Smart Governance

While India's top officials and key thought leaders are thinking big time about the e-governance to transform core areas of government functions particularly service delivery and to bring governance to the doorsteps of common citizens, much of the developed world is moving closer to smart governance

Many of the OECD countries and even the governments across Central America are increasingly making smart governance a national priority. Called Governance 3.0, smart governance is about the creative use of new information systems such as cloud, big data, intelligent analytics, mobile devices (smart phones, tablets and similar post-PC era devices) and a long list of other strategic technologies to transform the ways services are delivered. 

Smart governance can dramatically alter the productivity of people; help governments and companies to save huge amount of resources by cutting costs on operations, coordination and on several numerous fronts. For instance, the recent advances in computing and data analysis is enabling companies like IBM and Cisco to use computer algorithms to identify patterns and trends in cities. These tools can enable cities and governments to deliver real-time services. With much of the world economy becoming knowledge driven where costs, efficiency, speed and accountability becoming the new buzzwords as an aware citizen demands better standard of service delivery, governments, private agencies and parastatal organisations are increasingly eyeing to leverage the new age technologies to live up to the rising expectations.

 

“Technology, sustainability, innovative ideas, affordability and accessibility are the important elements of smart governance. The challenge for India is two-fold: first, it must overcome own set of governance problems; and second, it has to reach the level achieved by advanced countries already.”
— Vikas Aggarwal, National Technology Officer, Microsoft Corporation (India)
“Let us decode SMART this way: sustainability, mobility, administration, return and trust. Sustainability of systems that are set in place, mobilisation of technology of different devices, administration of services, socio-political and economic return on investment and the trust among institutions are crucial.”
— Mathew Thomas, Vice President-Strategic Industries, SAP Indian Subcontinent

How does smart governance operate and to what end? Will it replace the old structure of governance, the rules governing different institutions and the established ecosystem of service delivery? While smart governance may look disruptive in nature, it does not mean a complete replacement of the existing governance framework (structure or hardware). It largely brings about a change in the governance “processes” or the “software”. By imaginative use of ICT and other strategic technologies, governments and firms can dramatically transform their business management processes, can bring astonishing degree of coordination and cooperation even among competing departments, agencies and service providers in a seamless manner to perform roles and functions to get government closer to the people. In short, the promise that the smart governance concept makes is truly transformative and phenomenal. 

Smart Governance: the Indian Scenario
India may be an IT-superpower and home to software giants, such as TCS, Wipro and Infosys, but when it comes to smart governance, it has a long way to go. According to a recent TRAI report, India has only about 14-million broadband connections! This is despite the fact that the country has added a massive 900 million mobile subscribers in the last one decade and has some 25 per cent of its population accessing social media for multiple use (including organising protests!). No wonder, The Economist recently dubbed India “a webless social network”. 

Stories of e-governance exemplars are aplenty especially at the state levels. The resounding success of Bhoomi, Mee Seva, and e-Gram in providing million of citizens access to basic services and getting them closer to the governments raises some positive hope. In fact, some of the states are walking an extra mile to create their data clouds, establish big data centres to harness the potentials of ICT. For instance, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra are actively experimenting with new age information and communication technologies to improve urban transport, waste disposal, cut down water and power wastage and so on. A few of them are eyeing to set up their smart cities. Maharashtra’s Lavasa and Gujarat’s Gujarat International Finance Tec-City (FIFT) are a few noteworthy examples. For instance, contrary to conventional design, the core infrastructure of GIFT will be information technology. Besides, there are six smart cities being rolled out under the ambitious Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC) project. Similarly, Maharashtra’s Sindhudurg district’s giant leap to make the entire district office paperless is a positive story and may tempt others to join the race for smart governance. At macro-national level, efforts on way to connect 250,000 villages with optic fibre cables to bridge the digital exclusion that exists today. If this happens soon, and if the mammoth exercise under UIDAI takes serious traction, India’s digital inclusion and smart governance ambition may get a much needed boost. Besides, India’s big hope on smart governance rests on its fast growing private sector especially those ICT behemoths and thousands of new start ups that harness potentials of new age technologies. Many of them are the leading service providers of cutting edge ICT tools and other wired technologies at a very low cost.

“We have to create an environment in which the system encourages to make things happen. Transforming things are not easy, because it is a governance issue. Execution is a huge problem because you implement a solution but state governments and central government have different ideas and ways of doing things. There are then bureaucratic and regulatory hurdles. The complexity of smart governance is different in India and therefore, we need a unique solution that suits us,” says D Krishnan, Commissioner (Systems), Central Board of Excise and Customs.

 

“We have to create an environment in which the system encourages to make things happen. Transforming things are not easy, because it is a governance issue. Execution is a huge problem because you implement a solution but state governments and central government have different ideas and ways of doing things.”
— D Krishnan, Commissioner (Systems), 
Central Board of Excise and Customs
“Karnataka has launched a new framework called Mobile Governance Applications to facilitate government-citizen interface through smartphones. All applications on Bangalore One (B1) and Karnataka One (K1) can now be accessed by using smart phones.” 
— M N Vidyashankar, Principal Secretary-Commerce & Industries, 
Government of Karnataka


E-governance is yet to take a serious traction among different tiers of government and key departments or agencies concerned with service delivery functions. Most of them prefer to work in their silos. “However, the concept goes beyond technology. Let us decode SMART this way: sustainability, mobility, administration, return and trust. Sustainability of systems that are set in place, mobilisation of technology of different devices, administration of services, socio-political and economic return on investment and the trust among institutions are crucial,” says Mathew Thomas, Vice President-Strategic Industries, SAP Indian Subcontinent.

“There must be judicial reforms. There must be administrative reforms from the grassroots. On the economic front, the most important task before us is to stop the government expenditure from bloating. Expenditure management and emphasis on quality expenditure should be the theme and for this we will have to work in a very determined way.” 
— Yashwant Sinha, Member, Lok Sabha and former Finance Minister

From Smart Governance to Smart City
While smart governance is just beginning to make a serious start and by and large remains a future concept, its micro version ‘smart city’ has already taken a giant leap in number of regions in the world. According to estimates, there are more than 125 smart-city projects being undertaken around the world and most of them being in US and Europe. India, too has joined the smart city race with the setting up of its most ambitious Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC). “Process engineering is very important to bring about smart governance. Viewing technology in isolation is wrong, because what matters is how it empowers the people, improves services delivery, makes open government possible and improves the human development indicators of a country,” says Shrikant Baldi, Principal Secretary-Finance & Planning, Government of Himachal Pradesh. Contrary to traditional ingredients of buildings, roads, bridges, water and power stations, smart city’s core foundation is built on the strengths of ICTs. In plain terms, a network of cameras, sensors, wireless instruments, big data centres enable urban authorities to deliver services far more efficiently and in real time with significant reduction in costs. According to Centre of Regional Science at the Vienna University of Technology, at least six ‘axes’ (dimensions) that go on to make a city smart. These axes are namely: a smart economy; smart mobility; a smart environment; smart people; smart living; and, smart governance. 

The Promise of a Smart City
The potential benefits accruing from a smart city seem quite huge. For example, wireless sensor networks technologies through a distributed network of intelligent sensor nodes can help measure various parameters for a more efficient management of the city. With ease, either logging into a PC or smart phone, a city dweller can monitor the pollution concentration in each street or can get automatic alarms when the pollution level goes up. Similarly, the censor technologies would help authorities to detect water leakages and collect rubbish efficiently. Again, smart transportation in which sensors in parking lots can alert drivers or parking meters can send SMS messages (using mobile phone apps) to those parked that their time is over. Similar thing can be said about energy (smart grid) and water system (smart meters). In fact, the experiment in some Japanese and Central American cities show that as much as 40 per cent of water can be saved through smart meters. The basic concept of governance has not changed over the years, but how the government interacts with its people and delivers services has. “Technology, sustainability, innovative ideas, affordability and accessibility are the important elements of smart governance. The challenge for India is two-fold: first, it must overcome own set of governance problems; and second, it has to reach the level achieved by advanced countries already,” says Vikas Aggarwal, National Technology Officer, Microsoft Corporation (India).

In other words, wired and networked infrastructure is core to the concept of smart city and the skills and ability to harness these tools to address various dimensions of a city ecosystem will determine how smart the city is.

 

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