The use of IT is becoming increasingly significant in urban infrastructure. It is being used for a range of purposes, from monitoring the operational performance of civic agencies to improving transparency and efficiency in service delivery. Tools that involve e-governance, management information system (MIS), geographic information system (GIS) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) are being widely deployed. While some cities prefer in-house IT solutions, others adopt customised solutions offered by vendors. The role of IT is expected to increase in the years to come with the government approving new reforms and projects for the smart management of civic services. Select civic agencies talk about the role and relevance of IT, the key drivers and implementation challenges, and plans for the future…
What role can IT play in making the delivery of civic services more efficient? What are the factors taken into consideration while allocating IT budgets?
The first and foremost aim is to work for the benefit of citizens and meet their expectations for an improved social life by implementing e-governance and IT services that are accessible, citizen friendly, integrated and available anywhere and any time. Citizens should be able to choose from a range of delivery modes (online, electronic, etc.) to ensure that even those with disabilities can access corporation information and services with ease. They should also be able to interact with urban governance areas in an effective manner.
With regard to IT budget allocations, factors like the maintenance of existing systems (software, hardware and network), requirements of new peripherals, consumables, etc., and new projects are taken into consideration.
IT plays a major role in improving the efficiency of service delivery. For instance, through supervisory control and data acquisition systems, we can remotely operate nodal points for services like water supply, electrical supply, sewerage, and solid waste management. IT utilisation is with reference to the monitoring not only of these services but also their operation.
There are many considerations that need to be kept in mind while allocating IT budgets. These include the stage of infrastructure works, the readiness of IT infrastructure, and the cost benefit, which depends on the level of IT utilisation that one is planning to achieve. A vital factor that needs to be determined is whether IT is to be used for data collection and interpretation for managerial purposes or for operations. This has a massive impact on IT budget allocation.
Information and communication technology (ICT) is one of the most vital tools for implementing transparency and efficiency in government transactions and services. The present requirement is for a citizen-centric service delivery mechanism rather than a procedure-oriented mechanism. The government machinery has to be well equipped for providing services at citizens’ doorsteps. For this, all field departments must be integrated by using modern IT-enabled equipment. For instance, a citizen can directly contact a postman from his nearby locality; the postman can then collect applications, issue receipts, collect application fees, service tax, etc. from the citizen directly or from his relatives and act as a link between the citizen and the government. In addition to this, the citizen can also avail of other services in the public domain from his locality.
There are one-time expenses for setting up a back-end or front-end facility and recurring charges for operating and maintaining them. A small fee should also be levied for these types of services. If we provide all facilities free of cost, it will ruin the system in due course. Hence, an operating cost needs to be calculated and levied to make the system run effectively.
At the Thiruvananthapuram Municipal Corpor-ation, we have been trying to introduce such a system but have not succeeded because of the lack of cooperation and the objections raised by other government departments engaged in the IT sector.
IT plays an important role in reducing the infrastructural costs of service delivery. At present, the IT budget is drawn up as per the requirements and types of services to be provided to employees and the public. There are no specific predetermined factors that are likely to affect the budget’s allocations.
What are the key drivers for adopting IT solutions in your organisation?
Pravin M. Deshmukh
The key drivers for IT adoption include citizen benefits, administrative benefits and transparency.
Naya Raipur is a greenfield city so the latest technology can be used in the best possible manner, be it IT, ICT or other IT-related features. Since there is no legacy in terms of old technology, we can afford to set up new systems. Even though the capital cost of adopting these solutions is high, their maintenance costs should be low, with break even expected to be achieved much faster. They will also lead to less human intervention.
At present, the Thiruvananthapuram Municipal Corporation does not have an ICT wing or any qualified person responsible for handling such systems. There is only one ICT officer under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission. However, there is no support staff for handling the issues that are raised from the field, the 11 zonal offices and the 27 circle offices. Thus, for each local body, there is a need to set up a well-equipped ICT department, which must have a qualified and experienced IT officer, a hardware expert, network expert and software expert, as well as two field assistants.
There is a need to undertake government process re-engineering and business process re-engineering to introduce new procedures and methodologies with legal backing and the ne-cessary legal amendments. Proper capacity building and change management events have to be introduced for employees at various levels. In addition, a proper MIS with all tools, dashboards and other simplified consoles needs to be set up for monitoring and managing things. It is also necessary to introduce transparency into systems by publishing files, notes and activities through official portals.
The main drivers for IT deployment are a need to improve service delivery, bring about cost-effectiveness, and reduce the time taken in delivering services to citizens. We aim to make services more accessible and user friendly through the deployment of IT solutions.
What kinds of solutions and technologies are the most relevant for the city? What are your future plans regarding their adoption?
Pravin M. Deshmukh
The solutions and technologies that are the most relevant for the city are e-governance and GIS.
We are in the process of determining the most vital requirements. Once a decision is made in this regard, we will have a discussion with vendors to decide the type of technology to be deployed. This is expected to be finalised once the detailed project report (DPR) is ready.
The platform doesn’t matter; there should be a focus on capacity building. Solutions like m-governance, web-based technology, or a mixture of the two, will work for the city. Other things that should be looked at include the establishment of adequate bandwidth and network infrastructure and the provision of personal digital assistants. Proper coordination and professional management are also required to effectively manage municipal services.
We are currently in the process of laying leased lines and providing basic internet connectivity to all our employees. We are working towards achieving a bandwidth of 6 Mbps in all our offices, and are also providing systems for the deployment of ERP and cloud in our organisation. Once the leased lines are in place, we aim to provide all the ICT services in the pipeline for official use as well as to the public. We are aiming to generate public awareness towards ICT solutions and open citizen facilitation centres for their easy accessibility.
How do you intend to meet your staff’s training needs?
Pravin M. Deshmukh
The staff is being provided regular training for using e-governance applications, computer operations, etc.
This has to be outsourced and will be a part of the DPR. The operations and maintenance operator will be responsible for training the staff and be part of the processes.
A core team has to be constituted and trained to assess the training needs. Based on this, different training needs will be identified for various levels and groups. A training chart will then be prepared and the corporation will tie up with a professional training institute to implement the training modules. It is important to prepare training batches without affecting the daily work of the organisation.
We have a time schedule in place for employee training. Employees are educated about the basic concepts, uses and benefits of ICT solutions and trained to generate awareness about them among citizens. The concerned officials are also provided on-the-job training, wherein solutions are provided for the problems faced while working with applications.
How far have solution providers been able to meet your ICT requirements? Where are the gaps in their services?
Pravin M. Deshmukh
Solution providers are generally concerned with earning profits, but as the implementation of e-governance projects takes more time, they get exhausted and try to escape from the scope. This sometimes results in letting go of service-level benchmarking or goals. In the implementation of IT applications, business process re-engineering, transformation, ICT capacity building and change management need to be undertaken by experts who can understand the psychology of the staff.
As far as infrastructure is concerned, not many initiatives have been taken because we are banking on the smart cities project. The ICT projects that had been planned have been deferred to the single-window solution provider for smart cities.
When it comes to office operations, we have been interacting with some solution providers and have received a mixed response. Some were able to meet our needs but there were a few who could not. The major issue was they were not conversant with the system.
Solution providers help us identify needs and prepare documents more professionally. However, inter-departmental coordination, high-level approvals, government sanctions, etc. take a lot of time. This can put a project on the back foot. In ICT or e-governance, a number of government agencies such as the National Informatics Centre, IT Mission, State e-Governance Mission Team, Information Kerala Mission, and the Centre for Development of Imaging Technology are providing services. But these services are not integrated, so the organisations in effect do not get any monetary benefit from using computers and cannot progress in this area. Integrating civic services in a national gateway will promote the implementation of such projects and provide a transparent and efficient civic service delivery system that can be monitored and managed nationally in an efficient manner.
We initially set up infrastructure for basic solutions and go in for the advanced versions only when officials are comfortable with the basic solutions. However, the lack of infrastructure in our city is hindering the deployment of advanced solutions. We are currently undertaking a survey to identify the infrastructure gaps that need to be addressed for providing complete internet coverage with a good bandwidth and uninterrupted connectivity. We are not able to optimally utilise the available services due to the lack of public and employee awareness. This is where the major gap lies.