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NISG – Architecting e-government

It works with governments to shape their e-governance vision, is responsible for the e-transformation of Ministry of Corporate Affairs, Passport office in India, and hopes to make government services accessible to the common man in his locality. In a tête-à-tête with India Geospatial Digest, Sanjiv Mital, CEO, National Institute for Smart Government (NISG), tells us more…

Sanjiv Mital
Sanjiv Mital

It works with governments to shape their e-governance vision, is responsible for the e-transformation of Ministry of Corporate Affairs, Passport office in India, and hopes to make government services accessible to the common man in his locality. In a tête-à-tête with India Geospatial Digest, Sanjiv Mital, CEO, National Institute for Smart Government (NISG), tells us more…

Can you tell us about the activities of National Institute for Smart Government (NISG)?
NISG has been set up by the Government of India and NASSCOM to provide e-governance services to various ministries and government departments. Our job is to guide, advise and hand-roll e-government solutions to various ministries. We do primarily four things – we provide strategic consulting. It involves understanding a problem or situation in a particular ministry, figuring out how IT can make a difference, doing business process re-engineering, that is, how the processes can be modified so that IT can make a big difference in improving services to citizens.

Second, we do IT procurement whenever there is a need for a vendor to implement an IT project. We help them write RFP, understand the scope of the work, figure out who will do the work and make sure that they select the right vendor through bid process management. We also help them in ensuring that they comply with the regulations – legal or otherwise – while signing the contract so that the new vendor can start the work. We also set up a programme management unit for various ministries. And we do capacity building, that is, we provide services like training, change management, manpower augmentation, etc., to various ministries.

Among government bodies, there’s more focus now to move from department-centric way of working to citizen-centric. Your take.
Most of the government departments do want to help their citizens. They want to make sure that they look at a situation from a citizen’s perspective. What does citizen-centric project mean? Typically, all government work has so far been department centric, that is, the attitude has always been that the citizen should adapt to the government’s requirements. But when you start seeing from a citizen’s viewpoint, that is, start thinking how can you make life easier for citizens, how can you make sure that they don’t have to come and sit in government departments for hours to get some papers or file processed, that’s when it becomes citizen-centric. We have seen it happen in IT department. People can now file their income tax online. I think transformation is happening, it’s a mindset change and it’s happening quite a bit.

It has been more than a decade since NISG came into existence. How has the journey been so far? What are the key achievements?
It has been a very interesting journey. We have really been instrumental in starting a lot of projects. One of the most successful projects which NISG was involved in was Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA). MCA has to make sure that companies are following the Company’s Act properly – so this was a very large project which we conceptualised, and got rolled out. It’s one of the few projects where the department has stopped accepting returns manually – company’s now have to submit their returns electronically. The transformation has not only improved efficiency but also led to transparency and has enhanced ability to track information. There’s a wealth of information that you can get by having all data in electronic form. Earlier it was all done on paper, and doing analysis of all that data was just not possible. But with everything in electronic format, the possibility of knowing what’s happening in a company is more and can prevent scams like Satyam etc., before they occur. That’s one of the objectives because ultimately the MCA’s objective is to ensure that corporates are doing what they are supposed to do and no frauds take place. I am not saying that all frauds can be avoided, frauds will still take place, but it can provide early warnings. You can keep on improving those processes. So that was a very successful project which was rolled out by NISG.

NISG was also involved in the Passport Seva Kendra project. Earlier, applying for a passport was a cumbersome process – you had to stand in a queue, wait for hours, fill up the form and then you didn’t know when will you get the passport. We thought why should you stand in a queue for filling the form when you can fill it online. Now all you need to do is download the form from the website and submit it online. You still have to go to the passport office to give your photograph, fingerprints or show your original certificate, and so on, but rather than waiting in a queue, if you have already filled the form, you can take an appointment. This way, we tried to make it a citizen friendly service. Even going to a place where you have to go to give your passport details should be user-friendly, the feel of the place should be inviting rather than what we see in typical government departments. So we say private party, in this case, it happens to be TCS, should set up the Passport Seva Kendra. I am sure when a private sector is involved, they will do a good job – the look and feel of the place will also be nice and people responsible for interaction with citizens will be more gracious. These are some of the things which we have done. And of course, there are lots of other projects with which we have been involved with.

You are working with a number of states like Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Delhi, Chhattisgarh, etc. What kind of services/ projects are you involved with in these states?
We are working with states but I would say that 85 per cent of our work is with Central government. As far as states are concerned, it has been limited for various reasons. We have been involved with a number of mission mode projects of Government of India. For various reasons, our engagement has been much more with the Central government than with the states.

How are you incorporating geotech in your projects?
A lot of projects do need information about what’s happening at a ground level. It’s not just taking data, but also involves doing something with that data. Let’s take the example of Ministry of Water Resources. They want to know how the minor irrigation projects in the country are progressing, be it information related to tube wells, check dams, etc., or they need information about how much land is being irrigated, what are the schemes that have been funded, and so on. If you want to do a census of all that, you need to capture data. And if you plot this data on a GIS map, that is, use geospatial technologies, the data captured becomes much more meaningful. That’s where we use geospatial technologies in some of our projects. The needs, the usage can be very high, and depends on the requirements of the project.

Talking about capacity building, you are conducting regular programmes to empower government employees with additional skills. Can you tell us about it?
The need for training is very high. We do training even at a political level – we have a sensitisation programme for various state governments where ministers, MLAs etc., participate. It’s to ensure that the political class also has an understanding of how e-governance can make a difference. We do a lot of programmes for bureaucrats and at secretary level in states and at Centre and also at an operational level, that is, directors or people who are actually responsible for the project. So we have specialised programmes for them. We also conduct programmes like Chief Information Officers (CIO) training programme for some key people who are involved in IT projects to help them understand all the aspects of IT in government sector.

Our programmes involve basic awareness as well as specialised training. It’s not technical training. They obviously don’t need to know about bits, bytes, how to do programming, that’s not what we teach. Our training programmes are meant to tell them about the things that they need to take care of as the process of computerisation takes place, for example, how should business processes be looked at, how to make sure that the project you are taking up becomes a success, etc. It’s not easy to computerise a government department because there are various people involved at Centre, State, village and the district level. We try to make sure that everybody involved in the project is committed and that the project becomes successful. These are the kind of things that we do.

Your vision involves leveraging private sector resources through a Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) model. How are you fulfilling this vision?
The government does realise that for e-governance, it cannot depend all the time only on government employees, it cannot do all its work in-house, that is, everything cannot be done only by government employees. There’s a skill issue involved. A large number of IT people are available in market today and rather than taking all of them on government rolls, it’s better to give them the projects. So, one of our roles is to see how we can leverage the resources available and deploy them for government projects. There are three ways of doing it. One, a large number of people in our own organisation are taken from the market, they are taken as private people or consultants who work with us. This, as it is, becomes PPP. In fact, NISG itself is a PPP – it has been set up by the Government of India, NASSCOM and IL&FS.

Second, in a large number of projects which we do, we need more private resources, so we work with a lot of consulting organisations like KPMG, PWC, etc. We work with them and with government so that we are able to put together the right kind of team.

Third, whenever you are working on an IT project, some system integration work is required to be done by the private sector. And when the need arises, we aid the private sector. So in all these things, we use PPP model.

What kind of challenges do you face in carrying out your work?
The biggest challenge that we face is that a lot of these projects take a long time. I think e-governance as a sector has made a lot of progress. It should have progressed a lot more than what we have been able to achieve over the years. We have been talking about e-governance from a long time and yet, I think, there’s much more which can be done. And if things are done faster, I think, it will be good for the country.

The other major challenge which we face is the federal nature of the country. If the Centre decides that something needs to be done, it cannot just order all the states to do it because they are all independent and a lot of projects are state subjects. Moreover, if states decide to carry out the projects independently, and everybody decides to do it in its own manner, it will be a wastage of resources because then you are reinventing the wheel. These are some of the challenges which we face. Then there are challenges like the timelines, going to the village level, collecting data at grass root level, etc. These are some challenges which we face. But then, I would say, some states have picked up far better while others are taking their time.

What projects do we expect in future?
At present, we are working on a large number of projects like the computerisation of the Directorate General Civil Aviation (DGCA). Two other mission mode projects, which we have started, are education and health. We are trying to see how we can incorporate technology in these sectors to improve the state of education and health in the country. Then there is police modernisation project, CCTNS. Other project is of Ministry of Overseas Affairs. There is a need to look after all the Indians who are going abroad and working abroad. We are also working for the Petroleum and Explosive Safety Organisation. There are a lot of explosives which are transported across the country for legal purposes – you need explosives for mining and other things – this is all a very controlled activity. So we are seeing how we can track the places where explosives are manufactured, how they are being transported and used. This is being done to avoid explosives getting into wrong hands or being used for wrong purposes.