|HOME | INFOTECH | POLICY POLICE|
|August 18, 1997||
A government report talks of infusing infotech into administration.Finally, there is some soul searching happening in the labyrinthine corridors of power. The government is looking to become more responsive and effective. And this time it has not stopped with mere rhetoric. There was a conference of chief secretaries in November 1996. It was followed by a retreat of senior officials at the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration.
Then in December 1996 the Department of Posts and Telegraph appointed an expert group, under my chairmanship, to study the application of information technology in government. The Manufacturers' Association for Information Technology was included in the expert group, which submitted its report on July 4, 1998.
Here are the highlights of that report:
A review of the status of computerisation in government shows that though much work has been done in introducing computers, much more needs to be done to increase the availability and use of computers.
Organisational and human resources development
Greater involvement of ministries: The ministries need to have a much greater involvement in the process. Part of this can be facilitated by ensuring that they have a five-year plan for information technology. This would ensure a specific provision for computerisation so that there is a clear goal and the resources to achieve it are available.
Spreading IT awareness: To stress the need for IT in every government department it would be necessary to organise wide-ranging workshops and seminars involving all levels of administration from the highest to the lowest, preferably in the model of vertical integration courses of the Indian Administrative Services. This will help demystify IT, identify its real, its profitable use and in creation of an atmosphere conducive for the development of an IT culture. Such an effort has never been made and that is one of the reasons why the progress of IT in the government is not as it should have been in spite of the massive efforts made by National Informatics Centre.
Increasing availability of computers: In order to spread the IT culture, restrictions regarding the level at which computers can be permitted should be removed. There are restrictions in some departments which allow the use of computers to officers of a certain level only. Computers must be made available to any government servant who is interested in IT. They should also be permitted to install computers in their homes, if necessary. As this will involve a major government expenditure, if the price has to be paid upfront, the strategy of getting the computers on lease must be explored. To brining down the lease costs, income tax regulations could be amended so that any investment made in computers and IT systems becomes eligible for 100 per cent depreciation in the first year itself. Such a concession given in the case of wind farms has resulted in wind farms being available through leasing companies at 12 per cent interest. A similar exercise would help in not only reducing the government outgo but also catalysing the IT revolution within and without the government.
Changing recruitment qualifications: Certain changes in the qualifications for recruitment of employees can be made so as to employ persons with keyboard skills combined with the required levels of computer training. A system of incentives would go a long way in ensuring that employees have the requisite skills for effectively using computers.
Identifying mentors: Secretaries of ministries must identify persons with an aptitude for computers and an ability to perform the role of leaders and mentors in spreading the IT culture not only in the ministry but also in subordinate organisation. The government should freely allow officers of the level of deputy secretaries and above to have computers at their residence. These computers should be networked so that an effective government intranet emerges.
Issuing indicative guidelines: In order to ensure that the money meant for computerisation is effectively spent it is necessary that suitable indicative guidelines be issued so that officers can understand the procedures to be followed in the acquisition of hardware, maintenance contracts etc. These guidelines should be clear and easy to implement.
Cyber laws: With the increasing use of information technology it will become necessary to make appropriate amendments in the existing laws. Obsolete laws should not be allowed to negate the advantages of the technology.
Encouraging the use of IT in states: The state governments need to be encouraged to increase the use of IT as without computerisation in the states this technology cannot be used to improve the delivery of services and improve the responsiveness of the administration.
Each ministry/department must allocate 2 to 6 per cent of its budget for IT so that there is an increase in the availability of funds for training and acquisition of hardware, software and the development of software and maintenance.
Delivery of services
Objective: The long-term objective should be to provide an electronic 'one-stop-shop' for government services, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Government services provided to the public should be charged for from the beginning as introducing changes later may create difficulties.
Phasing: The delivery of services could be implemented in three phases. In the first phase the delivery could be in the front offices of government departments. In the next this could be through information kiosks/manned public access terminals located in remote locations such as post offices, railway stations, hospitals, milk booths etc. In the third phase the points of usage could be extended to 'public call offices' which could ensure 24 hours of operations. These PCOs could provide value-added services such as Internet access or e-mail.
Government intranet: For making this operational it would be necessary for government departments to build computerised information bases which can be inter-connected. These could be also put on to the Internet so that even those outside of the government can have access to some of the data. However, care will have to be taken to install security systems which will ensure that there is no misuse of the infrastructure.
Access in local languages: It would be necessary to provide an interface in local languages.
Laying down standards: Since information would be sourced from various departments and may also be linked to autonomous or private agencies, it would be necessary for appropriate standards to be laid down. The work could be done by the Bureau of Indian Standards with the involvement of other government and non-government agencies concerned.
Underlying principles: There would be three underlying principles for the use of the technology.
It would be important to establish a high-speed and reliable intranet backbone. This would help in the establishment of the 'National Information Infrastructure' which is critical for ensuring that there is adequate capacity to cope with the exponential growth of data/information traffic.
The private sector could be involved in the setting up of standards. It could also play a key role along with non-government organisations and autonomous and decentralised bodies in the operation of the points of usage. It could contribute to the content available so as to increase the availability of information.
In the report, a number of suggestions have been made for increasing the finances available for IT development; for providing a scope for the initiatives by the different departments for using IT; and also optimising the National Informatics Centre's resources.
The committee is of the view that a high-powered committee under the chairmanship of the cabinet secretary should be set up to improve administrative efficiency by using information technology in government. The members of this committee could include the Department of Administrative Reforms, NIC and representatives of some ministries.
It will be necessary to lay down a time-frame within which the recommendations made in this report are implemented.
The only thing that is needed now is action. We smut move from reports to results. We must see that IT is used for providing a better life to the public, especially in its interaction with the government.
It is very encouraging that Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu has taken the lead in emphasising the application of IT in government operations. Perhaps this will inspire others to follow.
The Tamil Nadu government has taken the initiative for setting up of the Tamil Nadu Institutes of Information Technology at a cost of Rs 700 million. The search is now on to find a director for the organisation. Modelled on the lines of Stanford, TANITEC will offer courses like BSc (information science) and BTech and MTech in IT. One target before the Tamil Nadu government would be to make Tamil Nadu an 'intelligent state' just like Singapore which is hoping to become an 'intelligent island'.
The Indian government has also set up an Institute of Information Technology at Gwalior. IT awareness seems to be growing slowly, especially at state levels. The government is also keen that there be a greater alliance between the industry and government departments.
The industry, in its own interest, must take the initiative to see that application of IT in government transactions is enhanced and that this is further strengthened by a vigorous national information infrastructure network.
The acceptance of the report on computerisation will be a first step. The industry must be willing to provide solutions for the day-to-day operational problems of government departments.
The government must adopt a policy of marking at least 2 to 3 per cent of the budget of every department/organisation for IT. The laws must be amended to make application of IT legal. Incidentally, the government has constituted a core group under my chairmanship to follow through the ideas of the expert group for implementation.
Perhaps the most important aspect is the marketing of the idea that IT is good for everybody, including government servants, because it makes life easier, smoother, more economical and better.
This will help overcome technophobia and designs of vested interests. Technology is available to us. The question is: Do we have the vision and will to take advantage of it and better the lives of our people in this golden year of Independence?
Previous columns: Critical mass | T.R.a.I | Santa Clause 11(2) | The Broadcasting Bill | The death of distance | S.O.S, getting the message out of the bottle | Force 7 from FICCI | Of railroads and info highways | Techno Politics | Cheating death: Ways to resurrect ITI | The HAM-handed miracle
INFOTECH | TRAVEL | LIFE/STYLE | FREEDOM | FEEDBACK