Rajesh Verma, Former Secretary, Government of Sikkim
What ails ICT in the government?
It was an honour being a member of the Grand Jury for the Manthan Awards. I was particularly impressed by the number of entries from the government sector some of which were very innovative. This set me reminiscing about the 36 years that I had spent in the government mostly implementing telecommunication and information technology projects. I think I now know what ails ICT in the government and what needs to be done to realize the Holy Grail of full e-governance. I think that is a goal that is now finally achievable.
In 1988, when I acquired a computer (PCXT) for my department, perhaps the first in Sikkim, I thought that it would be a magic wand and a panacea for all our administrative ills. I was under the impression that after installing computers and developing software everything would fall in place and we would have a mechanism for making flawless decisions. Nothing could have been more untrue. Realisation soon dawned that computerisation meant not only installing a computer and running software on it; there were other complex issues involved and soon the euphoric feeling was over.
This made me realise that changing processes and mindsets was of more importance than procuring the hardware and addressing attitudinal issues like,“ It has always been done this way – why change?” Unfortunately there still seems to be an obsession with hardware in government departments and very little seems to have been done in the realm of government process re-engineering.
Databases, which are often outdated, exist in silos and do not talk to each other. The issue here is not of technology but of developing procedures within the organisation so that the data is updated. In spite of computerisation, a sizeable amount of time of government departments is spent collecting and collating information and has reduced them to a state of helplessness. Why cannot we have a system of capturing data automatically where it is generated? Open data needs to be adopted by the government in a big way so that integrity of information is ensured.
No attempts are made to upgrade IT projects to Management Information Systems and Decision Support Systems. For instance, a Manual on Personnel Information System translates to a computerised PIS and there is no mechanism built in for the management to take decisions. Moreover, the end users or beneficiaries are not involved in the design of information technology projects. In short, a top down approach is adopted.
In many states, the information technology department still continues to implement all computerisation projects across other line departments; this has led to the failure of such projects as there was no sense of ownership by the line departments. There is a need for ensuring that line departments own and drive their own IT projects mostly through outsourcing.
Projects also are champion driven and there is no continuity. In spite of good practices and success stories in various government departments no concerted efforts have been made to replicate and scale up these. There are examples galore of organisations re-inventing the wheel instead of adapting successful projects already in place.
Despite these shortcomings, fortunately, a lot is happening in the government sector. ICT is being leveraged to ensure that all citizens in the country can avail of government services through e-governance. Rapid strides have particularly been made in the area of public distribution system and direct benefit transfers to the beneficiaries resulting in plugging of huge leakages. Internet connectivity especially over mobile networks is improving. Moreover, there now seems to be a political and bureaucratic will in rolling out mega e-governance projects and ensuring that they are implemented successfully thereby benefiting the citizens.
Realising full e-governance which till now was a Holy Grail seems to be finally achievable.