Managing scale and complexity: putting e-governance into action
Successfully delivering E-Governance initiatives requires a combination of political will, robust infrastructure, technological understanding and the right resources, writes Deepak Khosla, NIIT Technologies
The practice of e-governance, increasingly the norm rather than the exception, has been given a real shot in the arm with young netizens pushing governments globally to provide services more efficiently.
Today, it is common for a citizen to log on to the Internet and take advantage of government related services such as issuing of passports, filing of income tax returns or finding information related to land records. As more youngsters enter the workforce – they are challenging existing traditions that were accepted by the earlier generations. No longer are serpentine queues welcome – the Internet has transformed the way citizens consume services.
To meet the demands of the new generation, both developed and developing economies are investing heavily in creating a robust e-governance infrastructure to simplify access and consumption of services. That said, analysis shows that the road to e-governance is not simple, and it requires the combination of political will, infrastructure, understanding and resources for executing an e-governance plan to perfection.
In the Middle East, despite several successes, there are challenges that are common to every e-governance project. Lack of capacity in conceptualizing e-governance projects, uneven coordination mechanisms for effective implementation and slow progress on delivery of services are the common factors that are cited for the failure of any e-governance project.
In most e-governance projects, there is a tremendous gap between conceptualization and actual implementation. Other significant obstacles are lack of trained personnel to educate government officials in remote areas. Supporting infrastructure too is a major problem.
Best practices for ensuring success of e-governance projects
The Middle East region boasts a huge number of successful e-governance projects. Best practices from each of these projects need to be documented and shared so that the learning curve for other organisations in other regions or organisations is considerably lessened.
The e-governance framework must be designed while keeping in mind factors such as available infrastructure, Internet penetration, availability of skills, literacy rate, computer literacy and training capability.
The e-governance framework must be designed using the following principles:
Vision or Mission statement: The vision of the e-governance initiative must be clearly articulated
Objectives: Objectives have to be clearly defined so that not only the state has a clear goal, but is also well prepared to allocate the resources, time and investments required for e-governance initiatives.
Focus areas: The e-governance initiative must articulate the key focus areas. This could include areas such as improving service delivery or raising internal efficiency.
Infrastructure: For the success of any e-governance initiative, the basic infrastructure has to be in place. This could include portals, databases and e-payment systems that need to be in place for citizens to comfortably access e-government services online.
Implementation plan: Every e-governance initiative is a highly complex process that requires provisioning of a number of components including hardware, software and networks. The implementation strategy must include steps on how the existing common IT support infrastructure can be leveraged.
Governance: Once the implementation starts, organizations must have a robust governance framework to monitor and coordinate the implementation. This includes framing policy guidelines, defining and allocating roles and responsibilities. Additionally, the success of an e-governance project requires that it be backed by strong political will in addition to a discipline and attitude change among government officers.
Measurement of success
E-governance projects must be measured on the impact that they make on society. Some common benchmarks include the ability of the e-governance project to lower the cost of accessing a service for a common person; improving quality of service; reducing the number of trips that a common man has to undertake to avail a certain service; and curbing corruption and increasing transparency.
E-governance in the Middle East
In the Middle East, several regions have been in the forefront of taking several path-breaking initiatives, which is reflected in international rankings. According to the United Nations e-government survey 2014, several countries in the Middle East region have been steadily moving up the e-governance excellence ladder.
The UN report states that within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, Bahrain ranks 18th globally, followed by the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Oman.
Similarly, the Global Information Technology Report 2014, published by the World Economic Forum, which monitors ICT progress for more than a decade, shows how some countries in the Middle East region have progressed in preparing the foundation for e-governance. The report also measures the way countries use ICT to boost competitiveness and well-being of its citizens using a Networked Readiness Index (NRI).
The UAE is placed at 24th in the ranking, and the government has a strong vision to develop ICT as one of the key factors to diversify the local economy. Today, 85% of its population uses the Internet. The UAE government has also launched the ‘My E-Identity’ initiative, which allows clients access to all the government services through one electronic login via smart phones or the Internet.
Part of the UAE, the Dubai government provides more than 2,000 electronic services. It has also designed a mobile payment service, which allows citizens to pay bills or fines related to government entities. In the ranking, Bahrain is perched at 29 and boasts of an extremely high user base of Internet users.
Qatar is another nation that has ambitious e-governance plans, and has described this in the form of a comprehensive vision document on its website. As part of its goals for 2020, Qatar plans to make 100% of its government services online, with 80% of all transactions being conducted online. Qatar also plans to improve governance transparency by targeting 10% increase per annum in availability of government datasets.
Towards a digitally empowered era
An e-governance initiative is only successful when it has proactive participation from all the stakeholders. Governments can proactively encourage participation by giving citizens open access to data, and making use of new mediums such as social and mobile platforms. The success of any e-governance project depends on how any project meets its goals, delivers services and makes information easy to access as many successful countries have already demonstrated.
Despite the intention, the road to e-governance is not easy – there are miles and miles to go, before we reach a stage where every citizen can comfortably access government services from the comfort of their homes. But the important thing to note is that many governments in the Middle East and a few pioneering government agencies are trying to make a change. The old way of functioning is slowly being replaced by a new thought process. Once this thought process acquires a substantial base, one can expect huge transformation with even bigger social and economic impact.
Deepak Khosla is President – Asia/ANZ – NIIT Technologies.