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E-governance needs forecasting mechanism

india Updated: Aug 23, 2009 20:56 IST
N Madhavan

The government is considering an idea to offer health insurance benefits now offered only to those below the poverty line to those above it covered under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme.

While there is a plan to identify beneficiaries, I wonder what such a proposal will mean once the Unique Identity Project led by former Infosys managing director Nandan Nilekani gets going.

In a dream-like scenario, I would think the database for one programme can be matched with another and benefits or funds required transferred almost instantaneously.

That is almost like transferring phone numbers in your PC to your handset in “sync” — to use an analogy. Alas, life is not so simple for bureaucrats, but I think it is time government administrators started scaling up their thinking. Public sector companies like the Life Insurance Corporation are arming their agents with palmtop computers. Can government officials like sanitary inspectors, education officers or rural officials do the same?

I am not sure yet, but it is clear that a lot of the government thinking is happening in silos.

There are tenders being floated for computers and software, as if they were nuts and bolts, without sufficient realisation that a whole load of work is shifting to large scale networks, shared databases and above all, focus on services than products.

In this, I got another insight last week when Phaneesh Murthy, former sales head of Infosys and current CEO of iGATE, dropped by.

Pricing of government –related services in some overseas markets is also shifting to “per-transaction” basis (for instance, in traffic policing based on video shots of violations transmitted through networks, the computer service company is priced on the basis of the number of violations noticed, rather than the equipment cost).

The whole “business model” of e-governance is shifting. Where is India? I wish I really knew. It is for Nilekani and company to extend the reach of the Unique ID project and officials at the National Informatics Centre and the ministry of information technology to put together their heads and come up with some kind of a larger blueprint for e-governance, taking into account new trends like cloud computing, price per transaction and mobile commerce.

It is always the bane of the bureaucracy to realise things too late, and in the business of exploding IT-based services, things might become not slow but absurd if there is no guiding force with sufficient forecasting and intelligence to stop policy-makers being fooled by outdated boxes and outmoded practices.