Govt selects Chennai-based IT firm as 1st pvt contractor for email utilities | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Govt selects Chennai-based IT firm as 1st pvt contractor for email utilities

By, Deeksha Bhardwaj, New Delhi
Sep 12, 2023 12:15 AM IST

This is the first time a private contractor has been chosen to manage government digital services

The Union government has selected Chennai-based business solutions provider Zoho to handle email services and a host of other internet-based office products, according to officials and documents seen by HT. This is the first time a private contractor is being roped in to handle government digital services.

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HT reported on March 17 that the government plans to rope in third parties to take on some of the responsibilities currently handled by the National Informatics Centre (NIC), the government’s IT department, which experts have said has struggled with the scale of the task and a host of legacy issues that have meant lax cybersecurity.

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In response to a public tender published by the Digital India Corporation (DIC), Zoho has been shortlisted on the basis of competing bids, according to a letter of intent for procurement dated August 29. HT has seen a copy of the letter.

According to the document, the company has to provide “at least 2,000,000 users with scalability up to 5,000,000 users” a secure email solution; provide productivity tools such as a word processor, spreadsheet, presentation; phase-wise migration of existing emails; incident management, helpdesk support, training, and deploy required manpower. “The migration of email may be done in phased manner as per readiness of the cloud service and acceptance by respective departments/clients,” it added.

The letter does not specify if all government services will completely move away from NIC.

According to an official familiar with the matter, office productivity tools will move to Zoho. “Earlier there was a provision for two companies, but only one was selected after technical shortlisting. The decision has been done in order to better secure internet solutions and cybersecurity,” the official said, asking not to be named. “Some solutions will stay with NIC, the migration will happen over time and both the systems will function in parallel for some time.”

The cost of services has been set at ranging from 170 (without taxes) monthly per user for standard email with 10GB storage to 300 monthly per user for enterprise email. For productivity tools, the rates have been set at 50 per user monthly without taxes.

Currently, NIC hosts 3.3 million email accounts. Established 1976, the National Informatics Centre maintains the local area networking and their larger connectivity across over 8.000 locations, maintains about 8,000 government websites, and supports over 1,600 e-governance users/applications under Digital India.

Questioning the process, an officer who did not want to be named, said that “with these rates, the cost of standard emails alone for 3.3 million users will be over 650 crore every year, which is much higher than what is spent on the NIC”.

Bringing a private player to host email services for government offices assumes significance after the past three years recorded a slew of high-profile cybersecurity breaches. The latest among these was a ransomware attack at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), where five servers — maintained by NIC — were compromised and 1.3 terrabyte (TB) of data, including patient records, was encrypted, effectively making them useless.

HT reached out to NIC and the Union minister for electronics and technology (Meity) for a comment but did not receive a response immediately. DIC, a government body under Meity, did not respond to requests for a comment. Zoho declined to comment.

DIC, according to its website, has been conceived and setup by Meity to work together with the government, industry, non-governmental organisations, international organisations, and the academics sector to bring benefits of emerging Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) for better standard of living of the common man.

Zoho will provide “managed secure mail services along with additional office productivity tools and software solutions such as word processor, spreadsheets and presentations, web and video conferencing solutions along with chat in a cloud-based environment, on the terms and conditions as stipulated in the said tender”, according to the LoI, seen by HT.

The company outbid six other firms, including Infosys, L&T, Railtel, Rediff.com, CTon Enterprises and Softline Services India, to get the contract.

Meity has stated in the LoI that once Zoho accepts, “a master service agreement or contract in line with the tender will be signed and PBG (performance bank guarantee) of 3% of contract value is to be submitted”.

It has further asked the firm “to nominate project lead and team who will discuss on solution architecture, DC (date centre) and DR (disaster recovery) locations, signing of non-disclosure agreement (NDA), project management and governance – framework, detailed plan for implementation and Go-live”.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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    Neeraj Chauhan, senior associate editor with the National Political Bureau of Hindustan Times, writes on security, terrorism, corruption, laundering, black money, narcotics, and related policy matters while covering MHA, ED, CBI, NIA, IB, CVC, NHRC, CAG, Income Tax department, etc.

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