The government must develop policies and programs to enhance investment in ICT to materialize e-governance vision
The future of good governance in the twenty first century lies in citizen-centered and transparent Information and Communication Technology (ICT) approach. But the government of Nepal has not been able to make a noticeable progress in transforming G2C (Government to Citizens), G2B (Government to Business) and G2G (Government to Government) services into digital form while private sector has made a significant stride in Information Technology (IT).
IT has emerged as one of the prominent sectors and as such demands equal priority as agriculture, tourism, hydropower and infrastructure. The government must develop its policies and programs to enhance investment in ICT to transform current government services and functions into e-governance.
It is said that bureaucracy in Nepal is still reluctant to go digital, as it brings transparency in governance and unethical activities will be exposed. That may be true, but the major problem lies in organizational structure and policy level.
Look at the current organizational structure of Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MoCIT) and other line ministries. We don’t have a national level IT leadership team that can effectively incubate e-governance projects and deliver them. Thus if we are serious about going digital, we must remodel our organization in line with models followed in IT industry.
We need both centralized team for shared solutions and distributed team for line ministry services and functions at the federal level and similar organization structure should be created at the province level and local level depending on their financial strengths. This is necessary in federal system.
Way to do it
We need to bring IT related teams under Department of Information and Technology (DoIT) and National Information Technology Centre (NITC) and create a secretary level Chief Information Officer (CIO) position under the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MoCIT). The Office of CIO should form a team of joint-secretary level Chief Technology Officers (CTOs) for developing e-governance software solutions, infrastructure/datacenter operations, information security, desktop operations, project management and vendor management.
The office of CIO will be responsible in developing government’s technology and product roadmap for national level large scale projects, define a vision of repeatable IT processes and clear the lines of project accountability. The office of CIO will also be responsible to work with legal entities within the government to nullify and amend existing policy regimes that may impose barriers in this transformation.
The office of CIO should immediately prepare the inventory of the e-governance applications currently in operation under all line ministries, enforce IT audit on all such systems and make sure that government’s and citizens data is protected and handled securely. Currently, there have been several reports that citizens and government data is not well protected and is under technical control of international vendors. The office of CIO should evaluate this issue and start transitioning the support of all live systems to local vendors or even to internal government employees for mission-critical systems.
The office of CIO and CTOs in MoCIT should take the technical ownership of and be responsible for delivery of shared services and large-scale e-governance software solutions for implementation of digital license, digital national identification card, national payment gateway system and online procurement system to name a few, in collaboration with private sector.
We need to create IT Division (not just IT section) at all major line ministries to be headed by Joint-Secretary level CTO. The office of CTO at line ministry will have the primary responsibility of understanding ministry’s services and functions and drive the end-to-end delivery of projects. Depending on the size and nature of project, CTO teams should form a core IT team with the specializations on application development, quality assurance, project management and work with local vendors to deliver such projects. Large projects requiring cross-ministry collaboration can go through approval from office of CIO.
We need to adopt agile or scaled agile methodology to deliver projects. This is modern methodology, it focuses on iterative delivery. Product development or large-scale infrastructure related initiatives timeline is broken down into 2 to 4 weeks of cycles and features/work items are delivered in those 2 to 4 weeks of cycles. This approach minimizes the risk of timely and quality delivery of projects compared to traditional approaches.
Digitizing provinces, local levels
We will need province level data centers as our digitization grows. Shared IT services and infrastructure and data-center operations at province level should be owned by the CIOs in MoCIT. We also need to create the post of CTO to report to the Chief Minister of the province. CTO at province government will form a small technology team to understand the technology needs for the government functions under the jurisdiction of provincial government as per the needs.
We need to create similar mechanisms at the local levels too. But while metropolitan cities may be able to afford to build and sustain their own technology teams, sub-metropolitan cities, municipalities and rural municipalities may not be able to do so and support e-governance applications. To support them, provincial government’s CTO organization should form core IT support teams dedicated to their service at the local levels.
Yes, it could be challenging to develop technology leadership and specialists in government organizations, but if we formulate more competitive compensation package and benefits and trainings for them, these challenges can be overcome. We need to create a consistent pool of resources and develop their skills and motivate them on government IT roles. We need to enforce and implement paid internship programs to deploy them in government IT projects. For better results, those internships should be targeted for programming, database modeling and development and administration, testing, product, UI design, network administration and security, project management roles among others. If we implement e-governance model in all three levels of government, service delivery will be efficient and it will gradually help the digitalization and automation of government services. This also provides opportunity to re-engineer and simplify existing administrative processes and significantly reduce national expense on administrative staffing.
Besides, it will be instrumental in improving communication and decision making process, ensure transparency and accountability of projects, stop the duplication of projects, haphazard spending in IT initiatives and will ultimately contribute to building IT human capital in government organizations which is sorely lacking at the moment.
The author is a technology manager with 15 years of experience in ICT sector