Open Standards could promote Unity in Diversity

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As the e-Governance ecosystem players across numerous developing countries get excited by the possibilities of improving government services and delivery, promote transparency and efficiency, a number of enthusiastic and mushrooming of projects are being undertaken by governments. In the absence of an e-Governance action plan or policy, these projects often begin just as setting up of websites or electronic announcements of the departments/ ministries or governments. e-Governance is much more than that. It is conceptualised as a seamless interface of a dynamic electronic governance mechanism put in place to make every citizen, whether they reside in a far flung rural village or are in the centre of a high-end business metropolis, to access and benefit from the Governments. Currently, more robust database driven e-Governance projects are being undertaken. The critical factor that drives the engine of a robust e-Governance framework is that it needs to be interoperable and be built on open standards.

Countries like India have to tackle problems of a diversity of languages, address problems of citizen illiteracy, and disability questions for developing effective platforms and frameworks. New technologies have to be developed, adapted or customised to be effective. India, being a federal governance structure, has some State (provincial) subjects and some Central (federal) subjects, and often ministries like finance, policing, railways, etc. have to talk to each state/ regions frequently. The lessons learnt here could be transferred to other countries or even to  EU.

The fundamental arguments for promoting open standards, open content and open systems are primarily to ensure universal accessibility and not encourage a vendor tie-in. As globalisation provides opportunities for more vendors and software and technology providers to plunge into the emerging opportunities, there is a need for a better understanding amongst the decision makers and implementers for promoting open standards. In this issue, we have attempted to provide updates on the current debate.

The reasons for adopting open standards is that it reduces costs, makes projects seamless and interoperable, even if different vendors  (be it proprietary or open source) build them. The success of e-Governance programmes lies in designing a framework for implementation arguably based on open standards. When resources are scarce, they must last longer. Replication of a successful pilot in other states, is also possible if these projects are designed to conform to open standards.

Moreover, when governments adopt an open standards technology for their G2C (Government-to-Citizen) solutions, the citizens do not have to purchase expensive proprietary software to access government services. The need of the hour is to evolve pragmatic ways to promote adoption and use of truly open standards and how to build an open ICT ecosystem in order take the e-Government movement forward in earnest. But, are we really open for it?

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