Tuesday, November 16, 2004
ICT and e-Gov for achieving MDGs
Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has today become an integral part of governance, especially in India. ICT is viewed as a tool that will help deliver services, both in the public and the private sector, to the ubiquitous common man. What used to take years to compile and analyse, now takes just a few seconds or minutes!
E-governance, as a concept, involves leveraging ICT to streamline the administrative process — it involves computerisation of records, facilitating efficient transactions between various government departments, networking offices and using websites and e-mail to bring administrators closer to people.
In the past decade, e-governance has been a popular buzzword among politicians and bureaucrats alike, especially in India. One quasi-Government organisation in Tamil Nadu, has decided to go the distance, by implementing e-governance at a micro level – their office is now completely paperless and file-transfer takes place in an electronic format.
Using a tool aptly titled “e-Administration”, Chennai-based Electronics Corporation of Tamil Nadu Ltd. (ELCOT), with the help of an Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) organisation called Life-Line to Business (LL2B.COM), has introduced a workflow and document management process sans physical movement or use of paper.
Designated by the Government of Tamil Nadu to promote IT industries in the state, ELCOT, besides supporting IT entrepreneurs also promotes joint ventures in electronics, communication and IT. They also help develop infrastructure for the software industry in the form of IT parks and by providing effective communication backbones.
LL2B.COM’s ‘e-Administration’ tool allows ELCOT officials to sanction purchases, approve official activities and transfer files flawlessly in completely electronic format. With a view to introduce transparency in their workflow process, all the files processed in the organisation are made available on a central server, while the status of pending files can be obtained at any stage. There is no physical movement of files at any stage — only the final order copies are printed and stored as physical record.
The Nuts and Bolts
As part of its e-governance initiative, the Government of Tamil Nadu embarked on a paper-less office drive for introducing transparency and accountability in its internal and external transactions.
ELCOT, the nodal organization for IT activities in the state, decided to introduce “e-Administration” — a paperless File Management System, which ensures speedy disposal of files. The entire process — creation, movement, monitoring, and approval of files takes place electronically, resulting in better utilisation of manpower. “This helps avoiding delays which leads to better governance,” according to Sudeep Jain, I.A.S., MD, ELCOT.
‘e-Administration’ is the brainchild of ICT and e-Gov specialist, VDG Krishnan, who has over a quarter of a century hands-on managerial experience in the Public Sector in India and a leading MNC in North / South America. He is the Founder President of Life-Line to Business (LL2B.COM Pvt. Ltd). His urge was to develop a simple yet effective solution, that can help to transform the Governments, Corporates, SMEs and NGOs. The tool was conceived by him, after his return to India, as an apt solution for e-Governance in the developing world, based on his experience in both the developing and the developed world.
e-Administration, is a web-enabled, platform-independent, paperless solution developed on an Open Source platform, for paperless communication within and outside an organization. It uses open source offerings such as J2EE, JBOSS, PGSQL all running on Linux.
The tool, according to Krishnan, can reduce the cycle time for file approval from an average of two to three weeks to one week. This can also result in a considerable reduction of paper-usage within an organisation, thereby saving valuable natural resources.
According to Krishnan, LL2B’s tool, empowers every employee in the organization to discharge his or her duties efficiently. It has also reduced the dependence on subordinates and makes the organization system-oriented rather than people-centric. This is likely to result in increased productivity.
Being a Linux platform, local language content can also be easily added. This tool can be used by any organization whose activities involve dealing with multiple agencies, for simultaneous review and action. The tool also aids knowledge management and integration in NGOs for self-assessment, decentralised field updating and centralised review and monitoring.
ELCOT conducted trials with products offered by four to five SMEs – for independent evaluation, with a view to adopt the best tool. The SMEs were asked to implement the necessary customisations, to suit the requirements of ELCOT / Govt.
Trials were conducted over three to twelve months, with equal opportunity given to all the vendors. In each department, one system was configured as the server and five nodes (on an average) connected as clients, for live testing.
Says K. Appuswamy, General Manager (e-Governance), “Many organizations had conducted trials, but only LL2B’s model worked successfully, at ELCOT.”
LL2B.COM’s product was one of the five LAN based solutions tried out — the front-end was based on Visual Basic while the backend was Microsoft Access / SQL, running on a Microsoft Windows 2000 server, in the initial trials. This tool was initially installed in ELCOT’s Marketing Department for about 5 officers. Seeing the effective use of the tool, more officers and staff came forward voluntarily to use the tool. Steadily the number was increased and the solution upgraded to a browser based, web version, for removing the dependence on client systems.
Currently, e-Administration system connects about 150 users, in three different locations spread over a distance of about 25 KMs, including their Corporate Office at Nandanam, their Communication Division at Perungudy and their Chairman Mr. Vivek Harinarain, I.A.S., who is the Secretary, IT, Govt. of Tamil Nadu, at the Secretariat, through a dedicated powerful four-way Xeon dual Processor with RAID facility, running a versatile Oracle 9i database as backend on Linux advanced server, centrally located at ELCOT Corporate office.
The tool simplifies the process of generating files and enables moving note sheets electronically, for approval. Instead of physically carrying note sheets for approval, from table to table, the employees began using the tool. Receipt of the e-document was indicated by pop-up alert messages on the officers’ monitors.
All letters received from external agencies could now be scanned and converted into electronic documents, which would then be added to the central repository. This system enables a user to check the status of a file, at any stage. More importantly, delays are minimised as the files can be traced instantly through the network — employees can now know which officer has kept the file pending.
“The biggest advantage of ‘e-Administration’ is that it enables us to view, at any stage, the status of pending file. The details are available on a central server and can be accessed by anyone, having the authority. This way, workflow is simplified”.
LL2B’s “e-Administration” tool not only effects a dramatic reduction of stationary usage, and time taken to process documents, it also serves to introduce transparency in the working of any organisation.
The employees of ELCOT also took to the system rather well. According to Appuswamy, “Our employees became more and more comfortable with using the tool as the trials progressed. It’s quite user-friendly and doesn’t require a lot of technical expertise. I myself began using the system without any formal training, and have been using it successfully for eight months now.”
At the 7th National e-Gov conference held in Chennai in November 2003, MD, ELCOT received a merit citation award from Government of India, for implementation of “e-Administration, as a tool for e-Governance”.
The Industrial Guidance Bureau of the Government of Pondicherry has implemented an integrated e-Platform, a quickly customized solution of ‘e-Administration’, to automate the activities of the Department of Industries and Commerce. (Refer Budget 2004-2005 Address of H.E. the Lt. Governor, Pondicherry http://www.pon.nic.in/open/depts/finance/lgspeech2004.pdf).
Item 7 of the speech reads as follows:
"..Removal of poverty may not be practically possible without focusing special attention on creation of gainful job opportunities. The Tenth plan at the national level envisages creation of 50 million new employment opportunities over a period of five years. Therefore, focused attention will be given to few critical sectors such as
Industries, Information Technology, .. etc. which have very high employment potential.
Item 19 of the speech reads as follows:
"..The manufacturing sector of the economy has potential to absorb the surplus labour force. The labour intensive manufacturing units can provide gainful job opportunities for skilled as well as semi-skilled labour force. We will continue to encourage new entrepreneurs to choose Pondicherry as their destination for establishing new industrial units and procedures will be simplified to obtain licence /
permission to start units. We will continue to pursue the policies of promoting pollution free, less water and less power consuming industries in our Union Territory.
Item 20 of the speech, reads as follows:
"Industrial Guidance Bureau with integrated e-Platform has been established by substituting single window clearance system to speed up the process of industrial clearance / permission for setting up of new industrial units. A total of 21 Departments including Municipalities / Commune Panchayats have been integrated with a dedicated electronic network for granting permission to set up an industry and also to commence production".
This saves a lot of time, effort and cost to industrialists and citizens as well as officials of various Departments. As against submitting 10 copies of documents in the manual system, in the electronic system, only one signed copy needs to be submitted, thereby saving 90% of paper, resulting in conserving of natural forest
A unique initiative, being attempted for the first time in India, 21 Departments — including municipalities and Panchayats are connected on a simple dial-up. The central repository server will be located at the District Industries Centre, Pondicherry. This will form a dedicated electronic network. The network will allow the Government to grant permission, for example to set up an industry; it can also help a manufacturing unit obtain a Licence to commence production, etc.
Says Krishnan, “This would save a lot of time, effort and cost to industrialists and citizens as well as officials of various Departments. As opposed to submitting 10 copies of documents in the manual system, in the electronic system, only one signed copy needs to be submitted, thereby helping save paper. It can help to fuel investment in the State and generate employment for local people.”
Such an integrated e-Platform can be used by the ministries and Undertakings of the Central Government as well as various State Governments, where ever multiple agencies are involved in scrutinizing applications and granting time bound clearances for plan approval, building constructions, setting-up industries, etc. It can bring about the much desired transparency and accountability.
Various Central and State Government Departments and Undertakings including the Andhra Pradesh Technology Services, the Governments of West Bengal, Orissa, Manipur, Goa etc. State Bank of India, the Canadian Consulate in Chennai, British Trade Office (Bangalore), Ministry of Industrial Development, Malaysia and the State of Sarawak, Malaysia have shown interest in “e-Administration”, a web enabled solution, developed using open source. This can considerably cut down the budget expenditure for e-Governance, according to Krishnan.
Instead of resting on their laurels, LL2B plans to reach out to the various Government Departments and Undertakings as well as Corporates, SMEs and NGOs by implementing their solutions in as many public and private organisations as possible, in India and the developing world, by offering the basic solution free and charging only for the customisation, installation, training, hand holding, annual maintenance and upgrade support, either directly or through ELCOT, with whom LL2B has a marketing tie-up. This is expected to benefit vastly Governments in India and the developing world, by saving on e-Governance expenditure. “We are currently holding discussions with the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) and The Tamil Nadu Dr. MGR Medical University, to implement ‘e-Administration’ in their offices / institutions across the city,” says Krishnan.
Shri. D. Jayakumar , the Hon. Minister for IT, Govt. of Tamil Nadu, had stated in the State Assembly:
“The Government has also decided to take up development of four generic softwares – paperless office, electronic delivery of services, development of government portal and integrated district information system”.
“Of these, the paperless office was already in place in ELCOT”.
While it’s naïve to believe that “e-Administration” paperless office solutions like LL2B’s, may just be the panacea for our red-tape ridden bureaucracy, it certainly is a step in the right direction — one small step for e-governance, a giant leap for democracy!
Why ELCOT took the plunge:
1. The number of major departments: 4
2. The average number of files generated per department per year: 150
3. The average number of physical movements per file: 20
4. The average number of cycles per file from start to end: 8
The total number of manual entries / file movement from desk-to-desk per year: 4x150x20x8 = 96,000 manual entries or file movements per year.
The workload is not evenly distributed as it depends on a hierarchy for granting sanction and/or approval of files. The Managing Director (MD) typically has to view and approve approximately 200 files per week. That is an average of 40 files per working day! This is apart from the various meetings he has to attend. Files pile up when he is on tour and he is forced to carry work home. When the officer is away, files are kept pending. The officer may not even know that there are files pending, even if they are urgent. These problems cause inordinate delays in the workflow process. A tool such as e-Administration ensures prompt disposal of files and access to a central database, where the status of files can be monitored at every stage, thus ensuring efficiency and transparency.
Sudeep Jain, MD, ELCOT confirms that while average cycle time for file approval was earlier 15 to 21 days, after the implementation of the electronic system, it was brought down to 5 to 7 days.
Source: ‘ E-ADMINISTRATION THE KEY FOR E-GOVERNANCE - INITIATIVES FOR CREATING A PAPERLESS OFFICE’, by Sudeep Jain, IAS, Managing Director, ELCOT, Chennai-35, presented at the 7th National e-Gov Conference in Nov 2003, conducted by the Department of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances, Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pension, Govt. of India.
Further enquiries on “e-Administration” or on implementing e-Governance / Corporate Governance, may be addressed to Mr. Krishnan at firstname.lastname@example.org.