e-governance: cautious approach needed
THE CENTRAL and State governments are spending crores of rupees every year on e-governance with the objective of ensuring efficiency, transparency and better citizen-friendly interface. In certain cases, such as land registration, motor vehicles department, railways and utility bills payment centres, there has been a marked improvement in the quality of service offered to the citizens.
But if e-governance were to be truly effective, then individual application program of one department should be able to `talk to' another application program installed in another department. Interoperability of e-governance projects is thus of vital importance if the citizens are to feel the benefit of IT in day-to-day life. In other words, every IT project should have a clear government to government (G2G) interface before a meaningful government to citizen (G2C) solution can be implemented.
The National Informatics Centre (NIC) has already started work on the interoperability framework for the Central and State governments as the realisation has now come that databases of one department should be compatible with another all over the country. Some of the departments identified on a priority basis to have interoperability implemented are Treasury, Hospital, Employment Exchange, Registration and Land Records.
Many government departments in their eagerness to catch the IT bandwagon installed PCs and their own legacy software applications without any vision regarding its future scalability and interoperability. The result is a set of independent databases that are not compatible with each other.
European countries, which started computerisation decades ago, also face a similar problem with regard to legacy systems. Now with the advancement of secure `open systems' enabled by web technology, both the industry and governments in those countries are in the process of migrating from the older legacy systems, which entails huge costs but provides business opportunities for the Indian software industry.
But in our country the cost of migration from legacy to open systems should be lower considering the fact that computerisation began as a wave only in the late 80s. That is one of the advantages of being a late-comer in an age where obsolescence also happens in nanoseconds.
State governments going ahead with e-governance projects should exercise caution in implementing them going by their own experience as well as that of developed countries. In view of the fact that taxpayer's money is being spent on such projects, the solutions in terms of hardware, software and applications chosen should be the most cost effective.
In many large organisations it has become a practice to have a high-profile chief information officer or chief technology officer who holds the responsibility of sourcing the best possible hardware, software and applications suited for the company. Sometimes, these officers also find a place in the board of directors.
Critics argue that crores of rupees have already been spent on e-governance projects and the citizen has not gained any major benefit. There is still no consensus about the deployment of open source and proprietary software. Complaints regarding IT implementation are surfacing one by one. The most recent example being the problems in the billing software implemented on Microsoft platform and the application software developed by PriceWaterHouseCoopers for the Kerala State Electricity Board.
In IT implementation in the government it is the department heads concerned or private solution providers who decide what technology or solution is to be adopted for each project. Every government needs to have a CIO who will hold the responsibility for implementing G2G and G2C projects adopting the best practices and at the same time not bleeding the scarce government resources. This will ensure that department heads do not undertake IT implementation in a haphazard way and fail to pass on the benefits to the common man.
Considering the complexity of the information technology sector, in terms of technology, applications and solutions available, it would not be wise to entrust e-governance projects to a small group of people.
There should be an empowered panel consisting of a cross-section of major stake holders — government officials, solution providers in the private and public sectors, hardware vendors, people's representatives, scientists and others. This panel should evolve a national vision for e-governance and continuously advise, assist and coordinate the e-governance activities in the country.
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