Indian railway — e-Governance done, now good governance

Railway ticket booking and related services is one of the most successful e-Governance projects in India. At present, any customer can book tickets through the Internet, provided he can make payment online. To popularize   booking through Internet, the delivery of tickets has been extended to 181 cities.  Payment options have been liberalized by introducing the facility of direct Debit through Internet and Prepaid Cash Cards in addition to Credit Cards.  The booking hours have been extended from 4.00 a.m. to 11.30 p.m. on all weekdays and from 4.00 a.m. to 8.00 p.m. on Sunday.  In addition, facility of booking through mobile phones has been introduced along with booking of tickets through e-ticketing where conventional ticket is dispensed with.

Website of Indian railway has been built to cater to the needs of common urban Indian citizen who understands use of internet but is not an expert. Some of the good features of the website which are built taking into account “citizen centricity” are

  • Common Indian citizen will not have internet at home. He will go to nearby internet cafe to book the tickets. Many of people do not understand the importance of logging out of the website. To cater this problem, password is asked twice. Once while logging in and then while user tries to access any booked ticket.
  • As credit cards and debit cards are not available to all, prepaid cards are being offered to facilitate use of online booking system. Check the website (http://www.rediff.com/money/2005/feb/03rail.htm)
  • Ajax technology of JAVA is used to make calls to the database. In this technology, webpage need not be reloaded each time new data is to be fetched.
  • Train running information is updated at regular intervals so that passenger time could be saved. This information can also be accessed from mobile.
  • PNR status updates can be obtained separately without logging into the irctc website
  • National Train Enquiry System has also been established to provide updated position to the passengers These Centres will have the capacity to handle one lakh calls a day

Some of the features which could be modified are

  • Allowing a non-confirmed ticket to be used in railway if waitlisted as in case of railway counter ticket
  • Provide data on the chances of a ticket getting confirmed on the basis of statistical analysis so that alternative arrangements for travel could be made
  • Make website compatible to all browsers so that maximum users can have access to the website

However, question is whether successful implementation of e-Governance project is a symbol of good governance. Today, Indian railway carries huge number of masses from one place to another. This is putting pressure on the limited railway resources. Tickets have to be booked two months prior to the date of journey. TCs are not able to handle large masses of illegal commuters in the train. We all know about the condition of washrooms in railways. There is no provision of dustbin in the railway and all that is waste just goes out of windows. It is time to use technology for better serving the people not just in terms of booking tickets but also for a comfortable and safe journey.

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Service Level Agreement in e-Governance projects

A SLA is an agreement that records the common understanding between government and service provider (i.e. a private party) about services, priorities, responsibilities, guarantees and enforcement mechanism with the main purpose to agree of the level (quality) of service. This document is prepared so that there is no lack of understanding between government and service provider. It is also important because government has an enforcement mechanism to control the performance of service provider. This document clarifies following:

  • What service is to be provided? (i.e. fixing scope)
  • Who provides service?
  • When is it available?
  • From where should it be provided?
  • How service performance will be assessed? (i.e. performance criteria)

This is a formal legal agreement between service provider and government. It is important because it will help to demonstrate the success of the project and help government control performance of the service provider.

Key performance indicators are the benchmarks based on which government decides whether a particular level of service is met. These indicators must be easily assessable objectively so that there is no conflict. E.g. Uptime of a website should be at least 95%. This can be assessed by govt. by monitoring the website. If this time is found to be lower than 95%, govt. can either levy penalties or cancel the agreement. This data can also be used to reward the service provider for its good work. E.g. for keeping website up for more than 99% of time without any error.

Check this link for the actual service level requirement which govt. of Madhya Pradesh has floated in the request for proposal:

http://www.mpsedc.com/RFP%20%20Implementing%20Electronic%20Forms%20Application%20through%20State%20Portal%20and%20SSDG.pdf

It specifies three types of Service Level Requirements (SLRs)

Deployment SLR

SLR is applicable as per the scope for development, supply, installationandcommissioning. It low performance indicators for timeline of submission of various documents and penalties associated with it if time is exceeded

Technical SLR

SLRis applicableandmustbecompliedbydemonstrationatthetime ofacceptanceoftheStatePortal. It includes metrics to measure details like capacity of the portal, concurrent connects etc.

Operational SLR

SLRis applicableaftertheacceptanceoftheStatePortalandthe entiresupportperiodoftheStatePortal. This is the most important SLR as it is applicable at the operational level. It has metrics to measure portal response time and portal uptime.

Thus, SLA is an important document for Service Level Management. This document is technical in nature. Hence, realistic assessment of the project needs to be done while setting metrics parameters. This will save money and improve the service quality. Instead of going for the general IT engineers, specialists need to be involved in the process of creating SLAs who can take into account objectives of the project.

As organizations continue to change and morph their business models, more and more business processes will begin to exist solely based on the capacities of IT’s virtual world. For organizations to have confidence in these new virtual processes, the business users and the IT organization will have to form strong bonds and agreements on how their two worlds should work together. Service level management and well crafted SLAs will be key enablers for this process — making IT actions highly relevant to the users and giving government the confidence they need to fully exploit the benefits of e-Governance projects.

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Marketing — For successful implementation e-Governance Project

Marketing is the management process that identifies, anticipates and satisfies customer/user requirements. Marketing of e Governance projects is gaining more and more importance as they try to reach more and more no. of people.

Marketing of online government services can help to:

  • Develop or redevelop services to better meet user needs.
  • Change the behaviours of clients using alternative service delivery mechanisms, such as call centres or shop fronts, by providing them with information online. Clients will then be less likely to use the alternative mechanisms for basic information enquiries.
  • Reduce organisational costs by reducing user traffic in other service delivery channels, such as shop fronts
  • Empower users by informing them of alternative service delivery channels. Users can then choose the most appropriate service delivery channel

Marketing of services is often considered to be based on the ‘Seven P’s’: product, place, price, promotion, people, physical evidence and process.

7-Ps-of-Marketing

In terms of online service delivery, it means:

  • Product – While developing any product, user needs must be assessed. Market research can to be carried out this. For this, online or offline consultations as appropriate need to be held. While product design is being carried out, user groups must be subjected to testing at regular intervals so that cost can be reduced and right product is made.
  • Place – It offers a different side of value to the customer. In case of e-Governance services, place could be internet hut or CSCs as given in NeGP. Considering accessibility issues for people with disabilities or using older equipment to access online services is the most important consideration. It is also important that access and equity issues for people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds are taken into consideration while providing services to them.
  • Price – In case of PPP models, prices must be such that it should allow decent profit to the private party while ensuring some risk is borne by it. In case of government projects, although it is not a common practise, social cost benefit analysis tools could be used.
  • Promotion – It involves informing potential users of the availability of the service and encouraging them to use it. This is very important in order to reach large masses. Some ways of promoting the service are:
    • Develop marketing plans for online services
    • Establish objectives for the marketing plan
    • Optimise the extent to which search engines will list the website in search results
    • Choose an intuitive URL for the website
    • Encourage other websites to link to the website
    • It is important that promotional activities are matched to organisational culture as well as target groups
    • People – People are important in service delivery. Design of the service needs to be “citizen centric”. It is observed that both the extremes – hard and soft approach will create problems. There is a need to find golden mean.
    • Processes — Services being intangible, processes become all the more crucial to ensure standards are met with.
    • Physical evidence – it affects the user satisfaction. However, it must be the least important as far as e-Governance services are considered.

Lack of consideration of any of the above factor can lead to failure of e-Governance services. Given the high rate of failure of the e-Governance services, there is a need to involve marketing professionals in this area.

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Scalability of e-Governance projects & cloud computing

“All the money spent by different states on e-governance projects is waste as these are not scalable” says Sam Pitroda, India’s telecom czar, national knowledge commission’s chairman and advisor to prime minister on innovation. What exactly is scalability? Why is it so important? How to achieve it?

Scalability in computing world is the ability of a computer application to continue to function well when it is changed in size or volume in order to meet a user need. Typically, the rescaling is to a larger size or volume. Different types of scalability are linear, sub-linear, supra-linear and negative based on variation of scalability factor.

All applications scale over time. If one does not then it does not address the main function of e-Governance projects to provide services to masses. The architecture and technology adopted for the E-Governance initiatives should be scalable and common across delivery channels .It is required to meet growing numbers and demands of citizens. If implemented, the E-Governance portals could become the biggest users and beneficiaries of Information Technology. The importance of scalability allows for an e-Governance’ IT infrastructure to cost-effectively grow or be upgraded with, and support, user demand trends, without costs to reinvent, purchase, or assemble a new infrastructure to address the tempo of users.

The main reason to design for scalability is reduced cost and effort. If an application had to be totally redesigned every time a new service is introduced or new user research identifies new needs, it would be in a continual state of being redesigned. Major changes will inevitably occur, but the effort of those changes can be reduced by allowing for easier, iterative updates and transformations, thus saving the major redesigns only for when they are really needed.

“All applications face enormous traffic during the last hours of the date of closure” says Mr.Anurag Srivastava, Additional secretary, Dept. of Information Technology, Govt. of Madhya Pradesh, India. This causes many websites to crash rendering applications unusable. As it is very difficult to change human behaviour and regulate the web traffic, huge IT processors must be installed to cater this need. Here, designing for scalability using cloud computing will reduce the cost substantially. With cloud architectures, scalability is inbuilt. Typically, E-Governance applications can be scaled vertically by moving to a more powerful machine that can offer more memory, CPU, storage. A simpler solution is to cluster the applications and scale horizontally by adding resources.

Cloud computing is a general term for anything that involves delivering hosted services over the Internet. These services are broadly divided into three categories: Infrastructure-as-a-Service (LaaS), Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). It is sold on demand, typically by the minute or the hour; it is elastic — a user can have as much or as little of a service as they want at any given time; and the service is fully managed by the provider.

Other than scalability, it offers various advantages like easy analysis of huge auditing data, better disaster recovery, and better business intelligence infrastructure. A large portion of cloud architecture savings are associated with labour reductions derived through automation enabled by a service management system. Finally, cloud helps enabling E-Governance services faster and cheaper thereby accelerating the adoption and use of Information Technology. Hence, there is a need to take into account the scalability factors into design consideration while a project is designed.

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Private ICT projects & Social empowerment

Good governance is efficient and effective management of country’s resources and affairs in a manner that is open, accountable, equitable and responsive to people’s needs. Good governance minimises corruption, the views of minorities are taken into account, the voices of the most vulnerable in society are heard in decision-making, and is responsive to the present and future needs of society. An essential part of good governance is E-Governance.

India is a land of villages and millions of aspirations and hopes reside in its rural segments. It has 36% of the world’s poor earning less than $1 a day, with 300 million illiterate and 260 million BPL. Most of the rural population is isolated in terms of access to information, materials and markets. This is one of the reasons for prevalent poverty across the villages in India. To reduce this digital divide or information gap, Govt. of India is implementing many E-Government projects in rural segments. Other than government, many private companies see a huge market potential in rural India. They have created innovative business models and are making large profits. This is a real win-win situation for companies and a common rural Indian. Some of the projects are:

1)      ITC E-Choupal

International Business Division of ITC came out with an initiative called e-Choupal. Each e-Choupal is equipped with a PC, internet connection, printer and UPS. E-Choupals are present in the rural areas across the several agricultural regions of the country. At these locations, farmers can directly negotiate the sale of their produce with ITC Limited. Online access enables farmers to obtain information on mandi prices, good farming practices, and to place orders for agricultural inputs like seeds and fertilizers.

e-Choupal video

2)      TATA Kisan Kendra

Tata Chemicals Ltd. came out with TKK to help farmers in states of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab. TKK tracks key parameters relevant to farmers, such as soil, ground water and weather on a real-time basis with the help of Geographic Information Systems (GIS). The GIS software provides spatial information regarding roads, rivers or buildings; it works by imposing layers of data in digitised maps with information about administrative, socio-economic and physical set-up.

3) Akashganga

Shree Kamdhenu Electronics Private Limited’s business model is centred on providing technology-based products and services to help milk cooperatives become more efficient and productive. The company provides complete IT-enabled solutions that automate the milk collection process at local milk cooperatives.

Some of the benefits of these projects are information access which gives the opportunity to make choices. Time required for transactions reduces drastically. Increased access to the technology improves the quality of the produce in the villages. Efficient use of the raw materials like fertilizers reduces the cost. However, these benefits are just secondary to the feeling of empowerment that farmer gets. It was found in research that farmers prefer to sell their products at ITC e-Choupal because they are treated respectfully and fairly even though prices are same at the mandi. Hence, private ICT projects are helping eradicate the feeling of despair in the farmers’ mind.

Huge business potential exists in the rural India. Private sector needs to innovate and mould its business model in such a way that rural consumers can also get access to their products and services. ICT solutions could bring in that much needed accessibility. Innovation is the only way to create this win-win situation.

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India – An Orwellian state?

Section 69 of the Information Technology act was passed by the parliament on 23rd Dec 2008. Under this section, any Government official or policeman will have access to phone calls, SMSs and emails, and can monitor the websites that are visited without any warrant from magistrate. Prior to this, Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 stated that “On the occurrence of any public emergency, or in the interest of the public safety, the Government may,if satisfied that it is necessary or expedient so to do in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States or public order or for preventing incitement to the commission of an offence, for reasons to be recorded in writing, by order, direct that any message or class of messages to or from any person or class of persons, or relating to any particular subject, brought for transmission by or transmitted or received by any telegraph, shall not be transmitted, or shall be intercepted or detained, or shall be disclosed to the Government making the order or an officer thereof mentioned in the order”.
However, in IT Act 2008 Section 69, all references to the public emergency or public safety have been dropped. It also enables state to intercept and monitor messages. It also broadens the scope of surveillance to include the investigation of any offence, whether cognisable or not.
This act seems to violate the constitution of India which states that “no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by the law”. These amendments which encroach on personal freedom of the citizen remind of the Orwell’s idea about the surveillance state. He introduced the idea of “Big Brother” state similar to a big brother authority figure which constantly monitors the population to detect betrayal via “Improper thoughts”.


UK is another country which fits the definition of Orwell’s “Big Brother” state. A documentary directed by David Bond “Erasing David” depicts the realities of the system in UK. This film shows that huge information on every person is stored in the databases of banks, private companies, Internet service providers and government. This information is used to track and profile each citizen. This documentary interviews the victim of this system where error in the database can be detrimental to the personal safety.
In this documentary, a real victim of the system named Emma Budd shares her experience. She applied for the job in National Children’s hospice. She had to go through a check by criminal bureau before she could eventually get the job which was just a formality. Criminal bureau replied by saying that she was a thief and had done shoplifting. Eventually, she found out that a person with same name & date of birth had done this crime. It took a year for the whole matter to get resolved and before she could finally get a job. Another victim Simon Bunce was arrested because someone in Indonesia got hold of his stolen car documents and used it to subscribe to a site where he uploaded indecent images of the children were arrested. Police extracted information from all the available sources and used it to track and follow him. This and many other are the victims of the so called “modern system”.
We should all decide that to what level, we should allow government to keep us safe and what information it can carry. Otherwise anyone of us can be the victim of this system and can suffer major problems in day to day life.

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