E-governance is not just about delivering government services over the internet. It goes far beyond that and requires a substantial investment in capacity building, process re-engineering, policies as well as using technology beyond the internet, writes Ashutosh Chadha, Group Director, Government Affairs & Public Policy – Microsoft India.
The objective of any government is to provide an effective governance system which enables equity, inclusiveness, efficiency, transparency and standardisation as well as predictability in all its interactions. These interactions could be between the government and citizens (G2C), government and governments (G2G) or government and businesses (G2B). Not meeting any of the objectives or designing governance without those objectives in mind would degrade experiences and thus the overall quality of engagements. Technology today is playing a critical role in helping governments globally to address these issues. India has had its own share of e-governance services rolling out across the years whether it is UP 100, the recently launched SWAYAM portal, passport services, government e-marketplace portal, or MCA 21 etc. Further, the JAM trinity, BHIM app, rapid proliferation of Aadhar and its linkages to benefit transfers, as well as digital payments, all are driving deeper usage of technology in the governance services. At the bottom of all of this is the governments ‘Digital India’ push.
E-governance, however, is not just about delivering government services over the internet. It goes far beyond that and requires a substantial investment in capacity building, process re-engineering, policies as well as using technology other than the internet. The fact is that government service delivery is just one part of what a government does.
Succulently put e-governance is all about how public servants use technology to provide government services, engage citizens and organisations as well as streamline their own operations.
The imperatives of any governance process should include the following key areas:
Transparency and Accountability
There is a clear need that the public service needs to be transparent in terms of who is eligible for what service, at what time, what quantum with responsibilities and timelines clearly defined. This would thus include allocation of resources for social schemes, clear definitions of eligibility criteria which are visible to all, as well as the ability to track the performance of schemes with oversight, which is critical for the system.
Inclusion and Equity
Given a country as large and diverse as ours, we have great diversity in terms of language, culture, religion etc. At the same time, there is also a vast disparity in terms of income level, education, ability to access the govt services both for individuals as well as organisations. There is thus a need to ensure that e-Governance processes are able to provide a platform which is applicable to all, accessible to all and does not discriminate. Technology can enable this inclusiveness and equity by eradicating the need for middle men or intermediaries and ensure that citizens irrespective of their caste, creed, geographic locations, sex, literacy levels intellectual and/or physical abilities can access the services that they need.
Leveraging technology for e-governance would greatly drive speed of interactions, accuracy as well as fairness by ensuring that rule based approach is followed and the need for human interpretations, interventions diminishes. At the same time as the technology can be available on 24/7 mode, this will not restrict the ability of organisations and citizens to deal with public services within a certain window. In today’s hyperconnected world this becomes a very important requirement to help drive end user satisfaction and ensure businesses can function seamlessly.
The objective thus for infusing technology in governance should be to enable transformation and as a transformation enabler. It should not be seen as a bolt on the process. What this would entail is that all government processes needs to be re engineered in order to effectively leverage current and future technology. E-governance can not be just scanning and uploading documents or forms or as a means of only providing one-way information. Unless technology is used to convert processes, engage citizens interactively, provide rule based decisions without human intervention as well as maintain transparency and predictability within interactions it would not serve the real purpose.
The adjoining diagram provides the 4 key change vectors that any such transformational process needs to create an impact.
This is not about just scanning current forms and documents and making the same available to citizens and organisations at large to be used. What it actually requires is the re-engineering of the process, re looking at document flows, authority limits as well as eliminating redundancies. It would require integrating various departments in the same flow, remote identity authentication, security consideration and many more aspects of process refinement.
Optimisation and Standardisation:
Given the need to focus on transparency, efficiency and accountability, this would require clear and defining rules of engagement. Define the conditions in which services are granted, documents that are required for the same as well as ensure that the same is replicated and followed across departments. By providing rule based engagements it would also eliminate discretionary actions and undue delays.
Empower Public Servants:
The greatest benefits of technology and e-governance would be the empowerment of the employees. Using technology to improve the processes and maintenance of records using dashboards, getting information on delays, the ability to address systemic issues rather than spending time in mundane tasks would all support better management of back end processes which are a lesser seen part of the government. Given rule based scenarios it would also provide public servants with the ability to discharge duties without delays and at the same time lend itself to faster and more improved flow of information, forms and decisions. Rule based decision making also eliminates the incidence of favouritism and ad hoc decision making.
Engage Citizens and Organisations:
The end result of any transformation process is the value that flows to citizens and organisations. Engagement of the citizens in these governance processes thus becomes the final vector of digital transformation. What is the interactivity established, how much of control does the second party have over the interaction with the government, what is the ease of that interaction and the predictability of the same. Does the second party have a way to provide feedback, engage in the process creation and/or even how often does the second party come back to the government for a service. In essence the increased participation of the citizen in government processes.
Evolution/Stages of e-Governance
E-governance is not new to India, it has been in place for many many years now. E-governance should also not be looked at as a mode of Public Servants providing services to a third party but also how they enable their own processes and work flow to become more efficient, targeted and responsive. Typically with the maturity of technology adoption as well as its wide spread usage, one can clearly see four stages of e-governance which are given in the figure along side. Succinctly, this also matches the level of digital transformation which the government department goes through. At the most basic level is the information stage; the only role seen is that of e-governance to provide information on govt schemes, rules as well as contact details. In essence, this is what could be known as a static web site. The next level is where the web is possibly used to provide forms and other details which other parties could download and use. At this stage, rudimentary use of technology is also seen to address internal government processes as well. The third level which becomes more evolved is where payment portals are put in place, online forms are created and there is an interactivity between the government and the second party for providing or acquiring services. This is where also internally within organisations, where one would have work flow processes defined with SLAs. A stage where one is not just looking at a dynamic web interface for external interactions but also looking at leveraging technology for addressing internal processes beyond the use of e-mail. The final level is where there is full fledged engagement between employees and citizens as well as where public servants are theme selves using technology to help ensure the provision of better services. This is where the use of technology like BOTS, AI, Data Mining, predicative analysis are used by public servants to enable better decisions making, targeted socials security schemes etc.
Given the advancement of technology, a few key scenarios can be played out as to how e-governance will mature over the next few years. These will run in consonance with how technology matures. Technology is becoming all pervasive, mobility and cloud are becoming key drivers and data is the new currency. All this will contribute to how the e-governance services will mature in the coming years, and how e-governance will become core to government reform. The enclosed chart is a simplistic view of how these changes will get manifested in due time.
Fundamentally from stand alone processes to those which are integrated across departments. Interactions which happen at a fixed time and at fixed place to being enabled anytime through any device thus enhancing the ease of access. Participation of citizens in the governance process and systems which are department driven to citizen driven engagements and provision of services based on real time data analysis thus ensuring the best services getting delivered to the right people when they require it.
As mentioned above use of Artificial Intelligence (AI), data mining, predictive analysis, biometric authentication, bots, voice activated response systems will all go a long way in enabling e-governance. Some of these will ease the interaction of citizens, organisations and government departments and others. However, the real impact will be when the Government is able to unlock the power of data by using AI and predictable analysis to really deliver targeted services as well as preempt possible situations which would otherwise be reacted to. A few examples are given below :
Predictive policing – The value of studying data with regard to criminal behaviour by geography, time of the day or month etc. can provide invaluable data to law enforcement agencies on where and when to deploy forces.
Judgements – By supplementing courts with information on past cases and history for future cases it could ease the ability of courts and judges to speedily look at cases and provide judgement.
Predictive Health profiling – Using data from public hospitals and government health services, one could easily look at how to position, predict need of specialists, medicines across the length and breadth of the country based on the propensity of diseases which could be prevalent in different regions.
Predictive Interventions – AI can help supplement decisions made by medical practitioners on possible ways of treatments for a variety of diseases based on data mining. At the same time, this could also be used by front line medical staff in remote areas to provide initial aid just in time to patients based on medical parameters recorded.
Social service programs are required to be targeted at the right audience and need to be monitored continuously.
Often resource constraints limit the ability of governments to provide specific interventions and thus social service schemes tend to fail due to improper planning and implementation or reaching the wrong audience. Leveraging AI and data analytics public servants can plan, implement and monitor accurately the impact of targeted social security programs.
In conclusion, as India embarked on its first National e-Governance Plan (NeGP) plan in 2006 and we have come a long way now with a large swath of the population now having bank accounts, an Aadhar number a clear push by the government to drive e-transactions and ease of doing business.
As governments move to the cloud they need to ensure that they not only use the benefits of Infrastructure as a Service (IAAS) and PAAS but fully leverage the next generation of IOT, SAAS solutions and strength of BOTS and AI to further refine the internal and external operation and interface. With our vast strength and capability in IT, it is just a matter of time before we move ahead of other countries in the area of e-governance. Critical to that, however, we would need to focus on the accompanying core tenets of which 4 stand out to ensure we have a successful next generation e Governance system in place.
Being Citizen Centric – The citizen needs to be at the centre of all services and thus processes need to be designed with that in mind.
Capacity Building both in term of public servants as well as the infrastructure and thus the need to give every citizen the ability to get online with sufficient bandwidth and affordable access of citizens to the internet and thus services.
Being inclusive – especially for the marginalised, unlettered, people with disability. How can technology become more useful and approachable to all strata of the society? The answer to this question lies in graphical interfaces, multiple language support, support for people with various types of the motor or intellectual disabilities permanent or temporary.
Enabling Policies – Ensuring that policies are put in place which supports innovation, free flow of data, enable the use of AI and don’t impinge upon innovation but at the same time ensure high standards of privacy and security.
Ashutosh Chadha, Group Director, Government Affairs & Public Policy – Microsoft India
(Views are of the author and do not reflect the views of the organization)