Why India needs a CIO

A single-window authority will help in operational efficiency and optimisation of infrastructure in e-governance projects

| June 16, 2014



In today’s technology-enabled era every form of interaction, from personal to governmental, is being transformed. In the face of new and emerging technologies, it has become imperative to transform the face of government services to make them more effective and accessible. The main reason why India needs a chief information officer, or CIO, is to lend a hand to the government to deliver its plan of action for the change in public services. Today it has become crucial to create an information framework that provides sustainability and efficiency in governance by integrating it with an information technology ecosystem.

It is necessary for the appointed CIO to work either with the PMO or the cabinet secretariat to prioritise the implementation of different programmes and build a national information infrastructure. He can also specify standards that are to be adopted to take care of privacy and data security issues across the government. The nation’s CIO should also be reporting right at the top to give real importance to the role. Currently such issues are being handled by the national institute for smart government (NISG) and national informatics centre (NIC) of the department of electronics and information technology (DeitY).

A CIO is also crucial for proactively tackling cyber security threats and set up standard operating protocols. For example, there are officers in the government who do not use a secure email system and tend to use a mix of public email services. These may seem insignificant in the context of national security, but may prove to be a major security risk in matters dealing with government affairs.

Simultaneously, in order to empower the CIO a cadre of technology staff that stays in the job long enough to complete projects is required to be created within the governmental system. Of course, a CIO has to be given an assured stability of tenure. For the smooth centre-state coordination a common architecture for information and data exchange, storage and retrieval needs to be implemented.

Recently the Singapore government appointed a government chief information officer. The officer will drive the development and delivery of innovative public services for citizens and businesses in partnership with ministries and agencies and oversee the government’s central information technology systems. Similarly, in New Zealand, the role of the government chief information officer (GCIO) is to provide leadership in information and communications technology (ICT) to drive performance improvement across the system.

The responsibility spans across information, data and service delivery improvements. The GCIO is supported by a broader GCIO team for effective administration. Most of the pioneering countries involved in e-governance development have introduced the position of CIO to lead and coordinate their e-governance projects.

On the other hand, not so long ago, the UK government eliminated the role of CIO stating they wanted to instil independence in individual departments rather than impose a single executive policing all departments. However, it’s too early to say if this localised approach will work.  

Many years ago, I had the opportunity to meet the first CIO of the US government, Vivek Kundra. At that time he was in the process of developing cloud architecture for the government, besides being responsible for directing the policies and strategic planning of federal IT investments. He went on to introduce the groundbreaking Cloud-First policy, strengthening the cyber security position of the nation and launching an open-government movement. The cloud technology now serves as a model for government IT organisations around the world seeking to increase efficiencies with fewer resources.

According to a 2013 Gartner report, some of the key priorities of a government CIO include, improving IT applications and infrastructure, delivering operational results, reducing enterprise costs, improving business intelligence and analytics and implementing mobility solutions. Without the presence of a central leadership in the form of a CIO, it would be difficult to leverage the power of ICT given the complex nature of the Indian democratic system.
From the government’s perspective, the presence of a CIO will be highly beneficial not just for citizen empowerment but also in creating a central leadership role capable of holistic thinking. The government should also start looking out for a highly qualified expert who has the experience and leadership qualities and will be able to drive performance improvement across the system by ensuring cyber security, lowering infrastructure costs and operational resilience. Taking into consideration the number of e-governance projects being rolled out and in the pipeline by the central and state governments, a national-level CIO can prove to be a strategic advantage.

Chowdhry is founder of HCL.

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