by January 2, 2003 0 comments

There is a lot of talk these days about e-governance. And, there is good reason for all the buzz. In an environment where the general IT spend is down, it is only the governments that are spending (or promising to spend). No wonder IT vendors are gung-ho about e-governance.

e-governance is using IT to improve the methods of governance. More importantly, it is about using IT to take governance to more and more of the population, rather than make them come to the government. So, it is about enabling people to government interactions and making available government services and information, preferably over public networks.

There are three simple, but relatively difficult to achieve, conditions that drive large-scale acceptance of e-governance. First, you need to IT enable large sections of the population, if the attempt is not to be limited to an elite minority. Second, you need to provide large-scale access to the Internet, so that they can make use of the facilities. Finally, government processes need to be IT enabled. As I said, all of them are easier said than done.

Assuming we will slowly overcome these, there are still more issues to be faced, one of the biggest being the constant reinventing of the wheel. Every government and department wants to start afresh and create parallel processes and infrastructure. This is akin to every car manufacturer building his own network of roads. One of the characteristics that countries where e-governance has progressed well is that most of them have a one-stop portal giving access to all government services. Simple and stupid though it may sound, it seems to work!

The next big issue comes in scaling the initiatives. Most e-governance projects start as small pilots. This pilot is often given to a small one-two man development firm without realizing that, if proven, the project has to scale across constituencies and districts and, often, even states. At this point, you will find that the agency that was contracted for the work cannot simply scale up, or that the concerned government has to bear the cost of their scaling up efforts and experiments.

Assuming all this is done, we are faced with the problem of government processes. When an organization goes in for an effort like this, it is advised to undertake a comprehensive business-process reorganization, to get the best results for the computerization effort. Are governments undertaking a review and changing their processes as part of e-governance initiatives or are they just replicating centuries old processes on to computers? The answer to this could well define whether a given e-governance initiative will succeed or not.

e-governance in this country is still a new area and requires constant pushing from the top–political and bureaucratic–to succeed. The will currently seems to be there, at least in some states. Will it sustain?

Krishna Kumar

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