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Getting the solution right is key to success of India’s e-governance initiatives

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E-governance projects are an imperative for a modern, well governed India. With governments at the center, state, city and local levels, investing in a slew of e-governance projects to make their functioning more transparent and efficient, it is a space that presents a huge business opportunity.

If e-governance projects are executed well, they could make immense difference to the society at large and have a greater impact on the citizens of a complex and large nation like India by ensuring equitable access, transparency, accountability and faster responses. And success of many of these projects, could make or break India’s aspiration to move up from a developed into a developing economy. On another note, technology has permeated almost every aspect of modern life including the governments as well.

There is also growing pressure and clamor for government information to be readily available online, easy to find and understand, and at low or no cost. According to a McKinsey research, capturing the full potential of govern­ment digitization could free up to $1 trillion annually in economic value worldwide, through improved cost and operational performance.Currently, more than 130 countries have online services. Estonia’s residents can use electronic identification cards to vote, pay taxes, and access more than 160 services online.

Turkey’s Social Aid Infor­ma­tion System provides citizens with better access and faster decisions on its various aid programs. The United Kingdom’s gov.uk site is a one-stop information hub for all government departments.

However, successful implementation of e-governance initiatives are not as simple – the number of implementations worldwide gone wrong or not delivering its desired impact or requiring multiple fixes post roll-out,  are clear indication of the complexity and challenges involved. Having been in this field for close to a decade and with many large scale successful e-governance implementations onshore/offshore behind, can say from my experience that governments often try and go with the latest  technology trend or try to get to execution quickly even without thinking through the solution or take not necessarily the best execution mechanism or worse not factor ground realities. No matter how advanced the software is or how good the execution, the e-governance project simply won’t deliver the desired results if the solution is not developed holistically.

Developing a holistic solution is not easy as one needs to factor on-ground realities, have deep understanding of the multiple elements at play like infrastructure, manpower, technology etc., while at the same time balancing it out with cost constraints that public spending entails. According to a joint study by McKinsey and Oxford University, public-sector IT projects were six times more likely to experience cost overruns and 20% more likely to run over schedule than similar projects in the private sector.

Besides the cost overruns, they must also cope with management issues, dealing with multiple agencies, different constituencies which have varied needs, all kinds of organizational mandates, and ultimately the challenge of maintaining continuity even if the political bosses or the bureaucrats change. One must also keep in mind that different government departments use different platforms for their own requirements, which can be at odds with what others’ are seeking.

The absence of a single, unified infrastructure and a central accountable owner can make it very hard for any solution to deliver a seamless experience for the end user—the citizen, a business user or a government employee. Often given the complexity and scale of the e-governance projects, these odds can seem pretty insurmountable and that is why propose that in addition to taking time to get the solution right, would also strongly recommend governments of all hues to look at the partner or the execution mechanism they choose.

While specialist players who are good in s/w development, data centers, technical staffing etc. are needed and an integral part of the delivery, there is a clear and definite need for players who have the experience and required understanding of all or most of the elements to be factored in, while developing the solution. It is even better if they can be end to end plays bringing in specialist players where necessary. When it is purely technology-driven, it can end in spectacular failure. Take for example the British Child Support Agency. Not only did the system have an 85% error rate in calculating payments but, seven years after it was introduced, there were so many complex rules involved that the system was completely undeliverable.Also, most e-governance projects are big, complex and ambitious. Hence, most times the IT spend gets out of control and responsibilities so spread out that it becomes difficult to pinpoint who was accountable for which part of the operation. Besides, the people at helm often don’t have the requisite expertise to be able to make critical decisions. This is another reason why advise governments to focus first on solutioning and then on those who bring holistic view/experience in building and executing the solution.

Companies like Innowave, which is an end-to-end solution provider in e-governance, have rich expertise in delivering solutions for central, state, municipalities and local bodies, to meet new and evolving challenges, while keeping in mind the ground realities. Interestingly, customer centricity was not the focus of such initiatives when it was launched in India during the 1970s and 1980s. While the National Informatics Centre (NIC) connected all the district headquarters in the country through a VSAT network, it was only in the 90s that such initiatives started making an impact on citizen services. Mission mode projects like BharatNet which connects all the rural area on the fiber internet framework is going to be game changers in the citizen centric solution initiatives. Today, e-governance initiatives like Digital India and many mission mode projects supporting it are anticipated to grow through 2020, according to Gartner.

India ranks 107 out of 193 countries in the UN E-Government Development Index. We surely need more and more of our e-governance projects at all levels to succeed for us to move up. This is also a must considering the growing aspirations of people who are seeking better governance across all the touch points. There is a clear need for focus on solution development and end to end players with understanding of the various factors at play. This will also move e-governance and mobile based m-governance selection criteria from technology-driven to value-driven, which is what the country and its citizens need.

(Author of the article is Anant Raghute, Managing Director, Innowave IT Infrastructure Ltd., one of India’s largest solution-focused, e-governance players. He is reachable at anant@innowavegroup.com.)

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