The business of government covers a diverse range of activities that are complicated in nature. There is security of the nation, development of infrastructure, generating opportunities for employment, among others.
All these efforts are aimed at improving the life of the citizens of the country. Besides governing the nation, the government sets the political agenda and defines the direction in which it wants the society to move, though, to some extent, these options for change are circumscribed by global developments. Government offices, whose duties include drafting and preparing business for the Government and assisting the ministers in the course of their work, serve the government. They constitute an integral authority comprising the Prime Minister ‘s Office, the ministries and other administrative offices. Public officials assist the Government in a number of ways. They conduct inquiries into a wide range of matters, supervise the operations of central authorities and supply background material for use as a basis for decisions. These offices are supposed to be mainly staffed by politically impartial officials who retain their posts regardless of the political orientation of the government in power. This, however, is largely not true in today’s political environment.
Without digressing from the topic at hand, it is important to place today’s developments in the context of sociological and political developments over time. Political writers have invented various theories as to the origin of government. Historically, all governments have, in some sense, been developed from the patriarchal system as society developed from the family. Similarly, the Republic is opposed not to monarchy in the modern European sense, but to monarchy in the ancient or absolute sense. Republic, respublica, by the very force of the term, means public wealth, or, the commonwealth; i.e. government founded not on personal or private wealth, but on public wealth, public territory, or domain, or a Government that vests authority in the nation, and attaches the nation to a certain definite territory. France, Spain, Italy, Holland, Belgium, Denmark, even Great Britain in substance though not in form, are all, in the strictest sense of the word, Republic states; for the king or emperor does not govern in his own private right, but solely as representative of the power and majesty of the state.
Then, there might be different social beliefs regarding the origin of man, but one that is clear is that there were no cities or governments earlier, not too far back in history. People lived as individuals, with family, or within small communities. Some people were able to recognise the benefits of cooperation. Those communities that acted as a group to defend themselves (or attack others) probably survived longer than those who could not band together. In defensive terms, families and individuals have always had concerns about protecting their property (food and dwellings) and life. Conversely, the community also offered the possibility of wielding great force to attack neighbouring individuals or weaker communities. The key factor in all of this was the development of organised force.
With the development of organised force came the necessity of directing the use of that force. Then, as now, the control of the use of force fell either to a powerful individual or to a council. The term applied to both cases is ‘government’.
Change is inevitable
The traditional form of government performed well in the past. However, in the modern world there is a need for better systems on part of the government to handle issues swiftly. The availability of technology has made it possible for the government to take steps in the direction of being electronically enabled. It is also important for the government to keep pace with the private sector in various domains in this information age. The issue of lower costs is extremely important to governments, and e-Government is the panacea that can help reduce costs.
The need for change is urgent and the government needs to take steps to move in this direction. Some of the points that would be addressed by an e-Govern-ment are:
- Citizens would get online access to government information. This is otherwise, very difficult as citizens may have to go to government offices, stand in the queue for hours to get some information.
- There would be more transparency in the government systems.
- There could be a check on corruption.
- Citizens would find it easier to access the government departments for services and lodge their complaints with them.
- The Government will be able to respond faster and efficiently.
Vast improvements in computing, networking and telecommunications have led to a surge in technology investments at the federal, state and local levels that will continue to grow. e-Government is expected to have an immense presence in the years ahead. The first signs of its impact are already becoming apparent. USA Today has projected an annual compound growth rate of 6.9 percent during the next five fiscal years, from slightly more than USD 4 billion in fiscal 2004 to nearly USD 6 billion by fiscal 20091. By 2006, all sectors of government will collect about 15 percent of fees and taxes online, which will amount to USD 602 billion, according to Forrester Research2. In addition to improving government functioning, e-Government also helps to grasp the economic changes already under way. In 1999, online transactions were worth USD 145 billion, which was estimated to have reached USD 7.3 trillion by 2004 .
The biggest reason for this has been the lower cost of transaction on the Internet. When an airline ticket is purchased online, the transaction costs 87 percent less than by traditional means. An online banking transaction is 89 percent less expensive; bill payments 70 percent; an insurance policy 50 percent, and similarly for other services. The issue of lower costs is extremely important to local governments, and e-Government can help reduce costs. As per the 2002 IDC study, over the coming years governments around the world are expected to increase their spending on e-Government initiatives as they devote more resources to e-Enabling government business functions and providing electronic services. Governments across the Asia-Pacific region are launching ambitious e-Govern-ment initiatives, using electronic technologies to improve both internal operations and public service delivery.
The combined spending on IT across the Asia Pacific (APAC) governments in 2002 was USD 15.2 billion, estimated to touch USD 20.2 billion by this year-end. e-Government spending will grow the fastest in ?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” ?China at a compounded annual growth rate of nearly 40 percent. Meanwhile, e-Government spending in Singapore and Korea will experience a ro-bust growth at over 20 percent over the forecast period, and in Australia it will grow steadily at 15 percent. This creates major opportunities for Information Technology (IT) vendors and service providers as the public sector seeks advice, products, services, and partnerships in implementing e-Government projects. Currently, most governments are at the stage where they have a narrow focus on providing electronic services and achieving agency-by-agency operational efficiency– without fully considering the benefits they can achieve by approaching it as an e-Business transformation. The sophistication of their services and systems will grow and new opportunities will emerge as they progress along the e-Government maturity curve.
The Indian Government, realising the importance of IT, has created a separate Ministry of Information Technology to promote IT in the country. The Government has also approved the policy of allocation of two to three percent of the national budget for IT. e-Governance spending in India is climbing 23 percent per annum. It went up from INR 150 billion in 2002, to an estimated INR 220 billion in 2003-04. According to the 2003 Gartner study, Government of India is the most recession-proof vertical that could keep the momentum in IT spending across countries in the Asia Pacific region. As per estimates, the Indian government has emerged as the fourth largest vertical spender on IT in the country following the verticals of telecom, manufacturing, banking and finance. In 2003 the Indian government’s IT spending was 14 percent of the total domestic ICT spend4. IT spending generally includes hardware, software, telecom equipment, telecom services and IT services.
Another ‘feather’ is the initiation of the IT Bill that gives legal recognition to electronic documents and would facilitate transactional services on the Internet. Some cases of India’s e-Governance initiatives at the district administration or police administration level bear testimony as to how IT is being conceived as an important agenda of Public Administration in India (The Government of India (GoI) had declared 2001 as the ‘Year of e-Governance’). However, according to Gartner, meaningful e-Governance in India is unlikely before 2010, as only ten percent of government bodies round the globe would be able to move towards e-Governance by 2005, and India is absent from that picture due to poor infrastructure and slow response to cyber-culture. According to Gartner, the transition from governance to e-Governance takes place in four phases:
India is still in the early phases of its transition. Flexible demographics and geographic competition within the country could eventually propel e-Governance to prominence in India though the constraints are significant enough to stymie any immediate advances. However, the brighter side is reflected in increased spending, which is ample testimony to the vital importance of e-Governance in India’s plans. According to NASSCOM president Kiran Karnik, “e-Governance must be a high priority for India, as it is the only means of taking IT to the masses. Additionally, this is a smart and economical process of building domestic software market”.
While there are many emerging programmes and initiatives on e-Government throughout the world at all levels of government, these initiatives present a number of challenges in terms of policy, infrastructure, security etc. The objective of achieving e-Governance goes far beyond mere computerisation of standalone back office operations. e-Governance has to fundamentally change how a government operates and this implies a new set of responsibilities for the executive, legislature, and the citizenry. The government is aware of this fact as is obvious from the statement of former Communication, IT and Disinvestment Minister, Arun Shourie, “The government’s IT managers should develop a minimum agenda for e-Governance. The days of ‘file culture’ have come to an end and cumbersome procedures should soon be replaced by online decisions”.
Governments would require enormous changes in their processes, structures, skill, and work culture. It might require implementation over another decade as infrastructures must be built, policy issues resolved, and interoperability established. While there is a growing body of knowledge dealing with the management of corporate change, there are still significant gaps in understanding the process. There is hardly any effort to understand the change in government domain accruing from its e-Enablement initiatives. Bringing about successful change in the government system requires change in the mindsets of people (within and outside the government systems). Managing change refers to getting the users to accept a new organisational process and the technology that enables it. New applications or processes that fundamentally change the way people work (and their relationships with others) may require some formal change management programme, and change management then is about helping people deal with their emotions. It is important to manage the human element for the success of any new system or process.
The success of e-Governance is closely tied to the reform processes in the current system of government. Reforms must be an all-embracing phenomenon, touching every aspect of the government. Then the e-Governance model chosen will impact the way reform processes are handled.
Governance is an essential component of any organisation whether formal or informal, ineffective or successful. It amounts to achieving effective coordination in a dynamic environment where authority, responsibility and accountability among people are distributed. From governance to e-Governance is a journey of drastic organisational transformation. Though technology is driven, it brings changes of the type that cover wider aspects of organisation such as coping with new organisational structures and skills, new forms of leadership, and perhaps even a redefinition of purpose. As rightly explained by (Allen et.al. 2001)6 , “The rise of e-Governance refers to the new patterns of decision-making, power sharing and coordination – made possible, or even necessary by the advent of IT”. Unlike private sector, “government finds itself under the dual strain of becoming both a partner and de facto competitor with business in an online environment, while also needing to understand the complex and profound implications of new technologies and their impacts on public interest issues. As a result, digital government (a term that has been occasionally deployed in place of e-Government by many people) refers to an IT-led reconfiguration of public sector governance, and how knowledge, power and purpose are redistributed in light of new technological realities”.
Another expert refers to the move from governance to e-Governance as harnessing IT to redefine its social technologies in order to remain relevant in a more participative, more interactive and more informational era7. Radical and effective reforms become a necessity to prepare the government to be able enough to adapt to the changes mentioned above. However, this is not an easy path, and there are several resistances such as administrative culture, size, scope and operational complexity, etc. Cultivating the required shifts in skills, values and vision may be faced with difficulties. Bringing a little change in traditional ways is often difficult in a democratic set up of government. “A continuing focus on hierarchy-based leadership, partially contradicts the recognition of the need for individuals with new combinations of competencies and abilities associated with delivering in a web-enabled management framework. Yet, the shift towards a new order of e-Governance (penetrating political, commercial and social spheres) accelerates, bringing at least the possibility of new governance capacities”8 .
What it takes is strong leadership with vision and commitment to spearhead a reform to e-Governance. Any government’s economic management team always struggles with the expenses and fiscal deficit tradeoff – the attempt being to increase savings and up development expenditure. However, the governing process itself often comes in the way of achieving much of what is generally intended/attempted. It is here that IT-led solutions in government provide ample opportunities to gear up the governing and delivery processes of services to citizens by making the transformation as well as execution comparatively smoother and cost effective. Further, IT-enabled government functions are mostly error free, and reduce reworking and loss due to mistakes. Of course, all of this is predicated on certain investments in IT infrastructure and skill upgradation that result in relocation of manpower also. Nevertheless, in long run, it proves to be an economically viable option.
Another important aspect of today’s governance is to manage and monitor information flow within the country. The complexity and necessity of effective handling of information had always been there, but it has become more complicated now and governments across the world have realised the importance of doing so. Moreover, when businesses within a country are increasingly becoming dependent on IT, the government has to align its policies to accommodate the change and also adopt implementation of IT within itself for effective governance of the businesses. With changing time, citizens’ expectations for better government services keep rising. People no longer like long queues waiting for a service to be provided in a dingy government office. It looks foolish to see a clerk opening and closing big registers, entering time-consuming transaction details. e-Governance must ensure visits, if any, to a government office to be a nice experience. Good governance by the e-Governance model is a win-win situation i.e. satisfies the citizen and also increases productivity of the government and reduces losses due to mistakes and non-accountability.
The World Trade Organisation (WTO) is another major frame influencing government function greatly. It is pushing reforms for the opening up of economies to all the global players. This introduces new kinds of complexities. At a first level, it is the monitoring of inflow and outflow of money and goods in the country. Secondly, at the administration level, detailed information needs to be available all the time for the executives to control the effects of international transactions. Policy-making activity also needs to take care of feedback from affected citizens to reduce the number of iterations before finalising the best policy option in a given situation. Else the government is forced to reconsider the policy, make modifications and go through the same ordeal of long approval processes – resulting in a heavy drain on the exchequer.
Moreover, the awareness level of general people has improved with the development in the economy and education. This has had a positive affect on election processes. Despite low voter turnouts (compared to many developed countries), people are more informed and interested in the voting process. They now want to be a part of decision-making, voice their opinion before the apex policy-making body, carry out constructive criticism of government decisions, and let others know of it! With such a trend in the mindsets of people, it is imperative on the government of the land to provide opportunities to citizens to voice their valuable opinions. e-Governance provides that opportunity. Moreover, in developing democratic economies, many a time governmental issues are prioritised by the political agenda of different political parties in power rather than on the real need of development. People often feel frustrated and cheated by political powers. The model of e-Government will, at the least, put pressure on political parties to prioritise an issue that is more important for the well being of its citizens than meeting the narrow political objective of the party because e-Governance will make all decision-making processes transparent with government information accessible to the public.
Implementing e-Governance in any country is a task of massive transformation. However, what it requires in terms of resources is a whole lot of expertise, special skill sets, and commitment of people involved more than the money factor alone. Above all is the need for a leader with vision and passion who could drive the entire process though a dedicated team identified and deployed for each different module of work. If taken forward in the right spirit, e-Governance is one area where the political leadership has a real chance to bring about change in countries and the lives of people. Agreed that technology is now the enabling factor, however, more than anything else technology needs a framework to succeed, and that is the area of strategy management which deals with evolving a set of strategies to use technology to deliver results appropriate to the users and other stakeholders. Many a time we are faced with inconsistent objectives of different stakeholders in the government. Attempts, therefore, have to be made to reconcile different and often conflicting interests of different agencies and partners to get effective results. If implemented in true spirit, e-Governance has the potential to change the whole facade of governmental organisation and citizen servicing. It opens up gateways of vast opportunities that include the seamless flow of information and coordination among government agencies, between government and business, and between government and citizens.
1 http://www.usatoday.com/tech/news/techpolicy/ 2005-01-06-egov-to-grow_x.htm?csp=15
4 http://www.nasscom.org/newsline/issue37/ egovernance.asp
5 http://www1.worldbank.org/publicsector/egov/ gujaratcs.htm
6 B. A. Allen, L. Juillet, G. Paquet and J. Roy (2001); EGovernance & Government On-line in Canada, Partnerships, People & Prospects, Government Information Quarterly 18 (2001) 93–104
7 Tapscott, D., & Agnew, D. (1999). Governance in the digital economy. Finance and Development, December: 84–87.
8 Papows, J. (1998). Enterprise.com: Market leadership in the information age. Reading, UK: Perseus Books.