by August 3, 2004 0 comments

When virtually every business, big and small, is benefiting from IT, how can the Indian government lag? The objective of achieving e-governance, being considered by the central and many state governments, goes far beyond mere computerization of individual back-office operations. It is focused on fundamentally changing the way the government operates and brings in new responsibilities for the executive, legislative bodies and the citizens. 

For IT to have an impact on government-for-citizen services, the services that interface directly with the public have been given higher priority for computerization. Some of the departments that interact with the public are: Public Grievances (electricity, water, telephone), Rural Services (land records), Police (FIR registration, lost and found ), Social Services (pension, acquisition/rehabilitation and compensation), Public Information (employment exchange registration, hospitals/beds availability, railway timetables, government notifications, forms and schemes), Agriculture Sector (seeds information, crop disease, weather forecast, market price), Utility Payments/ Billing (electricity, water, telephone), Commercial (taxation and return filing, income tax, excise duty, sales tax) and Government (electronic procurement).

Many of these services have already been Web-enabled by the central and some state governments, and most of these projects have been custom developed as per the requirements of the departments. Typically, these projects are three-tier applications, meaning a database (such as Oracle, MS-SQL or MySQL) at the back-end, HTML/Java script-based Web fronts and server-side technologies (such as Java or ASP.NET). NIC (National Informatics Center) is the leading solution provider for various government projects. One could write a book on the number of projects they’ve implemented, so we’ll not delve into that here. 

Apart from citizen services, government departments and ministries have also recognized the benefits of automating their internal processes. Office Soft, developed by NIC, is an intranet-based system for the management of personnel within each department. The system provides leave management and benefits such as house building advance, TA/DA and LTC claims.

But, there are several issues that mar the IT development initiatives, the most important being bureaucracy. Successful implementation and working of a project depends primarily on the person heading it and his interest in the project. With frequent transfers and people moving out, it is difficult to guarantee the interest level of the new head. Good projects often fail to succeed because of lack of support. So, there is a need to make the processes more institutional than people dependent.

The second problem is that of data entry. With the same project working for several states, only a few of them put in effort to enter appropriate data into it on time. So, while the same project works fine for one state, it fails miserably in another. Another problem is the lack of back-end linking of the various IT systems of different departments and states. Without it, inter-department data communication is not possible. Whatever said and done, a majority of government departments and processes are still far away from being computerized. Unless that happens, reaching the next level-that of integration-will be impossible. 

By Anoop Mangla 

Humor: Mohanachandran MR, deputy director c-dit, kerala

“To not forget passwords, we wrote them down…and stuck them on the monitors”

information technology arrived with a big bang and a big blah. And the virtues of IT were extolled to us-that it was the open sesame of liberation, the panacea for all evils, the elixir of life. Information that was a million light years away was now at our fingertips. Breathe IT, Eat IT, Drink IT. Forget your favorite Gods and revere IT. If you are not in IT, go check your pulse; you
are dead.

They began rewriting the dictionary; every other word of which we thought we knew the meaning of suddenly meant something else, which we did not know. After years of education we became illiterate ignoramuses. They created jargon and acronyms, spit them on our faces and stripped us of our self-dignity. They asked, “Hey silly, haven’t you had your password yet?” 

The most commonly used letter in English became the most commonly adored prefix: e-mail, e-book, e-commerce, e-literacy, e-office, e-governance. 

We were taught that governance was always bad, that governments were always up to no good, that for every action there is an equal and opposite government program. Why? They told us that it was all because the ‘e’ was lacking.

So we rushed out and requisitioned for the latest computers, and when they arrived in neat boxes we found that they had already been buried sometime back in the obituary columns of e-newspapers as being obsolete. As part of the e-literacy program, we came to know that a simple letter like “Your file is under consideration” could be printed out in more than five hundred formats. As part of our paperless office implementation, we ordered printing stationery in tons. We soon discovered that it was easier to give out excuses such as “virus attack” and “server crash” rather than stick to old-fashioned ones such as “the concerned person has gone out for tea”. We understood the necessity of not-so-simple passwords for security reasons and even created the most
complex passwords. Then, not to forget these same passwords, we wrote them down on pieces of 
paper and stuck them on the monitors.

We wanted to be the most IT savvy department. Of course, everybody else wanted that too. So all of us hired consultants and engaged software-service providers to develop the same office-automation packages over and over again. Occasionally, we did have these party spoilers from the IT Department who talked about the need for standardization and for slashing redundant system development to avoid unnecessary duplication. Sometimes they even asked about
ROI. Unnecessarily!

What has ROI got to do with IT?

And, when we found out the vendor had shut shop, leaving us with partially completed software and without the source code, we started all over again. We had a lot of data with us. So, we engaged data-entry operators, many of them in fact. Finally, when we had our software ready, we got really smart and changed the business rules themselves. In short, the challenges in implementing IT were so tedious that we had to forego our routine work just to stay focused on them.

About our consultants, they are a good lot. They give us very valuable suggestions by just forwarding the e-mail they get from the vendors, sometimes with even the original sender’s name and address intact!

Even though our computerization program is still underway, we now know exactly how many stapler pins are being utilized in our office everyday, section-wise, individual-wise. The colorful Pi charts we print out everyday highlight these statistics. And, we tell people that this is how data gets translated into information.

Rome was not built in a day. It was a government job, remember?

This article is only a piece of imagination and is not intended to portray the functioning of any particular department or

No Comments so far

Jump into a conversation

No Comments Yet!

You can be the one to start a conversation.