Often it is the government machinery, which is held responsible for everything bad about governance. In reality though, constraints and deficiencies in the administrative system are the actual causes behind such performance glitches. Timeliness, Efficiency, Security, Transparency, Equity, and Responsibility (TESTER) are attributes that more or less sum up the current concerns about the quality of governance. The challenge, however, is in putting good governance to work. Paper documents and files, which are still the mainstay of governance, severely impede the performance of governments.
It is no mean challenge when it comes to building efficient e-Government solutions. There are hardly any software solutions in core areas of governance like regulatory compliance monitoring. Indian Mines Safety Information System is now India’s first regulatory compliance monitoring application showcasing what e-Governance could do for good governance
The greatest advantage of e-Governance is its capacity to equip the government functionaries with greater management control and efficient decision support systems. However, countries could get the best out of e-Governance only by applying it to core areas of governance and ensuring that such ICT applications perform well on all counts of good governance.
Indian Mines Safety Information System (IMSIS)
Building efficient e-Governance solutions is no mean challenge. In fact, there are hardly any software solutions in core areas of governance like regulatory compliance monitoring. Indian Mines Safety Information System (IMSIS) is India’s first regulatory compliance monitoring application. It is also a showcase of what e-Governance could do for good governance. It provides compliance monitoring framework with respect to the Mines Act, 1952; Mines Rules, 1955; Coal Mines Regulations, 1957; Mines Rescue Rules, 1985 and Indian Electricity Rules, 1956. IMSIS is an outcome of the Coal Mine Safety and Health Project, a joint initiative of United States Department of Labour (US-DOL), and Ministry of Labour, Government of India.
IMSIS is currently in use at the Directorate General of Mines Safety (DGMS). It provides end-to-end solution for compiling all the data collected during the mandatory safety inspections of coalmines into a structured database and automating the generation of statutory reports and violation letters and also tracking the initial and follow up actions taken against each violation.
IMSIS application replaces physical movement of files with electronic transmission of documents that contain data, drafts, notes, attachments, flags, etc. that usually form part of any conventional file used in government. IMSIS also provides database back ended mailbox for each user with facilities for opening forms, files, and documents received or sent.
The data model of IMSIS provides simple methods for capturing and processing complex data sets with the help of standardisation and automated generation of Unique Identification Codes. IMSIS is deployed as a web service operable over the Internet and Local Area Networks. It can be ported on to any of the popular RDBMS, Web Servers, Application Servers, and Operating Systems.
An important feature of IMSIS is the knowledgebase it creates by capturing all the complex entity and data relationships to the last detail and by employing extensive standardisation and parameterisation to generate effective decision support information and predictive intelligence.
IMSIS was conceived in response to a typical challenge that is common to most government organisations. Though coal production was going up significantly, the number officials available at DGMS for carrying out coal mine inspections remained almost static. IMSIS had a clear service objective of reducing the time taken in the generation of statutory inspection reports and tracking of violations.
Tendering and Vendor Selection: The implementing agency adopted the conventional two part tendering process consisting of technical and financial bids for selecting the vendor for developing IMSIS. The vendor selection process did involve detailed process of evaluating the technical bids because of the pioneering nature of the software application— the tender was accompanied by a process mapping study, which clearly defined all the desired functionalities as deliverables; the assessment criteria gave significant weightage to demonstrable capacities with specific reference to the desired functionalities. The vendors were required to spell out how they proposed to implement the functionalities technically; Vendors shortlisted on the basis of technical bid were given the opportunity make technical presentations before final selection; and participation was truly open like for any national competition and there was no pre-qualification requirements either in terms of turn over or quality certification. The process mapping study carried out before tendering actually helped in not only assessing the bids strictly in terms of the requirements of the project but also monitoring the implementation process effectively.
Development and Implementation: Technology is no more a barrier for building effective e-Governance solutions. Yet, it does take considerable effort for first time applications to measure up to the expectations of users and pass the test of good governance. Interactive involvement of the different strata of users during development played a critical role in not only fine-tuning the IMSIS application, but also making it acceptable to all users. Expectations varied widely from user to user depending on the role one played within IMSIS.
The IMSIS project took 45 months to complete after being started. Though the implementation time for similar applications based on IMSIS could be cut to half, none of the development stages of IMSIS could be missed out. Testing the application at different stages of development is necessary to make it sustainable in the long run. Besides having a strategic plan for involving the users who would be often too busy and testing the applications against exceptional cases, which do not occur very frequently, it would be preferable also to provision for two or three revisions of the application as part of the software implementation process itself.
Some lessons from IMSIS
One of the important revelations of IMSIS is the fact e-Governance in general do have a few unique requirements, which need to be taken in to account at the design stage itself.
Need for action-based differentiation of access and usage rights: Government mechanisms do contain an elaborate system of accountability and checks and balances. Rules not only specify the competent authority for taking any particular action within a given jurisdiction but also allow a single person to be the competent authority in multiple jurisdictions. Such situations do call for detailed definition of access and usage rights based on the actions one performs within a given jurisdiction. Inside IMSIS for example, though users can enter inspection data only for the mines falling under their jurisdiction, they are given the right to read or copy data pertaining to any mine. While senior officials could read the information submitted by junior officials and add their own notes or comments, they are denied the right to alter the data submitted by junior officials.
Need for replicating existing processes as much as possible: Rules also invariably spell out the procedures for taking any actions. It is better to ensure that e-Governance applications emulate the existing process flows as far as possible keeping modifications within the bounds of extant laws for cutting down implementation delays and minimising transition costs. IMSIS has been implemented without having to change any rule or add a single person. IMSIS has been able to automate the existing processes simply by creating the electronic alternatives to key components of governance process such as files, part files, flags, forms, note sheets, drafts, registers, attachments and the like. These generic components also make IMSIS easily replicable for any kind of e-Governance application.
Need for preserving the evidentiary nature of information: It is because every governance action can be subject to
subsequent enquiries, records are required to be maintained in paper format with inked signatures to provide unassailable information about who wrote what and when. IMSIS model does offer a solution to cope with this issue. IMSIS stores all the data inside the database along with accurate date and time stamps and clear user identification. Since it is still a moot question whether information held inside databases would be admissible as evidence, IMSIS also includes the option of storing electronic documents in encrypted PDF format also. A common feature of the conventional governance processes is the distinction between a draft and official documents. It is necessary to retain this demarcation in e-Governance applications too. IMSIS, besides separating out draft work, generates of editable word documents when user does only draft work.
Need for seamless integration of public and internal interfaces: A key objective of e-Governance applications is to reduce the difficulties faced by the citizens in dealing with governments. However, only end-to-end solutions that seamlessly integrate both the public and government interfaces could give citizens the full benefit of e-Governance. In the case of law and order, for example the police station where the citizen goes to lodge the FIR is a public interface. The investigation that follows is the internal process that takes place in response to the FIR.
The case filed in the court following FIR and investigation might actually involve multiple public interfaces involving the complainant, defendant, and the witnesses. We really cannot make the citizen happier by enabling e-Filing of FIR only. The e-Governance service centres could be only as efficient as the level of automation achieved in the back end processes. The IMSIS model clearly shows that automated internal processes could make service deliveries through public interfaces fast and convenient. IMSIS like architecture could also be the most cost effective for meeting the growing burden of work emanating from the Right to Information Act.
Need for a data model to deal with complex sets of data: Apart from the fact that Governments deal with much more complex sets of data, there are also compelling reasons for e-Governance applications to represent such data in all its complexity. There are two types of complexities. The first relates to the question of unique identification of any entity in its whole and parts. The challenge is not so much in dealing with extended hierarchical relationships going down to 9 to 10 levels, but the need to generate such unique identifications dynamically.
The second relates to measurements of both quantitative and qualitative data. The challenge here is one of translating particularly the qualitative data in to decision support variables. This certainly calls for comprehensive parameterisation and standardisation of all data. IMSIS shows the way for not only dynamically generating unique identification codes (UIC) for every data that goes in to the database but also generating, storing and analysing parameterised values. IMSIS also includes a procedure for associating multiple UIC codes with any data and creating structured relations among these. The hierarchy of mine entities goes down to seven levels with the mine at the top to the dip at the last level. In between are Unit, Seam, Sections, Panel, and Working Face. In addition, IMSIS also handles many other entity hierarchies and the data relationships that go with these.
Need to cope with frequent changes in the laws and procedures: Governance is a continuous learning process. Both the rules and are procedures could always change in response to new needs. At the same time historical knowledge captured into databases will always be immense value for future decision-making. e-Governance applications must therefore adopt an architecture in which subsequent changes could be incorporated in the applications without missing past data. Apart from the UIC codes attached to each data that would help preserve the old data or map it or relate it to a new element, the forms used by IMSIS to capture data also allow for easy addition or deletion of fields. Without such facilities, e-Governance applications might actually become a shackle.
Need to predefine data population and migration strategies: Another major challenge is the management of historical data. Data migration would also become when changes are made in existing applications. A clear strategy must be defined from the beginning about managing past data and migrating the data in future.
Facilities must be also provided for easy inter change of data through standard interfaces like XML together with a schema that uniquely identifies each element of data. IMSIS, while providing XML based data interfaces, also ensures unique identification of each data element. It was decided right from the beginning that IMSIS would use only new data. The entry of past data would be limited to the latest one year.
The IMSIS Model
The raison d’etre for e-Governance is good governance. Timeliness, Efficiency, Security, Transparency, Equity, and Responsibility (TESTER) are attributes that more or less sum up the current concerns about the quality of governance. Every e-Governance application must therefore pass the test of good governance.
It is evident that good governance can in fact be achieved better through e-Governance applications that comply with the unique requirements of governments and meeting the specific needs of good governance. The issues identified by this case study can indeed form the basis of a checklist for evaluating e-Governance applications. Surely, the scope of this checklist could be progressively expanded by adding lessons learnt while implementing other e-Governance services.