National Informatic Centre (NIC) is a premier government technical body of India responsible for various computerisation projects. Establishment of NICNET & CICs (in the north-east India) have been some of NIC’s key achievements. In an exclusive interview with Dr. Vijayaditya, Director General, NIC, egov finds out its present role and future plans.
NIC is 30 years old organization providing ICT applications in government departments at center and states. What changes have taken place in NIC’s thrust and way of working between then and now?
Initially, NIC was conceived to provide informatics services to Ministries & departments of Government of India. Accordingly, expertise & services were being extended only to the central government as per original proposition. It was at the time of late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s, it was decided to extend our business domain to the States. During first decade, we created basic infrastructure, established data communication systems from districts to the state capitals. It was paramount for us to create necessary awareness about potential of data communication system in Government and making the officers realize that it is a useful tool. We have been very successful to establish a very reliable, state-of-the-art direct communication facility, which is called NICNET, a VSAT based system.
The next ten years were invested in creating an in-vivo understanding about functional & business requirements of the users and their environments and employ this knowledge in developing applications to improve their day-to-day activities. Our approach has been to develop those applications, which are relevant to their operations .We tried to make sure that the concerned users/officials would own these applications. Without creating a sense of Ownership among individual Users/Officers owning these applications, the success rate would be very poor. As we started implementing these applications their awareness and ownership has subsequently increased.
In the following decade, we emphasised on overall applications using workflow model, to re-engineer the entire process. Our success rate has been high, as we have been able to create ownership of these solutions and products among the various users.
In the last few years, we are focusing upon promoting consciousness about quality certification of software products and development of secure applications in E-governance domain. We have initiated ISO Certification. We are trying to create an overall business application framework, trying to reuse some of these modules and components, which have been developed for other application. The core design or module of this business driven application remains the same throughout the country and it is customized to suit to local requirements. Building up common technologies, which can be used at different places. We are also trying to showcase success at one place to promote it in other place.
NIC has been involved in various projects in different states. Many a times the similar tasks are executed by different teams in different states. Is there any planned effort to enhance efficiency and eliminate duplication of efforts?
We have a systemic-mechanism for sharing the resources and knowledge about all running applications. We are trying to promote this practice among all the officers because as a technologist every one of them has a tendency to develop a new product, demonstrate their skill set but it is a waste of energy. So we try to tell them that here is a application which has been developed successfully and others can have a look at it. But the problems also arise when a user or state is less flexible and particular about its specific local requirements supposedly different from other places. And we do not like to contradict our customer, as we have to take him as a part of the activity. So we provide that customization on the top of the application. For example, in case of land records, many processes, record-formats, are different in different States and there have been an age-old tradition and system for maintenance of records. At this point we do not want to intervene into their system. At grassroots, it is better to adopt their system for Computerisation at first instance. The way land is measured in Andhra Pradesh is different to Orissa. It may be seen that if there are regional and linguistics specificities on one side there are also common features within one domain across various states. So we are trying rationalizing among various core aspects as well as addressing the variations while crafting the applications. We have already taken a step in this direction as is evident in case of driving license and vehicle registration system, where we are using a standardized product for entire country and doing customization for each state. As far the user is concerned, the front end remains the same; we are trying to standardize the internals so that it is much easier for the software developer to maintain the code. We are also pursuing towards Interoperability standards.
What are the programmes of NIC to enhance the skill sets of its resources to ensure the competitiveness of the NIC resource as per the pace of changes happening in IT solutions markets?
Since we provide technical solutions to the Government, we also need to be abreast with the latest technology. We are conducting executive programmes for our officers. One batch of 25 officers has been recently trained at IIM Banaglore. We are also trying to work with other IIMs to give a software management perspective. We are also currently working with IITs to provide executive programmes to our officers on technology trends. Another set of training is continuous enhancements in skillsets to be able to apply the latest toolset, which enables them to perform much better – for modeling, testing and finally going for production.
With government now focusing more and more on PPP models, what role do you think NIC will have in the changed scenario?
NIC is a technical organization within government. It has acquired enormous domain knowledge and expertise in implementation of these e-Government programmes. But NIC cannot do implementation of all the projects on its own. Our extent of engagements in any given project is guided by various factors such as nature and type of activity; accountability & confidentiality of process and procedures. We do work extensively with a number of private agencies in variety of ways in rolling out the products. In certain places we outsource certain developmental activities. I hear from industry that 80% of successful e-Government projects in India are done by NIC directly or indirectly.
Can you share some of NIC’s key national projects and state-level projects, which have proved to be technology independent, scalable and sustainable?
In case of central government projects, the most successful one is Director General of Foreign Trade (DGFT). Today 95% of their operations are done electronically – application for import and export trade license, payments, etc. Other is customs department. We are participating in implementation of EDI system i.e. inter-linking the banks, seaports, airports. At the State level, Land Records project has been successfully implemented in several states – Bhoomi in Karnataka, Tamil- Nilam in TamilNadu, Halaris in Hariyana. The Registration project (CARD) of Andhra Pradesh has been very successful. Recently, VAT was implemented in Sikkim on 1st April and West Bengal. Implementation of “Online treasury system” in Chhattisgarh could be regarded as achievement considering background of it being a new state in contrast with Karnataka. Internationally, we have a product called eNRICH, which is being implemented at several places in Sri Lanka.
What is your vision for NIC 5 or 10 years down the line?
To make NIC as one of the best organizations for providing e- Government applications at International level. But within the country, our objective is to develop solutions to reach the unreached destinations.