e-Governance How can we make it a Success?

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“If we remove “vernance” from e-Governance only e-Go is left. And one of the important causes of failure of e-Governance is EGO,” says Dara Singh Bali.

Dara Singh Bali, Additional Chief Executive Officer, Jammu & Kashmir e-Governance Agency, Government of Jammu & Kashmir

Dealing with Government is usually complicated, slow and confusing. Government typically is associated with complex hierarchies, elaborate procedures and slow decision making. It is not going to be easy to get government systems systematically on to an information technology platform. Most difficult of all is the task of getting employees to embrace the new systems and to modify embedded attitudes at work. Once this is addressed then any kind of systems or technology can easily be implemented.

Today people hesitate to go to any government office because they feel they wouldface harassment. If they are spared this ordeal, if citizens can sit back at home and interact with government departments through online systems, then that would be a great achievement. Implementation of such online systems for governance will lead to transparency and accountability also. Citizens will be able to enjoy efficient and improved delivery of services. There can be robust monitoring mechanism and an effective way of grievance redressal also.

Failure as stepping stone to success
In spite of efforts put in by government, the successes in e-governance projects are yet to be achieved. As there is a famous saying, “every failure is stepping stone to success”. I have been in the field of IT in the State from the beginning and I would like to share my experiences regarding various issues, challenges and successes. The reasons for failure of e-Governance projects are anything but technological. Technology solutions are available and developed for any problem. But as they say, it is not the machine but the man behind the machine that leads to success or failure.

Achieving the benefits of e-Governance may not be easy, as it goes far beyond mere computerisation of government processes. Its successful implementation poses technical challenges and it requires a fundamental change in the working environment and strategic outlook of the government. Essentially we face the challenge of re-engineering the government processes and functions; we also need to address the related issues of new responsibilities for civil servants, businesses and citizens.

The main success of the project depends on the skill and expertise with which it is planned and conceptualised. It is often felt that government departments shy away from spending a few lakhs in preparation of project plan for e-Governance projects worth hundreds of crores. And at times unskilled individual decides the plan and the plan fail. The plans are made without clear objectives, unclear roles and responsibilities. There are no parameters for financial controls. Areas like risk assessment, feasibility assessment,prioritization and strategy are not covered.

The cause of project failure is often over-ambition. The project consultants generally promise the moon to the departments. They expect that whatever they suggest will be implemented in government. They don’t realise the fact that the government has its own limitations. There are procedural and departmental constraints; there  are also the legal constraints and at times even constitutional constraints. Sometimes consultants without knowing the ground reality propose solutions which are redundant, not practical and even not achievable. As a result their reports lie in the shelves of government offices catching dust. There always exists a vision and reality gap between what is proposed and what can be implemented. The initial over expectations created by consultants leads to difficulties in managing customer expectations later. The reality and vision gap is the step towards e-Governance failure.

Motivated to achieve success

Motivated group is a pre-condition for the successful implementation of e-Governance. Ideally, a combination of technical skills and intimate knowledge of the organization is required for successful design and implementation of e-Governance systems. There will be a need therefore to guide motivated group who can bridge the gap between management and technology. For this to happen there should be intensive interaction programs for giving exposure to senior and middle levels of management. These programs have to be organised through various competent agencies which shall focus on the following subjects:

i. Trends in Technology
ii. Case studies of states undertaking large scale computerization.
iii. Office automation, data base management tools and presentation tools.
iv. Project Management software.
v. Networks and internet tools.
vi. Telecommunications

Successful e-Governance Implementations
It is often sited that the project has failed because the staff at the lower level is not ready to adapt to the computerised environment. However, the successes of computerisation in Railways, Airlines, Posts and Public Sector Banks have proved otherwise. Therein the staff at the bottom is also using computers and the changes are very fast. Then why are the changes in various government departments not taking place ? It is because of the top leadership.The departments in government are mostly headed by individuals who are near retirement. Majority of the senior range officers have just few years in service and therefore they are not keen on any new initiative or a reform process. This has been happening for many years.

They are lovers of status quo and they develop resistance to change.With no support from the top leadership the e-Governance projects do not get necessary encouragement leading to failure Further even if one secretary brings in some reform, there may be a succeeding secretary within a short period, who might end up bringing back the British way of working. Further, at times there are individuals with vested interest who try to de-rail the projects. At time the leadership appointed for project coordination is having inadequate skill which leads towards e-Governance project failure.

Most of the e-Governance projects are individual driven. There are even statements and suggestions by various government departments that the tenure of e-Governance project leaders should be fixed for the timeframe of the project. But the approach of individualising the projects is not appropriate and leads to project failures. The project leaders who institutionalise projects are better project leaders than anyone else. The projects which are driven by individuals die after the individuals leave the organisations. But projects which have been institutionalised would stay for long period. Further, unless the back-end integration of systems takes place, the front end efforts may not lead to any success. The integration of various departments, supporting applications and databases is a must for effective front office results. The true e-governance application will be achieved only when the front office is integrated with the backend application. Creating front offices without any back office integration is another cause of e-governance failure.

Any business model which is not self-supporting is never everlasting like we have seen in case of CICs of the State. The same applies to e-Governance projects as well. The government subsidised/funded projects may sail through for some time but in the long run may not sustain themselves. The projects actually require a business case, wherein even the private partners can participate and take the responsibility of the project’s success.

Avoiding project failures

We can avoid project failures if we keep following factors in mind:
i. Understanding requirements.
ii. Defining projects scope
iii. Defining the deliverables
iv. Teamwork a) Developing the Goal Oriented Team b) Training for the team
v. Leadership
vi. Business and technical knowledge
vii. Commitment and involvement from team members
viii. Negotiation skills
ix. Vendor management
x. Risk taking capabilities (Proper Disaster / Risk Management)

The problem of “EGO”
If we remove “vernance” from e-Governance only EGO is left. And one of the important causes of failure of e-Governance is EGO. Herein ego is not only of the individuals but of government departments as well. At times the line departments do not cooperate with the IT Department; they are often of the opinion that the IT department is interfering in their own departmental functions. There may be even conflict amongst various departments for the subject allocation of e-Governance. All these lead to a lot of EGO clashes and at times failure of e-Governance implementation. And in case a junior officer hurts the ego of a senior officer then he may be even thrown out, leading to jeopardised e-Governance.

The concept of PPP is often misinterpreted to mean Public money for Private Partners. In fact the projects where the private partners are dependent on government money are not true PPP projects. True Public Private Partnership is an equal investment of private partners in government projects. This partnership may be in form of manpower, technology, resources etc. However various groups interpret that by involving the private partner the government is draining public money to private partner. Therefore care must be taken on proper implementation of such partnerships. A failure in associating with a right partner may lead to project failure.

The annual budget allocation for any head in government lapses at the end of each financial year. Further, if funds allocated in one year remain un-utilised it is very difficult to get funds under the same head in the next financial year. Majority of the government departments who have IT funds allocation therefore spend a lot of funds on purchasing of hardware in the end of financial year without realising that the hardware purchased will be required in future or not. This race to spend funds without purpose defeats the purpose of many e-Governance initiatives. The project runs into cost overshoots because of purchase of unnecessary hardware. The hardware becomes technologically outdated by the time the application is developed. The budget utilisation syndrome is therefore another cause of e-Governance failure.

Visualising large complex centralised projects may also lead to project failure. Such projects not only take long time to implement but because of their cross departmental linkages are difficult to implement. Projects which spread over various levels of Government are further complex and complicated.

 Who gets the credit?
Everyone takes credit for success and no one takes responsibility for failure. There are e-Governance projects which may end up in some bottlenecks and at time are handed to new teams. New teams, instead of building already fallen system, generally start a blame game for the previous team. The first team blames the second and the second the first. The blame games ends up in complete failure of the project.

Electronic mail is a good starting point for launching employees on to computerisation. The use of email would therefore be encouraged and all employees should eventually be provided access to email facilities. This would also help the transition from the paper based government of the present, to an electronic government of the future. This will really have a great impact on the mindset of the employees who are still far behind in Information Technology.
For introducing Information Technology on a large scale in Government it is advisable to first take up in-house capability building. The approach to introduction of Information Technology in government will therefore revolve around a radical structuring of all apex organisations apart from extensive training of staff at all levels.

An attempt has to be made to systematically identify officers having good understanding of Information Technology, who could form the core of department system design teams. These individuals could act as prime movers for the process of computerisation in different departments. This will also minimise the need for hand holding once computerisation is taken up.

Awareness programs are also needed to be conducted for all other level employees. These programs would be aimed at removing feelings of insecurity and technophobia in the minds of the employees. Any employee or section of employees who would show interest in acquiring computer related skills, deserves to be provided encouragement.

Fighting Delays
There are ample studies that most large projects never complete on time or even fail. This can happen due to delays, which in turn lead to cost over runs that are multiple times the projected amount. This further causes dissatisfaction and de-motivation amongst the team members who deploy it and of course the final users of the project. So whether you like it or not, missed deadlines, cost over runs and dissatisfied users are a part and parcel of your life if you are heading a project. They are the parts of the package and one can minimise them using the right project management practices.

The main reason why a lot of projects fail is bad planning. So your work starts by creating a proper plan. Usually, this would comprise of the project’s definition, a detailed work program and how it will be managed. It is like setting up a network. You would start with a broad definition of what kind of network you want to setup, followed by a detailed lay out of the network map, and process of laying it out. You will then put in the necessary resources,define its scope and allocate responsibilities to the team that will manage it.The e-Governance projects should be properly conceptualised and planned. If required, help of an external agency may be taken. While defining the scope of the project the situation on the ground may be considered and efforts must also be taken to ensure to understand the limitations in which the government operates. The top leadership should be highly motivated for the project. The efforts should be to concentrate on Governance than on IT component. The consultation should be spread over all stakeholders and proper timelines should be kept.

Efforts should be to institutionalised the projects than individualise it. The projects should automatically continue even after the individuals leave. Government must respect innovation and protect the reformers. The politics of e-Governance must be avoided and it should be ensured that there are no blame games. Radical and big changes must be discouraged and sudden surprises must be left out of scope of e-Governance. Efforts should be there to have right public private partners who may lead to e-Governance success.

The role of the State IT departments is to encourage and facilitate e-Governance and act as a change driver; establish the IT infrastructure including the data centre, network and the CSCs for use by other government departments; build generic and application software for use by multiple departments; act as the technology consultant to government departments and build standards and meta data.

J&K on the right path
Now J&K is going in the right direction, given that under National e-Governance Plan (NeGP), State Data Centre (SDC) has been established. The SDC is one of the core infrastructure components that will lead to consolidation of services, applications,and infrastructure to provide efficient electronic delivery of G2G, G2C, and G2B services. SDCs will act as mediator and convergence point between open unsecured public domain and sensitive government environment and it will also provide services for governments’ own functioning.

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