Posted by egovindia on July 7, 2006
Megha Banduni and Vinita Gupta take a look at the technology behind some well-known e-governance initiatives, and the future course of these projects
The obvious advantage that IT confers is no longer a point of contention in the government sector. As with any other IT initiative, the principal concern among IT heads in this sector is to have systems connected, and hence there is an emphasis on networking.
Here we take a look at some prominent e-governance projects and the technology behind the same.
With an aim of creating a solid, system-driven corporation with high levels of transparency, accountability and citizen servicing, the Kalyan Dombivli Municipal Corporation (KDMC) [near Mumbai] initiated its journey in e-governance on 10 December 1999 with ABM Knowledgeware. The test implementation of the project started in January 2002.
The backbone of KDMC’s e-governance services runs on two E450 Sun Servers (database server and application / web server) supported by a server for authentication. KDMC has also established a disaster recovery database server at its Dombivli division office so that the data remains secured.
All the departments at KDMC are integrated by a WAN that hooks up 240 computers. The Dombivli division office is connected with the Kalyan headquarters by means of a two Mbps leased line. Three ward offices are connected by 100 Mbps fibre optics, while one ward office has been connected using RF. The entire network is connected to the Internet through a 256 Kbps leased line.
KDMC has deployed its e-governance solution with the Oracle 9i database and application server. All this is a part of the Citizen Facilitation Centre (CFC), which is the single point of contact for citizens with urban local bodies to provide timely delivery of services to citizens in a convenient manner. The CFC is the front-end to back-end departmental processes. Till date, KDMC has six CFCs and 90 CFC services with 12,64,569 transactions having been delivered.
During the process, ABM’s software product (ABM MAINet) was implemented and has been successfully operational for the last three years. MAINet is the trade name of the solution built by ABM for KDMC. The key feature of MAINet is the single window system for citizen interaction.
A double entry system payment gateway was introduced in September 2005; this is a portal to pay taxes online. KDMC has also made its presence felt in cyberspace with its web site, http://www.kdmc.gov.in
This initiative of the Government of Kerala was a much talked-about project on account of its ambitious goals and the technology used. The project’s aim was to impart computer literacy to at least one member of every family. It started in 2004 with help from Tulip IT services.
In the first phase, the project was to have set up 620 centres catering to 1,000-1,500 families. But the government soon realised that it would not be feasible to have so many centres, so the figure was brought down to 400 with each centre catering to 2,000-3,000 families.
For creating the wireless network, Tulip chose a mix of wireless technologies, versatile intelligent network (VINE), and wireless in local loop. Rural connectivity infrastructure based on wireless technologies covering more than 3,500 sq kms in Malappuram had been implemented by August 2004. More than 400 Akshaya centres, 47 police stations, and more than 100 government offices had been connected to this network. The technology deployed for Malappuram district is a well-planned hybrid connectivity infrastructure—a mix of wireless technologies like WipLL, VINE and 802.11b WiFi, WiLAN, Airspan and YDI. WiLAN’s ability to hop and go with high bandwidth makes it suitable for the backbone. 802.11b umbrellas serve connectivity service points for the Akshaya centres.
These centres in the district have 24 hours connectivity of 16-64 kbps. The Kerala Police Department is running its applications over a VPN in the network.
“Project Akshaya helped us build access points in each district through which people could access government services easily”
– Anand Singh
Kerala State IT Mission
Says Anand Singh, Director, Kerala State IT Mission: “The project helped us build access points in each district through which people could access government services easily.”
The eSampark Project
The project was started in January 2004. Presently, 13 services of nine departments such as municipal, welfare, transport, sales, electricity, police, and BSNL are being provided through these centres, and the volume of transactions now amounts to 1.25 lakh per month.
According to Vivek Atray, Director of Tourism of the Chandigarh Administration, “The key objectives of the project are to provide a hassle-free, one-stop solution to the citizen, minimise multiple interaction points, and reduce wastage of time.”
A centralised architecture is adopted for the implementation of the project. The entire architecture can be divided into three sections: data centre, eSampark centres and portal. The eSampark solution is based on a three-tier architecture consisting of a browser-based front-end, application layer on Oracle9i AS, and Oracle9i database at the back-end.
The back-end support is provided by NIC, while SQL Star as the service provider caters to the front-end application. Red Hat Linux is the operating system, Oracle 9i Enterprise Edition is the RDBMS with personal server pages (PSP) used for server side scripting, and Oracle 9i-Application Server with VB is the front end.
The eSampark Centres (i.e. service centres) are connected with dedicated leased lines of 2 Mbps to the data centre. Thus, there is minimal scope for an external security breach. A back-up ISDN connection of 256 kbps is in place.
At the data centre there are further security layers like firewall—Cisco Pix, user authentication. For their OS level security they are using Linux operating system, and PSP from Oracle has been used for the software development. There are multiple levels of user authentication at operator, application and database level.
eSampark can be accessed through the Internet for making payments. Both credit/debit cards are accepted. A payment gateway is being used which has features such as server hosted transactions where details of transactions are kept on the bank’s payment server which is protected by 128-bit SSL; the Linux operating system with PSP development environment makes the entire project highly secure.
“We are in the evaluation process for three different projects—GIS, ERP and a biometric-based
– Subhash Patil
Perhaps the most talked about initiative in e-governance has been the eSeva project of the Andhra Pradesh government that has helped citizens save time while accomplishing everyday tasks such as paying utility bills and getting a driving licence.
Before eSeva most of the services were delivered manually and a citizen had to go to the individual departments for service. The delivery of services was jurisdiction-bound. In order to provide all services under one roof, the government-backed Twin Cities Integrated Network Services was launched in December 1999.
At present there are 47 eSeva centres (the first phase started in 2001 and covered 19 centres) with over 400 service counters spread over the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad, and 500 in districts across the state of Andhra Pradesh that address about 1,00,000 transactions on an average day with no jurisdiction limits whatsoever.
Since eSeva provides services at a single window, citizens save time and money as they have to visit only one place for all the services. The eSeva centres are open on Sundays and holidays, and on other days work between 8 am and 8 pm without a lunch break.
Says Bireshwar Das, Deputy Director (Technical), Andhra Pradesh Government, “The eSeva project has helped citizens save considerable amounts of time in doing ordinary tasks.”
All the eSeva centres and the associated departments use the BSNL network consisting of dedicated point-to-point connectivity through leased lines of 2 Mbps and ISDN links of 128 Kbps. The project is developed on a three-tier architecture with clients, departmental servers and a central server. Clients and departments are connected to the central server through a leased line with an ISDN back-up. Java-based applications are deployed at the front-end while the back-end is on Oracle.
To keep the system up— when one or more components fail—reliable hardware such as Solaris and application code redundancy and failover support for both hardware and software have been employed. Consistently-applied design, configuration, operation and maintenance practices are key elements to ensuring high availability.
The IFFCO Project
The IFFCO project, though not an e-governance project, is an interesting case study of how co-operative bodies are taking IT initiatives. The fertiliser co-operative and producer of chemical fertilisers undertook a project with Cisco to inter-connect various manufacturing units, state and city offices, and also to serve farmers and co-operative members better. The wide area network architecture at IFFCO is spread across 80 locations, including the IFFCO Kandla plant and some regional and area offices across the country.
The network runs on point-to-point leased links and MPLS VPN, and is powered by Cisco integrated service routers of the 3662, 3640 and 2610 series with voice interface cards, sync/async ports, ISDN ports, and terminal lines. For switching needs IFFCO chose catalyst multi-layer switches of the 6500, 4500 and 2950 series.
The Cisco Catalyst LAN switches at the access layer extend control from the IFFCO-designed network core to the edge with intelligent network services. The deployment was based on advanced Quality of Services, and scalable performance with due concern on various security and manageability issues. The network security is dependent on PIX and IPS with VMS for management. The installation includes ASA Firewall at the head office for better security. Cisco Secure ACS 3.3 is implemented for authentication, authorisation and accounting.
The deployment was based on IP architecture with 200 IP phones of the 7912, 7940 and 7970 series, and VT Advantage communication solution at some locations that provide video telephony functionality over Unified IP phones. With this inter-connectivity, IFFCO offices and plants can now efficiently exchange critical production information and report results online in near real-time. The network also supports ERP applications and messaging.
After realising the benefits from the above initiatives, government bodies are looking to undertake some other initiatives in the near future. Says Subhash Patil, System Manager, KDMC, “We are in the evaluation process for three different projects—GIS, ERP and a biometric-based attendance system. Bids have been started. Companies like NIIT, Rolta and TCS are participating in the bids, and by end of this month the evaluation process will be over.” KDMC also plans a movement towards a paperless office. Secondly, it plans to use the CFCs for various services from the collector, passport and transport departments, and for payment of MSEB and BSNL bills.
The Kerala government plans to connect all the government offices to the Akshaya network in the near future, and also plans to implement e-governance, e-agriculture, e-commerce and e-health services through the network.
Kerala is also implementing a state wide area network (SWAN) that has reached the district level, and will be reaching the block level in three months, and villages in one year. Villages from blocks will be linked preferably through wireless; most offices, schools and other organisations will also be connected.
Meanwhile, the Chandigarh Administration has started Mobile Sampark (mSampark) services from August 11, 2005 with the help of which information can be obtained by sending an SMS to 8888; it is also coming up with Jan Sampark Centres (JSCs) and Common Service Centres (CSCs). JSCs will provide informative services across 70 manned kiosks spread across every sector of Chandigarh, while the CSCs will offer eSampark and Jan Sampark services to rural citizens of Chandigarh; 17 such centres will be established.
On its part, the Government of Andhra Pradesh intends to shape the concept of business-to-government transactions and citizen-to-government services to provide e-Governance solutions built around a middleware infrastructure and its supporting services using a defined set of standards. This critical soft e-Governance infrastructure is termed as UnifieX, a unified gateway. UnifieX and its eco-system enable the connectivity between service seekers (citizens and businesses) and the service providers (government departments).
— with inputs from Dominic K