While initiatives have been emanating from various directions, they are sometimes deemed to be at cross-purposes and so repetitive and wasteful. The National Task Force has also made several recommendations in this regard. Accordingly critical issues need to be clearly delineated and solutions worked out. A close analysis reveals that there are three fundamental issues to be addressed:
A number of organizations both in the Centre and the States have taken initiatives to develop hardware and software platforms to address the challenge of e-Governance. The issues which have been consistently highlighted in these efforts are:
Use of IT for delivery of public services has been intensely employed in developed economies for quite some time now. Therefore, as such, there exists a large inventory and repository of appropriate technological platforms with which to perform public functions in a cost and time effective manner;
However due to difficult availability of these technology applications on a common platform, the efforts that are being made in various Organizations/Ministries/Departments are often at cross purposes; therefore, instead of having synergistic initiatives, these efforts may cause financial, technical and organizational mismatch.
The e-Governance initiative would have to address these Technology Issues/Objectives by:
Amendment of State laws through study and consultation.
Management of Change related Issues
Employee related issues
This issue of Management of Change, which would be quite rapid at times, is a fundamental challenge to be addressed by the practice of e-Governance. This would involve:
Delivery of public services like Utilities, Rural and Urban development schemes through EDI, Internet and other IT based technologies would necessitate procedural and legal changes in the decision and delivery making processes as well as institutions;
Fundamental changes in Government decision management;
Mandatory changes in legal provisions to give effect to the technology objectives;
Accordingly the Issues to be addressed relate to:
Mandatory organizational and institutional changes affecting both people and methods at all interfaces of the Delivery Chain
The need for acceptance of Changed Processes to be properly understood, internalized, adopted and improved to enable full advantages of the technology being adopted
De-layering of the decision making levels leading to re-engineering and appropriate sizing of the decision making machinery
Training and acclimatization of personnel at all levels more so at the lower rung of Government management organizations
Loss of vested interests and assumed power as well as authority both amongst the legislature and the executive
While e-Governance could have very laudable objectives and ambitious Work Plans, these have to be weighed in terms of available resources both in the Plan sector and outside it. It is here that leveraging of ongoing projects can be made more cost and value effective with the use of IT in a modulated fashion without any critical incremental costs. The Private sector resources have to be also carefully dovetailed with their commercial interests and those of the Government to provide Value Added Services. The Kiosks by themselves can bring in little in terms of better delivery of Services, unless the same are made economically viable and of demonstrated use to the stakeholders.
E-Governance - A discussion note on the issues involved.
During the last few years there has been major initiatives among different Governments towards ushering in Information Technology and its tools in the functioning of Government. The emphasis has been on providing better services to citizens and in improving internal productivity. It has been widely accepted that IT implementation in Government is a most difficult process and hence requires careful planning and formulation of strategies for effective implementation. The experiences of individual state in this regard needs to be understood and shared to evolve meaningful strategies.
The first point to be noted is the need to use local languages in the IT implementation process. It is heartening to note that, particularly because of the pioneering work done, the technology is now very much available. This by itself could give a major boost to IT implementation efforts. However, in the national context it is essential that a clear strategy be in place to have access to local level databases maintained in regional languages as well as to use appropriate interfaces to aggregate such data. Here, a focused effort would have to be made in improving the technologies for transliteration. Similarly, an effort would have to be undertaken for perfecting the Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology for local languages. This is critical as an effective OCR technology is required to convert the data that is scanned and stored in local languages into meaningful and workable databases. This could also help in substantially simplifying the efforts at content generation and data warehousing.
The second point to be noted is on the scope of IT implementation within Government. Most states have focused on computerization of individual activities per se. This leads to mere automation of the existing manual work and could lead to a situation where an activity done by 20 persons would get done by 20 computers and 20 persons running them. Of late, the fallacy of such an approach is being realized. The emphasis is on conducting system studies to understand the work flows involved in each of the activities and attempt computerization of such work flows. This results in certain levels of simplification and rationalization and even an improvement in productivity. However, here also the basic issues involved in delay and red tape within Government are not adequately addressed. Even in computerization of workflows, there will be a need to update the data periodically. In the event of each individual completing the work assigned to him, even in the present system delays would not have occurred. It will be extremely naive to assume that the updating of data would be regularly and periodically done just because the system is computerized, In fact, in the workflow computerization model there is a very real danger of substantive investments being made in hardware, application software and even in training and still the issue of prompt and regular updating of data not being effectively addressed. In the above context, it is clear that substantive administrative reforms would have to precede attempts at e-Governance. In other words, the emphasis will have to be on simplifying procedures, rationalizing processes, restructuring Government and then use IT to institutionalize such changes. However, this is easier said than done. It is in these circumstances that attempts at e-Governance based on creative and effective uses of relational databases needs to be attempted. In this approach, the data requirement for decision making are identified and emphasis is on structuring the relevant databases. IT implementation would have to be planned in such a manner that each transaction would automatically be derived from the database and in turn would update the database. For this, apart form the creation of databases there is also a need to network individual service delivery point or workflow processing points. A minimized structure of such a database would have to be first decided and a relevant network first created. Subsequently, additional modules to databases and add on networks would have to be created and integrated. What should be attempted is the mapping of physical resources as well as the voluminous data available across various government departments into a relational data structure and manipulating the same as suited to different levels of Government machinery for their functions related to service rendering and planning. This is nothing less than the concept of ERP applied to Government.
At the national level two major initiatives are required.
The first element of such an initiative will be to define a uniform citizen code at the national level. Once this is done each state may be asked to arrange its databases with one field earmarked for this code. This would facilitate easy retrieval of data and integration of databases at any point of time. The second element of such initiative would be to ensure that the databases that are going to be generated as part of the census operations may also be digitized and made available for building up citizen databases. This would possibly require amendments to the census act and it is suggested that a thorough study may be made to identify the uses of such data in building up comprehensive databases immediately.
Another element that needs to be effectively addressed is the issue pertaining to dissemination of information gathered through investments in science and technology. A case in point is the information collected by remote sensing which could be of immense use in estimating the availability of resources and qualitatively alter the planning process. An effort to identify similar repositories of data and information relevant for providing better services to citizens through e-governance and a strategy for the desegregation of such data and its dissemination needs to be urgently formulated.