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Article by Mohan Babu


E-Governance: Western trends, Eastern needs

E-governance is a focal issue in government circles worldwide. While Western countries have efficiently adopted computerisation at local, state and national levels, India has a long way to go despite a few success stories, writes Mohan Babu

An interesting story in a recent issue of India Today caught my attention. The story titled, “Chipping in...computerisation generates efficiency and resources for a village”, highlighted on farmer Bargur Muniyappa of Belandur, in Karnataka, who dreaded going to the local gram panchayat office till computerisation (aided by ideas from the panchayat chief’s US-based brother), took hold of the system. A simple low-cost system designed at the grassroots level not only made information gathering easy but eradicated bureaucracy, nepotism and helped increase revenue. More than any fancy cost-benefit analysis, this story drives home the advantage of grassroots-level computerisation.

E-governance is a big buzzword in international governmental circles. Governments ranging from cities and local municipal bodies to state, federal and international agencies are embarking on projects to either modernise or totally automate their systems. And here, I am not talking about the “glamorous” e-commerce initiatives undertaken during the heady dotcom era, but plain vanilla computerisation and automation that help make systems more user-friendly. E-governance or electronic governance is basically the delivery of government services and information to the public using electronic means. Use of Internet and other electronic means facilitate an efficient, speedy and transparent process for disseminating information to the public and other agencies, and for performing government administration activities.

The US government has been an avid user of computers and IT systems for decades. Even way back in the sixties, the famous ‘man to moon’ NASA project relied extensively on complex IT systems. The systems have grown complex over a period of time and by some accounts, the American federal government (including the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Defense) is one of the largest (if not the largest) users of software and computer systems in the world. Interestingly, other governments across the world that have also invested heavily in legacy systems are looking to modernise them. The German Army is planning to spend nearly six billion dollars on a massive IT modernisation project.

Interestingly in the US, every state has its own network of IT systems and infrastructure, most of them also providing access to public on the Web. The standard URL for access to the states generally are where XX is the two byte state code. For example, Colorado State government’s URL is Similarly, cities and local municipal bodies too have an active presence on the Web, automating everything from bills and tax payment to payment of fines and traffic tickets. However, as with most corporate IT systems, different states and local bodies adopted the use of IT systems at different times, so the systems can be quite disparate.

The current security environment in the US is prompting a renewed interest in information sharing across different government agencies, leading to an emergence of data interchange standards and a level of openness. One of the first systems to be connected across the spectrum includes the driving license systems of different states. Other government bodies including security agencies are also ramping up for a greater level of information interchange.

Even though stories such as Belandur’s panchayat computerisation in India warm the cockles of one’s heart, when it comes to computerisation and adoption of IT, Indian government systems still have a long way to go. Probably one main reason holding us back is governmental nepotism and a bureaucracy afraid to loose its main source of “power”—information. Historically, Indian bureaucrats have thrived on their ability to manage and manipulate power whimsically. Many of them fear that automating the functioning of the government will lead to a higher level of transparency and accountability. This is perhaps one of the biggest reasons why governmental agencies are dragging their feet when it comes to computerisation. Needless to say, Indians have enjoyed the fruits of success stories like the computerisation and automation of Indian Railways’ booking and reservation a decade ago. This massive computerisation effort really streamlined the process of booking and rail travel. After which, a few middlemen and corrupt clerks, who thrived on “booking seats” lost their edge, but that was a small price to pay for the convenience of hundreds of thousands of travellers. Similar is the story with computerisation of banks, road transport ticketing, telephone, electric billing systems, etc.

As they say, charity begins a home: Now, if a sufficient number of Bargur Muniyappa’s in the Belandurs across India start taking a hard look at the way their local, city and state systems are managed and actively pursue their elected officials towards a more transparent, automated government...we still have a long way to go.




About the Author

  • A Bio and profile of the author, Mohan Babu, can be found at his homepage
  • Mohan has authored a book on Offshoring and Outsourcing (Publisher McGraw Hill, India), a link to which can be found here
  • Mohan has also authored an Online book on "Life in the US," available for free download.
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    ©Mohan Babu: All Rights Reserved 2005

    Mohan Babu is an international consultant trying to find the ‘sweet spot’ where IT meets business. E-mail: mohan He is also the author of a recent book on "Offshoring IT Services"

    All rights are reserved. Mohan Babu ("Author") hereby grants permission to use, copy and distribute this document for any NON-PROFIT purpose, provided that the article is used in its complete, UNMODIFIED form including both the above Copyright notice and this permission notice. Reproducing this article by any means, including (but not limited to) printing, copying existing prints, or publishing by electronic or other means, implies full agreement to the above non-profit-use clause. Exceptions to the above, such as including the article in a compendium to be sold for profit, are permitted only by EXPLICIT PRIOR WRITTEN CONSENT of Mohan Babu. 

    Disclaimer: This document represents the personal opinions of the Author, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of the Author's employer, nor anyone other than the Author. This Article was originally published in Express Computers


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