Thorny Issues for India's E-Governance Projects

Sudha Nagaraj Bharadwaj, Journalist | 12/14/2012 | 12 comments

Sudha Nagaraj Bharadwaj
E-governance in India is gaining speed. Every month, about 80 million transactions are taking place, and by 2013, it is estimated to go up to 150 million. CIOs of companies looking to get into this space have plenty of opportunity, but there are dangers here as well.

A $10 billion National e-Governance Plan was adopted in 2006 and aimed to government services accessible to everyone through common service delivery outlets. Through a mix of front-end delivery kiosks called common service centers, State Wide Area Networks, and State Data Centers, the project has delivered 27 projects, including pensions, income tax, passports, visas, e-courts, land records, and road transport.

Public-private partnerships are the preferred method for most projects, so one can imagine the enthusiasm from companies and CIOs to get involved. As domestic IT leaders like TCS, Infosys, Wipro, HCL Infosystems, and global IT giants vie with each other for a share of multi-billion dollar pie, every CIO is fast learning the pros and cons of e-governance projects. Studies have been conducted to identify the problems, including those by the National Institute for Smart Governance and the National Association of Software and Services Companies.

Here are some of the biggest problems CIOs and their enterprises are facing while managing their projects:

  • Government projects often lack a single "champion" as well as project management tools and framework. Transfers are frequent. A new official who takes over often insists on re-evaluation of project concept, scope, and even contract.

  • Decision making and funding is distributed across line ministries and departments. Political pressures are high and the original mandate for a project often changes. Some governments do not meet obligations in a timely manner, and delays in payments have hurt some projects.

  • With the e-governance drive taking off across all central and state government departments, lack of time to prepare detailed project reports means the scope of work in the initial documents requested of vendors is often wrong. Even the Request for Proposal from the government is often wrong in terms of specifying the service level agreements, choice of technology, and business model. This has lead to projects that have been grossly underbid or overbid.

  • The L-1 process of bidding often tempts vendors to under-price and under-staff.

  • Lack of cooperation, integration, and monitoring in multi-vendor projects has led to failing projects.

  • Successful implementation of a solution does not always lead to replication across departments where a similar solution is required. The government claims IPR and forbids the vendor from deploying it elsewhere.

  • Once a project goes live, monitoring is delegated to junior government officials who may not be equipped to help in the operations.

  • In transaction-fee based citizen services projects, when the vendor makes unexpected profits, contracts are renegotiated so companies running at successful profits are not rewarded. However, the contract neither provides transaction volume guarantees nor risk assurances, so companies aren't protected if the scope of the project changes and they have underbid.

The list seems endless. Yet the drawbacks might be overcome with time, particularly if the government can adopt best-practices for project management and monitoring and develope guidelines for dispute resolution and arbitration. Until then, the projects are too tempting to ignore. There is quite a lot of money being spent and everyone is competing for their share. But anyone doing so needs to be aware of the difficulties.

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Sudha N Bharadwaj   Thorny Issues for India's E-Governance Projects   12/18/2012 4:09:36 AM
Re: IT projects gone bad
@Pedro Gonzales, You are very right, the goings-on will make for a great book. Not many talk about the nitty gritty though. It is the usual press release on bagging a project that makes it to the headlines. As Sohaib has just confirmed, the problems are aplenty within the prevailing system.The good news is that sooner or later a set of standards, procedures, practices and guidelines will make way for better implementation.
sohaibmasood   Thorny Issues for India's E-Governance Projects   12/18/2012 12:35:39 AM
Re: Navigatng a Mess
Sudha, I think I have a decent idea about the jeopardizing attempts. I was on a project that dealt with a Government department. I am certain convincing them and making sure the project is delivered on time is more difficult than anticipated. 
Sudha N Bharadwaj   Thorny Issues for India's E-Governance Projects   12/17/2012 11:34:02 PM
Re: Navigatng a Mess
@sohaibmasood, my pleasure. You will be surprised to know that the attempts to jeopardize a project are much more within the government than outside of it. While what you are saying is also true that one regime overturns decisions taken by the previous one, the confusion stemming from bureaucratic red-tape and inter-departmental rivalry cost much more than what one would ever imagine.
Pedro Gonzales   Thorny Issues for India's E-Governance Projects   12/16/2012 3:25:45 PM
IT projects gone bad
I think the intentation are great, but going about with the project in such hostile environment, I can't imagine how e-governance can be successfull there.  At least this can be a learning opportunity, as you mentioned unless proper guidelines are placed before the planing can begin it seems there could be many examples for a book call IT projects gone bad.
stotheco   Thorny Issues for India's E-Governance Projects   12/16/2012 5:17:49 AM
Re: Navigatng a Mess
This sounds like a good idea to ensure continuity of a project. I think that there also has to be some sort of measure in the government system itself to ensure this. 
sohaibmasood   Thorny Issues for India's E-Governance Projects   12/16/2012 2:35:56 AM
Re: Navigatng a Mess
Salik, even the external will not be of much use. Since, it is the funding that goes away as soon as the political regimes switch hands. Unless, the funds are given to an escrow or allocated to the vendor through some external bank guarantee I believe the problem cannot be solved. 
sohaibmasood   Thorny Issues for India's E-Governance Projects   12/16/2012 2:33:34 AM
Re: Navigatng a Mess
Henrisha, exactly it is the general public that ends up losing for the political turmoil.  When working with Governmental projects I think the project charter should include clauses about adminstration even when the political situation changes. 
Salik   Thorny Issues for India's E-Governance Projects   12/15/2012 6:52:29 AM
Re: Navigatng a Mess
Well, one solution could be to incorporate external private vendors into the project. So if the government changes the project should remain in the same hands as before to ensure its continuity.
Henrisha   Thorny Issues for India's E-Governance Projects   12/15/2012 3:26:39 AM
Re: Navigatng a Mess
There truly are so much issues that are faced with projects where the government is concerned. It is just unfortunate that politics sometimes gets in the way of progress. Like you mentioned, when an administration ends and a new one gets elected, it's a huge hassle because some projects might get discontinued or paused, pending review.

It's especially unfortunate that the people and country, overall, end up suffering for such a system.
sohaibmasood   Thorny Issues for India's E-Governance Projects   12/15/2012 2:05:26 AM
Re: Navigatng a Mess
Sudha, thanks for sharing the insights on the issues faced in Governance Projects. 

I have seen that implementing new technologies is most difficult for Governmental projects because the management is not constant. As soon as the term ends for the one regime the next will automatically put the project into an inquiry and jeopardize the entire work. 
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