Millennium Post

E-governance: Problems, challenges and prospects

The Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) took great strides in 2010 to improve its systems and processes for serving 96 per cent of population and 94 per cent of area of Delhi. Several citizen centric services were made online to improve the efficiency and bring transparency at all levels. Some of the important services are property tax, birth/death registration, issue of various licences, booking of public facilities and even sanction of building plans. After trifurcation of MCD in north, south and east Delhi Municipal Corporations in 2012 and changes in and type of CEOship , the e-governance initiative appears to have taken severe beatings.

While the noble efforts of several e-governance programmes are underway in various govermant organisation and urbal local bodies, there are many critical lessons to be learnt from some of the projects either completed or still in progress. Records indicate that there are cases where inspite of 2nd or even 3rd phase of computerisation efforts, the desired objectives have not been met. Some of the most cited reasons for such failures being quoted are mishandling of the project and processes leading to disputes with the service provider (IT company/system integrator), neglect and apathy of government officers and hardly ever, any business process re-engineering (BPR) being carried out prior to implementation of computerisation.

 Going further, in most of the e-governance programmes, manual procedures and forms are translated ‘as they are’ to computer processes leading to spate of change requests (CRs) during or after the ‘go live’ event. Service providers simply enjoy this situation as such changes fetch additional revenue to them. Interesting to note that even if they are aware of the likely changes by the virtue of their experience from other similar projects, they would purposely prefer to maintain silence at the time of award of contract.  In short, the IT initiative which was undertaken as solution, itself becomes a ‘wicked problem’ (coined by Rittel and Webber in 1973) which is difficult to solve challenging bureaucratic ways of working and requiring ‘thinking capable of grasping of big pictures’ as they lack definitive formulation and are complexly linked to other problems.

 Before start of any e-governance programme, one must understand that IT projects are dynamic in nature as hardware and software specified today are likely to undergo quick changes with the passage of time. In most of the cases, over a period of time, hardware either goes out of production or out of support by the Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs).  Due to initial lack of interest and planning, departments realise that the Software Request Specifications (SRS) miss few relevant problem statements and require immediate attention. Quite often, software programmes are found not meeting the expectations of the users. As a result, CRs pile up leading to a meteoric rise in project cost and pay out to the service providers. In most of the instances, cost escalation is not acceptable to the user, sign offs get delayed, milestones are not completed and consequently the payment to the service provider is held up fully or partly. Delay in payments put the project team of the service provider in a tight corner in its company. Company withdraws the good team members, if ever assigned and replaces them with inferior team members. New members have to learn the requirements of the project and study the user departments and their processes all over again. The officials of user departments find repeated briefings to the IT project teams annoying.

The annoyance is more visible when the officials of the user department perceive it as an encroachment on their working times and subsequently make statements that project belongs to the CEO and the IT cell of the Organisation. IT cell having hardly any technical and competent personnel finds it extremely difficult to interface with service provider. The project suffers, delay creeps in, fatigue takes over, and enthusiasm dies down.

 The problem is that the neither the project team nor the organisation is willing to admit failure of its IT/e-gov initiatives on the one hand and they would not be amenable to recognise dynamism of the project and ‘wickedness’ of the problem on the other. Accordingly they do not consider re-negotiation (novation and alteration) of the agreement and do not adopt spirit of mediation and conciliation in the dispute resolution which in any case would be adopted by the arbitrator/the court.

To avoid the above stated chronic problems spreading like a virus in most of modernisation programmes of ULBs, government should take quick and necessary measures to overhaul the internal systems and take a meaningful control of the situation. One of the possible actions can be in terms of redefining the responsibilities of Project Management Committee (PMC). PMC should be given sufficient freedom to innovate and invite panel of academicians, project managers and leaders from IT sector having proven track records on a market fee basis. There should not be any restriction on such appointments even if they are sourced from outside the ULB or government.  The finance and law departments should extend all possible and liberal support to the recommendations of the PMC. Disputes resolution mechanism should be carefully drafted. In addition to redefining PMC, service providers should be given a strong signal in the beginning itself to take onerous responsibilities and shun their narrow adherence to jargons and practices in the name of their CMMi certifications. They should deploy dedicated resource personnel with clear understanding of government workings, procedures, weaknesses and strength. In last few words, we firmly believe that once a beginning is made in re-engineering of our own internal system and controls, our nation will definitely succeed in its stated mission of various modernisation programmes.

MSA Khan is IRS officer and Additional Commissioner (Revenue), North Delhi Municipal Corporation.

Girish Srivastava is independent strategy and policy consultant. He was formerly with NASSCOM and member of Kelkar Committee on modernisation of Direct Taxes.
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