NeGP: The Challenge Ahead

The government of India (GOI) is embarking on an enormous, wide-ranging set of e-Governance projects to achieve extensive government reform. The journey is  full of challenges and  mid course correction is  due

Successive governments have committed to addressing the inequalities that exist in India. The GOI sees e-gov as an important vehicle for introducing administrative reforms to improve the quality of life for underserved sections of society and provide more equitable access to economic opportunities across the nation.

In recent years, most governments in India have undertaken a variety of e-gov projects. India’s experience in e-gov and ICT initiatives, in what can be described as a “phase of experimentation,” has shown that significant benefits can be derived from improving accessibility, tackling corruption and giving assistance to deserving groups.

Different e-gov projects have demonstrated that improved access to information and services can yield economic and social development opportunities, facilitate participation and communication in policy and decision-making processes, and help to empower the weakest groups. A number of states and territories in India have pioneered this approach, most notably Andhra Pradesh Chandigarh and Tamil Nadu. But efforts so far have been somewhat fragmented and not extended across multiple jurisdictions.

Central and state governments now reportedly spend 3,000 crore INR ($754 million) annually on e-gov initiatives.

With this backdrop, a new phase is occurring in India. E-gov is being positioned as a strategic mechanism for more substantial transformation of government across the whole of India. The task of transforming the largely manual methods and procedures of government service delivery across all tiers of government is monumental.

It is within this context that the NeGP initiative was conceived.

Current Position Assessment for the NeGP

Gartner believes that realizing e-government strategies is a balancing act between maximizing constituency service, realizing operational proficiency and achieving political return.

An assessment framework needs to capture whether an entity’s e-government strategic objectives demonstrate an understanding of constituent needs and priorities, the most effective communication means, and the right combination of service delivery channels and mechanisms. Also, it must examine whether organizations involved in implementing the e-strategy have the right tools, resources, processes and political support required for a future-state vision to be realized. So the assessment needs to consider both the completeness of vision and the ability to execute.

Prime Challenges Facing the NeGP

The NeGP must address many challenges if it is to create and sustain real progress and improvement. The GOI is placing considerable faith in the NeGP to improve government service delivery, streamline internal processes and reduce the incidence of endemic problems such as corruption. But given the scale and complexity of India’s NeGP and its commensurate risks, failures in the NeGP will inevitably occur during the years ahead. When such failures become publicly known, great political commitment from central and regional governments will be required to ensure that appropriate course corrections are made. The resolve of politicians at all tiers of government will be sorely tested.

Also, there is no single person or role that has single and focused ownership of NeGP outcomes. Accountabilities are spread across many separate government stakeholders, and this will require excessive amounts of time and energy to come to “accommodations” between participants in the variety of projects in the program.

As a matter of fact, the NeGP sets out to vastly change the nature of work done by people in government across India. But transforming business processes and practices, as well as automating manual practices, will confront formidable resistance and change obstacles, usually in situations that will be new and worrying for government staff. It is not clear yet that the resource and project mechanisms, plus skills and receptiveness of involved staff, will be anywhere near sufficient to deal with this.

In 2009, there is a high likelihood that the overall NeGP program and the manner in which it is being executed will have to be rethought

In 2009, there is a high likelihood that the overall NeGP program and the manner in which it is being executed will have to be rethought

Other challenges that needs to be addressed are related to  several projects, vendor and ICT with several key aspects being as follows:

  • Project approval and funding through multiple departmental budgets will yield wide variations in the approach to project objective setting, without a clear focus on outcomes or on building sustainable services. The service needs of citizens/businesses and those of other departments tend to be either overlooked or given lower priority in relation to internal needs.
  • Project objectives tend to be couched in ICT terms that are specified in great detail, while government business process outcomes either are absent or are vaguely defined and don’t lend themselves to post-implementation measurement.
  • The current system of project formulation (based on budgetary allocation or grant) places little or no pressure on departments to develop arrangements that can attract private capital and resources, a necessity that has been identified for the NeGP. To achieve this, more focus and rigor will be needed at the formulation and development stages of projects.
  • The GOI tendering process is complex and a major hurdle for vendors to navigate. There have been significant issues with this in the past, especially with high-visibility projects. On the positive side for vendors, the drive for so-called “bottom of the pyramid” service improvement in India, mainly relating to constituents in rural areas, is of prime importance. Vendors willing and able to leverage this opportunity will find strong favor with the government.
  • A further specific challenge relates to localization of ICT solutions that have been mostly developed with an English-language interface. In India, most people will want to use their local language, but this consideration does not appear yet to figure strongly in the NeGP’s implementation strategy.

Although e-Gov programs in other countries have their own peculiarities that depend on political priorities and current achievements, several areas that  have emerged as critical for sustainable success are having a deeper understanding of citizens’ desires and behaviors with different channels, establishing an effective governance structure for whole-of-government initiatives, using an enterprise architecture approach and focusing on results and performance management.

India’s e-gov planners, IT leaders and project managers need to strongly convey these lessons to their colleagues with business responsibilities for e-gov initiatives.We believe that, while good progress will be made in areas where there is definite political support, adequate resourcing, and sound project ownership and management, progress will be very uneven across the range of NeGP projects across India. Success is most likely to occur with infrastructure-oriented projects, but failures will be mostly associated with process change-oriented projects.

In 2009, there is a high likelihood that the overall NeGP program and the manner in which it is being executed will have to be rethought. The program will be reformulated, the outcome of which will be heavily dependent on the political environment existing in India.