Government plans back-office units to revamp public service delivery system

Government plans back-office units to revamp public service delivery system

New Delhi: Each state will have its own back-office unit to build its technology systems to deliver public services in a potential boost for the country’s e-governance drive.

The state information utility (SIU), as it will be called, will function as an outsourcing division, offering data centres, networking, software and other platforms, such as authentication and payment gateways, apart from technological know-how, on the pay-per-use model.

Various states have lined up projects to digitize their own internal processes and also offer government-to-citizen services as taxation, pensions and payrolls over computers and mobile phones. Currently they have to deploy considerable resources in building their own infrastructure from scratch.

“Once in place, SIUs will save not only considerable time spent by states in getting these projects on-ground but will also lead to efficiencies in technology resources," said an official of the department of information technology (DIT), which has proposed the SIU concept.

This official said state departments face several issues in procuring equipment and identifying the right technology platforms.

“This will make it all centralized," said the official, who didn’t want to be named.

DIT is expected to publish a policy paper on the concept in the next one-two months.

Some experts caution about the possibility that the proposed SIUs could duplicate existing institutions at the state level.

“As a concept, it is sound," says Guru Malladi, a partner at the consulting company Ernst and Young. “However, states already have various coordinating agencies such as computer and electronics corporations in addition to state divisions of National Informatics Centre, which are currently coordinating outsourcing activities..," he notes.

Malladi says it is important that the future role of these agencies be “thought through so that there are no forces working at the state level which could be counterproductive to the initiative".

Rajesh Aggarwal, secretary, IT department, of the Maharashtra government, said many states already have corporations or societies to take care of IT functioning. For instance, Gujarat has many IT corporations and Maharashtra has a Rajya SETU society which handles citizen services, tendering etc, “practically as fast as a corporation and is independent of the department functioning structure".

He added that the once the SIUs come into place, scope of the existing organizations in the various states can be amended to add new activities. “There will be no disruption in existing operations," he said.

The Technology Advisory Group for Unique Projects (TAGUP) headed by Nandan Nilekani, chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), has proposed the concept of a national information utility.

In a report submitted in January, the group noted that managing e-governance has been a challenge.

“Often, the implementation team has had to face serious problems due to lack of financial independence, inability to get the right personnel and retain them, technological obsolescence, lack of speed and productivity in implementation, lack of ownership on the part of the user community within the department, leading to cost and time overruns and failure to fulfill the requirements," the report said.

It recommended setting up NIUs which would be “private companies with a public purpose" making available essential infrastructure for public services.

To start with, the SIU would offer infrastructure as a service, which will include servers, network and storage; platform as a service (technology applications) and software as a service (authentication, payment gateways, payroll applications).

“There are 60-70 departments in a state government and we realized that they are all trying to build these systems on their own. The SIU will be like a third-party vendor, which can provide them the services on a per-usage fee model," the official cited above said.

DIT already has a significant technology infrastructure in place in the form of state data centres (SDCs), state wide area networks (SWANs) and common service centres (CSCS).

While SDCs, which take care of storage requirements, have been approved with an outlay of 1,623.20 crore over a period of five years, SWANs provide the connectivity backbone and have a grant of 1,965 crore so far. A network of 100,000 CSCs, or IT kiosks, are supposed to be the front end to deliver the services and were approved in September 2006 with a budget of 5,742 crore.

The DIT official cited above said an additional 300-400 crore will have to be spent to upgrade its existing infrastructure in states to deliver services over the cloud.

DIT’s existing infrastructures could be “optimally utilized by the SIUs", says Navin Agrawal, partner and head (government and public sector) at consulting firm KPMG.

Considering the investment already made, interdependences of these initiatives and the skills required to maintain it makes sense to have them under a common umbrella like an SIU, he said.

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