by January 2, 2003 0 comments

Few will disagree that the value of e-Governance is in exploiting information technology to improve the quality and timelines of services offered by the government to its citizens, businesses and non-business organizations, and its employees (e-Govt users). We discuss some IT technologies that are likely to play a significant role in realizing the promise of e-Governance.

Services offered 
In the initial phases, e-Governance will primarily be used to disseminate information such as rules and regulations, schedules and educational material prepared by the government to e-Govt users. Technologies important to this phase of e-Governance are:

Portal technology: Information being accessed by e-Govt users will come from diverse sources, that is, from different servers being maintained by different government agencies. The end user will need a common integrated view to all information. Portal technologies will provide the foundation for integrating information at the user interface level. Several portal technologies are available, including IBM’s portal server, for presenting e-Governance applications to the e-Govt user. 

Speech interface: Illiteracy will continue to be an issue, to circumvent which the interaction with e-Governance applications will have to be speech oriented. Also, the interaction will have to be in regional languages rather than English. Research at IBM India Research Lab has already established that existing technologies for recognition and synthesis can be adapted easily to Hindi, and extended to other regional languages.

Intuitive navigation: Almost certainly, the interface to e-Governance applications and services will be Web and e-mail oriented. The current techniques for accessing information on the Web are non-intuitive to the majority of e-Govt users, even the literate ones. They will need conversational interfaces that allow users to express their information request in natural-language expressions. The queries presented by the e-Governance application to the user will have to be composed in natural language. Such conversational technologies are being proven in various research labs.

These technologies will include citizen, business and employee portals for the respective e-Govt user communities. These portals will evolve to the second phase where e-Govt users access more personal information, such as the status of their travel-allowance claim or driving-license application, and perform simple transactions like applying for a voter-registration card. Portal technology allows access to various applications and services in addition to an integrated view of information.

Some technologies essential to the success of the second phase are:

Authentication: As citizens and businesses access personal information or execute transactions having significant monetary
implication, it is important to authenticate the identity of the user. This would require the government to establish a public-key infrastructure, find a secure way of distributing the public keys through smart cards or other such devices, and educate the e-Govt users about the role of public keys and the need to protect them.

Workflow execution and monitoring: As e-Govt users transact on the Web, workflow technologies are needed to present these transaction to the various government officials for necessary approval or other actions and possibly to e-Governance applications where automated action is

Integration between the Web and physical office: Interactions on the Web in all likelihood will access and create data in databases separate from the physical or computerized records used in physical offices. Processes, manual or automated, need to be created to ensure that the record of user’s interaction is synchronized between the Web office and the physical office.

The third phase of e-Governance solutions and services will offer re-engineered processes and collaboration between e-Govt users and government employees to expedite the transactions within the government. The information being requested by and presented to the e-Govt users will be customized to individual needs and the government process will also be customized according to the user’s profile. Multiple e-Governance applications across different government agencies will be integrated. For example, when a person moves from one city to another, changes to the voter list, vehicle registration, ration card, etc, could all be processed in a single interaction.

e-Governance should be implemented as a three-tiered entity. The lowest tier, or the infrastructure, consists of servers, clients and data network. The clients can be desktop clients, mobile clients and, in future, set-top boxes. Wireless, telephone and dedicated data-network connectivity has to be considered for the network. The top tier consists of diverse e-Governance solutions and services created from a large set of applications developed independently by different vendors. 

Connecting these two tiers is a vital middle tier, the e-Governance framework or middleware. The middleware offers:

Software components to develop robust applications: All applications require carefully crafted rules for allowing various individuals access to data managed by the applications. Similarly, well-defined rules are needed to manage the obsolescence of data. Privacy must be handled by all applications. The middleware can offer software components to implement the access control, privacy and record retention policies. Similarly, most applications need to present forms to the application user to capture user input, need to generate reports on various types of user activity, and analyze data managed by the application.

Tools can be provided in the middleware to perform these for all applications supported by the middleware.

Access to essential data: Some information like vehicle or property records and geographical surveys are used by many e-Governance applications. Such data can be managed in the e-Governance middleware and made accessible to all authorized applications through well-defined interfaces. The representation of this data should be standardized using standards such as

Integration of applications: Many solutions desirable to e-Govt users will require simultaneous use of multiple applications or services, perhaps managed by different government departments and developed by different application developers. For example, income-tax processing for a user may require access to the sales-tax records of his business and that of his suppliers. The e-Governance middleware will offer tools and services to integrate applications and processes defined by these applications to create solutions and processes that span the applications.

The list of software components listed in point one above is not exhaustive. It is best to add new software components to the middleware over time to support new applications or features in new releases of existing applications. To allow these new components to be written by diverse software vendors, the e-Governance framework should be based on open platforms and standards compliant components.

Manoj Kumar, Director, IBM Research Laboratory

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