Planning e-governance in India – article series –
Part I – Identify the champions from within
Planning for e-governance in India?
Step 1 – Identify the champions from within:I got my civil service results exactly this day 15 years ago. I have decided to write a series on e-gov. It is essentially an eye opener to the Governments as to how to plan and execute e-governance projects. Step 1: Identify the champions from within:
For successfully planning, configuring and executing e-governance solutions, the Governments need champions. The champions are to be chosen from within the bureaucracy only and they are not available elsewhere.
Government is a huge machinery and so a single champion will not be able to fulfil the aspirations of the all the departments/citizens. The human limitation factor is the biggest hurdle if one wants to go for a jump start e-governance. In rare cases one may come across a champion who may have the wisdom to accommodate and recognize the role of many other champions from within the system and give them due credits while guiding them towards successful implementation of e-governance. I have not seen this happening as on date. This does not mean that this will not happen in the future. The future is always bright and so we may get such true champions too. When the Governments go about choosing the champions, they need to look at the following factors:
First of all the Governments should have a clear idea about what they want. Without clarity of thought the Governments should not go about planning for
e-governance. Just because Andhra Pradesh had gone for e-seva, let us also go for such an experiment, is not the right attitude. E-governance is an highly evolving subject. What had been relevant five years ago for a State is completely irrelevant today. Between the States the differences are still stark due to a variety of factors. For example, when the e-seva experiment was commenced in Hyderabad, there was no concept of ‘e-pay’ which is a free service offered by the bankers to their customers for payment of a wide variety of utility bills today in the metros and urban areas. Similarly, in the last five years alone, the use of plastic money in
India had reached a very high level, thanks to the efforts taken by the private bankers. The women self help group (SGH) movement across India also had taken off. The States which have a very strong SHG movement stand to gain when they go for e-governance implementation. In this scenario, the Governments have to make an assessment based on the current factors. A simple SWOT analysis is all that required to decide what they need today. Having decided what it wants, the States have to look for the right type of champions from within. A champion has a pre defined role. He/she has to be a
leader in the e-governance movement. It requires a personal commitment to bring in the change in style of public administration. It is to be understood that the
most difficult in administration is the public administration. Any process re engineering would be cheered with negativism and brickbats too. So the
champion has to be a tough/no nonsense person. A change leader has to be necessarily a no nonsense person. He/she should be easily approachable too. A
person who has little or no special attachment to the authority of the position he/she holds is the right person for the job. The leader has to be ready for
sacrificing his/her personal time. And of course the leader has to necessarily lead the team. There would not be any section assistant to put up the note for
the leader. The leader has to originate all the write ups. Any secretarial assistance is only for enhancing the efficiency of the leader and not for substituting the original work to be carried out by the leader.
The question arises “Do we have such leaders in the government?”
Yes, we do have.
All the states, including the states such as the North east and Bihar have these leaders. The pity in India is that the states fail to spot these officers and so
they lead a life of yet another officer in the bureaucracy and thus the country could not use its own talents. The tendency always has been to look outwards
and not inwards. Such outward looking efforts would lead to frustration only in the long run. Without the champions owning the initiatives and nurturing the same, the ever changing public administration would not have the benefit of true e-governance. One cannot compare the efforts of Railways with the efforts with
what I have been mentioning here. While I do not belittle the efforts of the Indian Railways in bringing about IT for the common man, one has to understand that the contents handled by the Railways across the counter are uniform and seldom vary, even after passage of years. Indian railways is a typical example of e-commence. Whereas e-governance pre supposes change management. Administration, even after conversion to e-administration would never remain the same. Change would be part of the day to day management strategy of e-governance because public administration has change as its vital ingredient.
Anyone who had occasion to serve in the Indian public administration would vouchsafe for this statement. The Indian public administration system has the built in strength to accept and react to changes. Sometimes we get changes through forces beyond our control. The recent tsunami in Indian coast is one such example. The whole world saw how the Indian administration took up the tsunami challenge and got over it. We have similar experiences in Gujarat (earthquake) and Orissa (super cyclone) too. For handling such ever happening changes the people from within are the fittest to lead the team which itself is accustomed to such fast changes.
In the last four years I have been travelling widely across the Indian sub continent. Thanks to the Election Commission that the IAS officers like me are
sent out for a full month every year to a distant state for election duty. Also the numerous e-governance seminars and lectures had given a wide exposure to the differences in administration of states in India.
Punjab, a developed state has a poor work culture. But the infrastructure starved
Assam has a good work culture. I found the young Taluk Tehsildars and Block Development Officers (BDOs) rearing to go in Tezpur district of Assam.
Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh presented two other pictures.Orissa moves slowly to changes.
Bihar, which has no power, no infrastructure and no history of law and order, of course was a revelation. In a nutshell I would say that India is in different levels of evolution depending on the state’s political and cultural scenario. Each state has to prioritise its e-governance requirements depending on this SWOT analysis. The champions have to be identified according to these priorities. Who could be the possible champions?
(Watch for the next posting)Umashankar
(Posted on 7th June 05)
C.Umashankar IAS., (TamilNadu Cadre)
e-governance expert and Member (Special Invitee) – Working group for implementation of National e-governance action plan, Government of India,
Planning for e-governance in
Step 1 – Identify the champions from within –
Part II – Who could be the possible champions?
In my earlier writings I have already made it clear that the All India Service (AIS), notably the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) stands out in the race for the e-governance champions. For the benefit of those who have not gone through my earlier writings I would elaborate a little on this factor. The Indian Constitution had accorded an important status to the AIS. These officers are selected by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) for a career in civil/police/forest services. Immediately after completing the training in the Academy at Mussoorie (Uttranchal state), these officers go to the field as Sub Collectors. Later they become Additional Collectors, District Collectors cum District Magistrates and then Heads of Departments (HoDs). At senior level they hold the position of Secretary to Government (of a State Government or Union of India). These officers who are supposed to be generalists carry with them the rich field level experience and a good understanding of the needs of the various stake holders of Indian democracy. Except in the state of Gujarat, the IAS holds a supreme position in the States at the district level. This makes them the natural choice for field level e-governance implementation.
I still remember my Sub Collector days, Additional Collector days and the District Collector days. One almost feels like a king in these assignments. That is the level of freedom and authority one has at his/her disposal to provide leadership. The most powerful of the field level bureaucracy works under you. And you lead them/guide them in their day to day interface with the citizens. This is the opportunity for a large scale change management such as e-governance.
When these officers are entrusted with change management when they are still young, one can expect better results. Nowadays, the composition of the IAS is anything else but generalists. One finds more than 50% engineers, at least 6-7 medical practitioners and 3-5 Management graduates from the country’s top business schools. In essence, the Governments get highly qualified professionals for a throw away salary. Then why things are not happening in India? It is because these officers are kept outside the change management purview. By the time the Governments recognise their potential, these officers had already become old, some times too old in attitude to bring about any change.
When one advances in age, the personal responsibilities grow too. At young age the family demand on individuals is less. Young officers, all over India have already established a tendency to spend more time on their service activities as compared to the senior ones. Another aspect is that when one grows in age and career, one happens to come across many negative experiences which have a strong bearing on the personality & effectiveness of the officials. Many of the officers become negative by the time they cross their 10-12 years of service. A negative minded person cannot bring about change. E-governance is essentially bringing about the best form of change.
Corruption is another angle. With growing experience / age, the chances of these officers becoming corrupt also grow. A corrupt person should never be a part of e-governance movement. In any case, a corrupt person has no drive to be a part of e-governance movement because the very concept is against corruption which they cannot accept. They would be ill at ease if they are asked to head an e-governance related activity. This principle however is not applicable for mafia like corruption where the name of e-governance could be used one of the tools to swindle large sums of tax payers’ money. A case in example is the latest e-procurement and e-seva/B1 scams.
These are a few factors which indicate as to why the Governments should capture the young officers, notably the IAS officers and make them the leaders of the e-governance initiative.
In special task departments such as Police, Forest department, Income Tax/Central excise departments etc., the Government can find such champions who should be identified at a very early stage and put in charge of the e-governance operations. Let me narrate my experience about how exposure to e-governance tools could change life for a new comer. Mr.Murugan, a young police officer who was just promoted to the Indian Police Service was posted to Tiruvarur as its Superintendent of Police. He had no exposure to e-governance. After seeing the e-governance happening in various offices he approached me with a request to automate his police station functioning and establishment related tasks. Mobilising funds for procuring computers was not a problem at all. So, within the next 60 days a special package to administer the District Police Office’s establishment matters, including payroll processing was commissioned. This was a customised package to suit police administration. A police station administration software was also developed through the combined effort of the SP and the District Collector using the Collectorate’s software development facility.
The good story ended with the abrupt transfer of the DC and SP during June 2001. But then this officer who had tasted e-governance had become a champion in his department. Today, for all police computerization activities, he is chosen the default leader by his superiors. What surprised me was his ability to extend his e-governance skills to criminal investigation. He had busted two major jewelry theft cases with literally no clues at the crime spot using his technology skills. The robbers who were roaming freely about 550 km from the crime spot were caught using this technology. They are not aware what had betrayed them till date as they had covered all their tracks well, of course except only one technology part. As the methodology deployed by him is too genius and in the interest of further detection of such cases I am not revealing the details here. Suffice is to state that the specialised departments in Government have their own e-governance / technology champions who should be identified and given a large role in their specialisation.
Government’s role in change management
Despite the evolving nature of public administration all over India, there are hardly few instances where a basic change had been attempted in public administration. The exceptions are the change from Taluk to Mandal system in Andhra Pradesh 15 years ago. Total empowerment of panchayats in Karnataka, West Bengal and Kerala is yet another example. Yet, the Governments by and large do not feel the need for quality change agents. So, these young officers who could fit in the ‘quality change agents’ category are treated as yet another cog in the wheel where the seniors always are ‘superior’ in race than the ‘juniors’. The hierarchy driven system which had ruined the initiatives of these young IAS officers has been the bane for the country till date. This goes against the dictum “strike the iron when it is still hot”.
These young IAS officers who come out fresh from the Mussoorie Academy are the best candidates for the e-governance champions. The states have to consciously bring up the chosen officers by giving them a good exposure to the field realities and then place them in charge of change management through e-governance. A question may arise whether these officers would require information technology skills if they are generalists. Whereas any technical skill upgrade is welcome, in the case of IAS officers, the Academy itself gives them a thorough grounding in IT tools. In our days (1990-1992), the Academy gave first priority to law and next priority to information technology tools. I am given to understand that the very same priority is being followed even now. A few of my batch mates became experts in FoxPro programming after the academy training. I touched computers for the first time in the academy only. Other than the academy input I did not get any other specialised training input in IT/e-governance till date. My other batch mates Dr.Rajesh Rajora who headed the Gnandoot experiment of Madhya Pradesh is a medical specialist by profession and Rajesekhar Vundru of Haryana cadre who spearheads e-governance in his own way is a social scientist. Nowadays, the Government of India had devised special training programmes in e-governance/IT/GIS for IAS officers. In my opinion these officers are capable of leading the technical and functional teams in the pursuit of government process re engineering through e-governance without any further training orientation in information technology. The question is whether the Governments are willing to take a policy decision in this regard.
The understanding of the Governments about the potential candidates at their disposal directly relates to the understanding on this topic by the senior IAS officers of the state. If the senior IAS officers have a low opinion on the capability of the young IAS officers, then their views are bound to be coloured. That leads us nowhere.
I still remember my senior’s advice when I got my postings as District Collector during February 1999. His advice to me was “Umashankar, as District Collector you don’t try to start anything on e-governance because you would have plenty of workload as District Collector and you would not have time for your favourite e-governance activities” . He was not off the mark. My day commenced at 3.30 a.m during the first three months and later as long as I was there the day started between 4 and 4.30 a.m depending on the file work load. The early morning hours were utilised to clear the files and the time saved was used for e-governance activities between 6.30 and 9.00 a.m everyday. But with an organisational back up I would not have been forced to slog like this. What we are discussing here is a well formulated e-governance plan which has the full backing of the government accompanied by near professional organisational support.
Tiruvarur experiment had proved that a District Collector, even while carrying out the normal DC’s role can spearhead an e-governance movement successfully. Tiruvarur had proved the negative perception wrong. Again with a professional strategy and organisational support, the field level officers can excel in e-governance implementation.
Hence it is important that the senior bureaucrats are correctly oriented towards this concept. I do hope that my seniors across the country read this write up and try to understand the potential weapon they have in their armoury to effect quality change management through e-governance.
The political executive generally goes by the advice of the senior bureaucracy in this regard. So, a lot depends on the senior bureaucrats in this regard.
Can these young leaders do it alone?
Assuming that the governments have recognized the role of these champions and come forward to place them in lead position, a question arises whether these officers can do it alone.
A leader necessarily has to have lieutenants and followers. It is the ability of the leadership to motivate these lieutenants and followers to deliver the goods that would ultimately result in the fruits of change management. Essentially it is a team effort and never can it be an individual effort. The top leadership may be an individual effort but the implementers who are leaders in their own way are large in number. Without these implementers there can be no success. It is these second and third level leadership which has the potential to not only ground the projects successfully but also sustain the same on a long term basis. So these young champions do need an army of second and third level leaders who in turn form the foundation for change management.
It is presupposed that these young leaders are good in motivation skills. The ability to recognize good works done by the second and third level leaders holds the key to success here.
How to choose the champions? (To be continued in Part III)
3rd July 2005
C.Umashankar IAS., (TamilNadu Cadre)
e-governance expert and Member (Special Invitee) – Working group for implementation of National e-governance action plan, Government of India, New Delhi.