So what exactly is egovernance?

When I heard about the deal between National Informatics Center (NIC) and IBM, I went wow!

IBM India will revamp the country’s national portal – http://www.india.gov.in – to deliver government services anytime, anywhere.

This news also reminded of the hype around a similar sounding deal between IBM and the state of Rajasthan (back in 1998?). Thankfully, Rediff still has that safe – IBM and Rajasthan.

Wait, there are more things to correlate. Remember Srikanth Nadhamuni’s not-for-profit company “eGovernments.org“, they were in news recently for helping Bangalore City (BMP) do an electronic upgrade.

So now I have two questions. First question – What exactly is egovernance? Second question – I will save that for another post – what companies should our governments partner with to implement e-governance, the for-profit IBM types, or the not-for-profit and almost-charitable eGovernments.org types?

First question first, when I think egovernance, I think of two things (here goes my ignorance up on the Internet):

  1. Two-way information and service delivery mechanism for citizens. Two-way = interactive, and is key
  2. Information systems within the government departments that bring speed and transparency to their processes.

The apparent catch here – if you see it from techie eyes – is that #2 may need to be in place for #1 to work. However, if a government body has a public website – I expect it to have item #1 and nothing else! Fair expectation?

Now, head over to Rajasthan government site, shall we? What do we have here? A badly organized web-page with animated images of the 90s. Chief Minister and her government selling themselves with some announcements though I’d expect these in an “about” page, or in a “press release” section. There is a news page that shows some junk because they still don’t have a glitch free way of showing Devanagari fonts on browsers.

There are some links that sell tourism, but there isn’t a mother of all “tourism page”. Where is everyday stuff or any interactive systems for regular citizens? Scroll down and go to the bottom of page to find a “Citizen’s corner”. If you are willing to dig deeper, there is an IT-enabled services page for citizens. To do what? Pay some utility bills! “Send a message to the chief minister” and a “feedback” form are about the only interactive things visible on the portal itself.

The way I see it, the portal is a badly organized amalgam of information, and has no serious services of use to the citizens.

Who developed all this? Can’t be Tata or IBM. Perhaps their partnership with Rajasthan was only to sell hardware and training. I suspect it is RajCOMP (warning: that link wont open in firefox), which is an undertaking of Rajasthan state government itself!

And hey, wait, you forgot to ask which one exactly is the official website of Rajasthan government. Is it the official site or the NIC Rajasthan one? Looking for a parallel wont help. Because, the seemingly official Karnataka website is always down, and NIC Karnataka site seems to have a lot more stuff than the NIC Rajasthan site. Ours is a truly diverse country !

So essentially, this egovernance thing – as seen by this IT savvy citizen, the very people these portals target – is nothing more than an electronic mess right now. I only hope #2 isn’t as big a mess. I wouldn’t know that because I dont have access to any internal government systems.

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3 Responses

  1. There is one thing that needs to be mentioned here-vested interest. The babus will never allow that kind of transparency that threatens their power directly. Chandrbabu naidu tried this in Andhra Pradesh but it was not exactly susccessful. People even have a lot of problems in implementing ERP packages in thier own organizations because of the vested interests involved. One hopes though that we get somewhere the way ITC has done with its rural initiaitive in computerisation.

  2. You have rightly identified the two faces of egovernance: the two way interactive citizen interface and the multi way interactive internal processing systems. However both these could deliver what they promise by way efficiency, transparency etc. only to the extent these are seamlessly integrated at the backend. Unfortunately, the big software and hardware companies are trying to push their enterprise applications in to governments. this will not work on the contrary, it would increase governance costs. Please visit this blog A case study of India’s first Regulatory compliance monitoring system for information.

  3. I see Jayaseelan, you are talking about a backend that connects these internal systems of each department. I chose not to go too technical so clubbed this along when I said “internal systems”.

    You can also think of making it easy for non-government systems to integrate with these egovernment systems. What if I want to to develop a website that can capture public complaints and suggestions and feed those to government’s grievance redressing systems? What if want to develop a citizen information portal that just pulls together pro-actively disclosed RTI information from a similar fields of governance? If these things were possible, private sector entrepreneurs could further help the cause of making citizens ‘participate’. Hiren – wont such a thing further help ITC’s eChoupal thing you mentioned?

    There is need for standards that various systems will use for exchanging information. Standards for information security in these systems. I mean basically, standard design principles would apply to these systems – these will be no different from a fortune 50 company’s IT, right?

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