Golok Kumar Simli, Chief of Technology, Passport Seva, Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India
Golok Kumar Simli, Chief of Technology, Passport Seva, Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India. (Photo: TechObserver.in)

With both governments and enterprises embarking on the digital transformation journey, their reliance on technologies have increased like never before. When it comes to government service delivery to citizen, institutions including government departments in India have built various applications, technology-based solutions and many are working on large-scale to ensure people could access government services in hassle free manner.

However, with the proliferation of emerging technologies like AI, machine learning and blockchain, among others, there is a need to take e-governance to the next level. The technology like AI has potential not only to smoothen tardy government processes, it can also significantly improve the speed of service delivery. Just think about a government department searching for you to deliver your entitlements, that is what judicious use of AI can do to e-governance in India.

But that is only possible if we take things to the next level with the aim to having maximum impact of e-governance projects on the life of people. For that, time has come to expedite the implementation of projects by focusing on the minuscule “gaps” in implementation itself.

It is essential for government departments to find out “gaps” and some viable mechanism to fill the gap. To accomplish this we need to understand the project requirements right from conceptualisation of the project till its delivery and successful operations for the years to come.

For most of the government projects, major stakeholders are: concerned government department, service provider or system integrator, e-governance policy making body like Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) in centre and IT department in state governments and finally the citizens who are the intended beneficiaries.

It takes enormous effort to start a mission mode e-governance project either for the central line ministry or for the state department. Thanks to the champions of the concerned department who really takes personal interest other than their usual routine work to start these voluminous complex project. Due to their whole hearted effort project gets kick-off.

But as the project progresses, it has been experienced that minor issues which are vital for the project success becomes the road-block.  To accomplish the same, there is need to have a mechanism which supports and shows the way forward during those crucial stages of the project. These blockages may come in the form of system specific, finance, manpower, authority to approve.

What we generally believe and it is also obvious hoping that the concerned department will be capable of handling all the nitty-gritty issues of such complex and voluminous project requirements including pure technological stuff. But, in practicality it doesn’t. One need to understand that mission leader of the project remains busy with many of their routine works and also they may not be having in-depth into issues like software codes, software security, database concerns and many more to say. Even, it may not require for the mission leader to understand into such in-depth details. In the process, department may need a mechanism built within, having sufficient number of ICT experts which actually the project is requiring for.

The greatest slip-up what department undergoes about their complete dependency on the service provider or system integrator when it comes to ICT related affairs be it software or hardware, security issues or taking a decision.

Overcoming Software Development

System Integrator is given complete responsibility to develop the application software. At the best, we freeze the SRS (software requirement specifications) and give it to the system integrator. There is a huge gap between the SRS team of the SI and their development and testing team. SRS team might have been understood the business and functional requirement of the Department during SRS gathering but when it comes to passing them to their development or testing team, they are not up to the expectation. The government department requires to have at-least 2-3 software development experts and be seated them along with the SI’s development team during the coding of the application itself.

Firstly, these experts would minimise the coding overflows and issues, especially the “gap”, what the developer may be missing understanding the Business logic and functions that the project requires. Secondly, these experts should also bridge the security concerns that are generally overlooked during the software development stage.

Addressing Data Migration

Department should be very careful about the existing data to be migrated into the new system envisaged for. Many a times, it has been experienced that the department relied upon external agencies (consulting agencies) who in turn prepares the DPR/RFP. To a certain degree it may hold good but in practicality the department must get involved in sharing the existing data with the consulting agency such as its database schema, DB structure, data flow diagram etc.

It becomes more complex if the existing data is in distributed form and to be migrated into a central architecture. Secondly, for a running application, be it whatever nascent form, one need to keep live both the system (as-is and to-be) till the existing system is fully migrated to the new system.

Lack of domain experts

Department feels that engaging 2-3 ICT experts would suffice in overcoming many issues that needs to be followed hand-in-hand with the SI.  In practicality we require more. Department need to have at least one such expert at every technological area be it security side, application side, database side, data centre side, ITIL/ITSM side headed by a senior technical person in the rank of CIO/CTO, who would act as the interface for the department and service provider.

It is very well understood that department can’t replicate the role of the system integrator but at the same time departments need to realise that the project owned and controlled by them. Security concerns, data privacy and many more technical issues including strategic control and also the timely and successful delivery of the project should be the prime concern of the department and shouldn’t be relied upon service provider.

Institutional Authority

During those critical stage of the project, even a central mechanism (may be program management unit attached to the concerned ministry or department) may enforce these shortcomings and other related issues helping the project to smoothly go-live. This is required for both central line ministry as well as state department projects. The effective cost would be much cheaper than the delay we suffer and the other risks we rely on the service provider or system integrator.

 Co-ordination among stakeholders

It requires a great effort to convince all the major stakeholders and bring them at par, the project is requiring for. It has been experienced that the officer in-charge co-ordinating with all these stakeholders has to be strong enough technically as well as should take quick decisions. Project timeline requires quick and right decisions. The position demands handling other stakeholders such as third party auditor engaged by the department, OEMs and management as a whole.

Understanding dynamism and the ecosystem

The project requires not only overhauling within the department but it also requires accelerating the dependencies that exits in the form of stakeholders. Many a time it has been noticed that major dependencies between the departments are neglected during conceptualisation of the project. Secondly, when it comes to enhancements and improvements during its operationalisation phase, the RFP, MSA becomes the de-facto standard. We must improve and innovate on the way to provide better citizen experiences based on their feedback, grievances and suggestions.

Unless we bridge these “gaps”, these problems are inevitable in any large, complex and voluminous e-governance projects. It looks small but addressing these issues on time could help you deliver large-scale IT projects in Public Sector on time and under budget with anticipated value.

is the chief of technology, Passport Seva at Ministry of External Affairs. Passport Seva is one of India’s most successful e-governance project.

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