companies (Nasscom), between DeitY (Department of Electronics and Information Technology) and Industry to resolve the challenges faced by the ICT sector while participating in various e-Governance projects.
The meeting chaired by RS Sharma, Secretary, DeitY, was attended by senior government officials from DeitY, Department of Expenditure, Ministry of Finance, and the Department of Commerce, and R Chandrashekhar, the Nasscom President, leading a large team of CEOs and eGovernance Business Heads of Industry.
The half-day interaction provided a platform for industry members to raise their concerns on a multitude of issues. Of late, industry’s participation in various eGovernance projects has seen a steady decline with several large projects facing a no-bid situation. One of the top concerns of the Industry was on outstanding payments, where the situation has taken a turn for the worse in the last 18 months.
Issues pertaining to various clauses in RFPs and Contracts were also raised, particularly, relating to unlimited liabilities, dispute resolution and arbitration, lack of counter guarantees, payments etc., most of which were felt to be one-sided, with risk overload on the implementation partner. Non-adoption of standardized RFP and contracting terms by various state governments in particular was cited as a major area of concern for the Industry. There is a need for government organizations to take ownership of their own respective roles and responsibilities, where currently no conditions precedent or counter guarantees are binding on them – resulting in inordinate delays and the industry being unfairly penalized for issues beyond their control.
Given the unique nature of this field which involves technical, commercial, legal and governance issues, Nasscom President suggested that an arbitration mechanism by a neutral panel, be constituted, to resolve disputes over contractual or payment terms within a defined timeframe, to provide confidence to the industry. Also, addressing various challenges in eGovernance procurement, through model RFPs and Contracts is not adequate. Government also needs to focus on how it would ensure adoption and implementation of these recommendations. The project tendering process needs to be flexible and should also have enough room for product companies to participate in the eGovernance initiatives of the government.
All the suggestions provided by both Nasscom and the industry were well received by DeitY. Secretary-DeitY assured the participants that all their concerns have been made note of and shall soon announce the steps towards resolving the challenges, while also agreeing that tendering and contracting process needs to be fair and win-win. He also appreciated the role industry has played in eGovernance and would look forward to its participation in the prestigious Digital India initiative of the government and several other technology led projects.
Given the tremendous sense of urgency being seen in all spheres of government working in terms of technology adoption, Nasscom suggested constitution of a Project Development Fund in line with the Infrastructure sector. Nasscom has also urged the government to review the components in eGovernance and Digital India which could be left completely to the private sector without getting into the complex procurement process to save time on deployment. The advent of new technologies like social media, cloud, mobile services etc. in combination with open data initiatives and open APIs has created vast opportunities to do things differently.
Some of the other recommendations by Nasscom to DeitY include:-
• Empowerment of government officials leading IT projects, enabling quicker decision making
• Synergizing efforts/capabilities of various agencies involved in an eGovernance project, like state nodal agency, state IT department, line departments, NIC/NICSI and NISG (including SeMT)
• Evolve a mechanism to synergize technology investments being made by different states and also by various departments within the same state to avoid duplication of efforts
While talking about the recommendations, Mr. R. Chandrashekhar, President, NASSCOM said, “Given the focus of the government on ICT and the launch of initiatives like ‘Digital India’ the industry is keen to work with the government on strategic e-governance initiatives. We believe that addressing the short term challenges would provide a much needed fillip and encouragement to the Government – IT Industry partnership. To ensure a sustainable approach, it is imperative that necessary time bound steps are taken to implement the recommendations on short term measures and consultations undertaken to propose a detailed roadmap and measures to address the long-standing challenges for a win-win partnership.”
The e-governance initiatives are now entering the next phase of ICT-led governance reforms and public private partnerships is an important enabler for fast-tracking e-governance in India. All the suggestions provided by both NASSCOM and the industry were well received by DeitY.