India’s e-Governance program

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Even though a National e-Governance Plan (NeGP) is in place in India, it appears to be high on intent and low on execution details. There is little coherence and synergy between the efforts of the central ministries and the various state governments. As such, to implement e-Governance in India the current approach needs to undergo a thorough and holistic review

In perspective, it becomes important to examine here the hypothetical case of a large firm that is under pressure to improve its performance. This firm’s organisational structure consists of a large headquarter responsible for corporate functions including finance, HR etc., and over 30 business units operating autonomously. All of the business units have internal IT teams led by individual CIO, who operate independently from the corporate IT team.

As part of its overall turnaround strategy, the firm’s leadership team has decided to revitalise business operations through deployment of IT. Subsequent to extensive deliberations and involvement of expensive consultants, an IT strategy and high-level implementation plan has been prepared for the firm.

The various corporate functions and business units are granted complete autonomy to implement the IT strategy at their respective level.  Due to lack of incentives or corporate policies, there is no attempt to collaborate among the business units to synergize the IT investments. This has further resulted in a lack of common IT standards within the firm. A prevalent culture of one-upmanship among the business units has resulted in more attention being focused on supply side investments rather than what business outcomes have been achieved as a result of the IT investments.

It does not take a Nostradamus to foretell that the future IT landscape of this enterprise will resemble a spaghetti plate.  Not only will a fortune be spent to deploy IT at the corporate headquarter and business units, but a greater fortune will be spent on getting the IT infrastructure to work and subsequently maintain.

If we replace this fictitious enterprise with India, the corporate functions with central government ministries and the business units with the states, the above hypothetical scenario closely resembles the Indian e-Governance program. While a National e-Governance plan (NeGP) exists in India, it appears to be high on intent and low on execution details. Consequently there is little coherence and synergy between the efforts of the central ministries and the various state governments. Each central ministry and state government is free to decide the velocity and content of its e-Governance initiatives.  There is no single agency responsible and accountable for ensuring e-Governance implementation in India in a timely and efficient manner.

Given that the Indian taxpayer is paying for the e-Governance investments and the gargantuan size of the planned e-Governance investments (over INR 260mn), it is imperative that the current approach to implement e-Governance in India undergoes a thorough and holistic review.

Revitalizing the Indian e-Governance program

In perspective, the revitalisation of the Indian e-Governance program significantly depends on an honest assessment and taking some vital steps. The steps, rather suggestions, include enabling legislation for e-Governance, creating a nodal body for e-Governance, business process reengineering of e-Government processes, outcome-based assessment of e-Governance, reusability, infrastructure optimisation, and interoperability through standards.

Enabling legislation for e-Governance: Any e-Governance implementation will result in multiple interactions, i.e., G2C, G2B, G2G etc. Being uncharted territory in India, these interactions are likely to generate issues whose redressal will require legal reform to avoid miring the e-Governance initiatives in a sea of litigation. While India has a number of legislations which impact e-Governance, e.g., RTI (Right to Information) Act, IT (Information Technology) Act etc., there has been little or no attempt to examine the comprehensibility of the present legislative framework with the future requirements of e-Governance.

An enabling legislative framework for e-Governance should broadly cover areas such as delivery of public services electronically and a comprehensive e-Government legislation to implement e-Governance. Delivery of public services electronically requires legal reforms to make the digital content legally enforceable. Specific areas requiring attention are electronic signatures and electronic documentation, electronic communication among governmental agencies and citizens, data protection and data security, access to public information, networking of authorities and databases. Besides, there is also a need for comprehensive e-Government legislation to provide the regulatory framework for e-Governance implementation. Such legislation should define the administrative and organisational models and their responsibilities to support e-Government, establish accountabilities for the various Government ministries and departments, identify tasks and implementation measures required to implement e-Government and propose the financial sources and procedures/process for the development of e-Government. An example of such enabling legislation is the US Electronic Government Act of 2002.

Nodal body for e-Governance: Currently, the scenario is such that presumably everybody or nobody has responsibility for implementing e-Governance in India. State governments and central ministries are free to implement e-Governance on their own whenever it is convenient to them. Apart from peer pressure, there is no other incentive to force a government department to implement e-Governance. This democratic approach has resulted in a non-standard and skewed implementation of e-Governance. Therefore,  a statutory body responsible for e-Governance implementation in India need to be created for ensuring a systematic and successful e-Governance implementation.   This nodal body should be equipped with requisite regulatory powers to enforce standards, plans, budgets and decide project priorities at both the state and central government levels. An example of such a body is the Office of the e-Envoy in the UK, which was established to coordinate the e-Governance efforts in UK.

Business process re-engineering (BPR) of e-Government processes: There is little doubt that Indian government processes are archaic and sheerly out-of-step with the changing demands of its consumers, i.e., the Indian citizens. Merely automating government processes in their current form will not deliver the expected benefits of e-Governance, and frankly will be a waste of budgetary allocations earmarked for e-Governance projects. Therefore, all government processes targeted for e-Governance should undergo a detailed BPR exercise to rationalize and improve the existing processes. Rationalized processes enabled through IT would go a long way in helping the government achieve the e-Governance objectives of improving the quality of a citizen’s life.

Outcome-based assessment of e-Governance:Any announcement of a new e-Governance initiative or an update of existing initiatives focuses on supply side factors including number of PCs, network connections, kiosks, villages covered etc. Little attention is paid to a simple question – How has the quality of life of the citizen improved through deployment of e-Governance? As such, each e-Government initiative should define and publish its expected outcomes while initiating the initiative.  Benchmarking the actually achieved outcomes against the expected outcomes should be used to measure the success of an e- Governance initiative.

Reusability: A large proportion of gov ernment processes especially at the state level are fairly similar in almost all the states. Differences if any are more often than not superficial in nature. This situation is extremely conducive for the e-Government program to adopt an approach of ‘Create once, deploy many time’. Applications created in one state should be deployed across other states. The states should be encouraged to adopt reusability by proposing incentive models including offsetting the cost of development. The successful e-Seva application developed in Andhra Pradesh should be implemented in other states too, instead each state developing own G2C applications. Not only will this approach reduce the time to market e-Governance projects but also have a tremendous impact on reducing the e-Governance implementation costs. The other major advantage of this approach would be the relative standardization in government processes across India.

The Government of India has earmarked INR 260mn (US$5.64mn) for e-Governance representing a huge investment, which can have other alternative deployments. Out-of-box thinking and innovative implementation models are sine qua non to ensure that every rupee invested in e-Governance ultimately improves the citizens’ quality of life

Infrastructure optimisation: With the focus on supply side factors as a benchmark of e-Governance progress, there is very little attention to sharing infrastructure capacity.  Each state is investing huge amounts to create infrastructure capacity including data centres, disaster recovery centres, networks, and network operating centres etc. More often than not the infrastructure is never used at the capacity levels it is capable off. To optimise the infrastructure investments, infrastructure sharing should be promoted and enforced. Infrastructure capacity at national and regional centres should be established to cater to the requirements of a cluster of states. The states can pay for the infrastructure based on their consumption. This is analogous to the power grid model where states draw power from the national grid and pay for what they consume.

Interoperatibility through Standards: No IT system exists in a silo. To operate successfully, it has to communicate with other constituents of its ecosystem. Similarly, interoperatibility would be a key element for the success of e-Governance implementation in India as every application will be required to communicate with citizens, businesses and other government departments.

To enable a seamless flow of information and documents among the various constituents of the Indian e-Governance ecosystem, it is important to ensure that data and document exchange standards are established and their compliance is enforced in each e-Governance initiative.

Despite having a vibrant economy, India remains a country with many pressing societal problems, which need huge resource investments. Poverty continues to bedevil large sections of our country and as a nation we cannot afford profligacy. The Government of India has earmarked INR 260mn (US$5.64mn) for e-Governance representing a huge investment, which can have other alternative deployments. Out-of-box thinking and innovative implementation models are sine qua non to ensure that every rupee invested in e-Governance ultimately improves the citizens’ quality of life. Therein, lies the success of the e-Governance program.

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