His department has surely come a long way as far as implementation of ICT is concerned, but Rajagopal Devara believes there is still a long way to go
The potential of ICT has been greatly explored by the Co-operation Department. Take us through the approach adopted to explore these technologies.
To shell out a few numbers, our department reaches out to 2.23 lakh cooperative societies. They, in turn, cater to the need of 647 lakh members. Cooperative movement is more than 100 years old in Maharashtra, but for the last 2-3 years, considerable IT-centric operational reforms are being implemented within and outside the department.
Starting with crowd-sourcing, it is a very innovative concept these days and has become a mega-trend as many business giants like Facebook, Apple and Amazon etc., are using it. We, too, instrumentally used the crowd- sourcing concept in our department for effective governance. Our administration used to collect huge data from fields and manage it manually, which used to consume the efforts of our field staff. We outsourced it to our stakeholders like co-operative societies, auditors, etc., and provided an electronic platform where the society and auditors could create online accounts. We also provided an online account for our Registrar to manage the societies online. Today, we have an online database of 1.83 lakh co-operative societies. This has also helped us in weeding out the dormant or inactive cooperative societies. Today, any department can view the co-operative society profile of any district, taluka or village online. Currently, we have about 7,600 auditors whose entire profiles are available on our website for all co-operative societies.
One of your department’s key successful initiatives has been ‘Deemed Conveyance’. We would like to know about the operational success achieved through this initiative.
In the system that was prevalent there, concerned parties had to go through multiple hearings with three departments, i.e. land records, Registrar of Stamps and Co-operation Department. Our department came up with an application so that housing cooperative societies could apply, track progress and download hearing orders online. We have also provided applicants with payment gateway for online payments.
Now, our officers review the applications online and manage the cases there itself. It has resulted in shortening the lifespan of such cases as hearing mostly used to get deferred due to non-availability and accessibility of case orders, case documents. This technically-empowered process has helped in faster decision-making and achieving productive and accurate conclusions.
What all changes such initiatives have brought in when it comes to leveraging the success of the department’s functions?
KPMG has prepared an e-Governance roadmap for us by which we have identified key processes for digitisation. By implementing this roadmap, we have saved almost 5 man-month efforts per office (more than 700 offices) and the consequent cost savings have been considerable. To cite an example, we used to earlier send notices to co-operative societies or auditors physically for any non-compliance. Today, we can send SMSs to Chairmen and Secretaries of selected societies through the SMS gateway. Technical assistance has also elevated efficiency in the monitoring and auditing process by making the system more effective, transparent and productive. The department has been receiving a positive response from the users and co-operative societies through these initiatives.
Technology has transformed the way the department used to function. Today, we have eliminated redundant processes which involved manual intervention. Paper-based processes and multiple human touch points led to poor data collection over which critical business decisions were made by our field officers. Today, real time information is available online round the clock on our website, thus ensuring availability of a single version of data to our hierarchy. The services have also evidently contributed in curbing fallacies like red-tapism and involvement of middlemen in processes like deemed conveyance. The department aims to further leverage the potential of IT and ICT. Developing and establishing Open Data Bank and State Data Bank with the support of the Department of Information Technology are a few such initiatives.
You must have faced a few obstacles while implementing such initiatives, and what were the strategies adopted by your department for overcoming them?
The key challenges were awareness among stakeholders and capacity building of our resources up to the Taluka level. To make stakeholders aware, we used local newspapers and websites in order to reach out to them. Awareness about new processes was addressed by providing technical support through social media and a dedicated citizen-centric call centre. Capacity building was carried out at each division and district level by the KPMG team. Our officers were trained during the training programme and supporting documents like user manuals are also provided to them for ready use in bilingual format. We have also provided a dedicated video conferencing setup extended by the DIT up to district level.
Our prime challenge even today is the lack of IT infrastructure in our department. We have an acute shortage of computers at our field offices. Many offices are using available PCs on sharing basis. As per our IT assessment, we urgently need more than 2,000 PCs with connectivity. We need to immediately attend to the same as our key e-governance systems are in place.
How has been your experience in rolling out ICT-based application in this domain?
Co-operative societies in the state are scattered all over, hence a major focus was to achieve up-to-date data on the exact number of societies located in the untapped regions. Ensuring qualitative approach was the other prime focus area for which the department undertook a ‘three key focused’ mode. This included establishing a democratic, transparent and effective platform for co-operative societies, compilation of all the essential data on up-to-date basis about all the co-operative societies, educating the co-operative societies and creating qualitative awareness about the services available.
Use of information technology has evidently supported in creating a vibrant, informative and effective platform. It has helped the department focus on the e-Governance roadmap and its implementation. Today, all the departmental activities are being operated through crowd sourcing platforms, wherein real time data has evolved in a qualitative manner.