Getting ready for infrastructure on demand

e-Kranti will integrate national cloud and other networks to make delivery of public services over the internet easier

pratap

Pratap Vikram Singh | April 4, 2014




People’s experience related to online public services is not always merrier due to the lack of technical expertise in the government and limited infrastructure. The rollout of public services on the internet is not easy. A department needs to procure hardware, software, create a network and do the system integration: this usually takes a lot of time.

For departments, often understaffed, the task of overseeing the implementation and maintenance of IT infrastructure becomes a challenge. But this might soon change, as the department of electronics and information technology (DeitY) plans to offer infrastructure on demand in its next phase of e-governance rollout.

After the limited success of the Rs 46,000 crore national e-governance plan (NeGP), aimed at delivering public services via the internet, DeitY is making way for the second avatar of the plan: e-Kranti.

According to DeitY officials, the implementation of NeGP, approved in 2006, didn’t achieve the desired impact. Several mission mode projects witnessed significant time overruns.

The progress of state MMPs (there are three types of MMPs; other two includes central and integrated) is especially disappointing. The department couldn’t resolve challenges related to standards, inter-operability and process-reengineering. The NeGP also had a weak monitoring and evaluation system. Out of the 252 planned services, the department claims to deliver 217 services ‘online’.

The new plan will use cloud computing, social media, mobile phones and data analytics to reach out to citizens effectively. The most essential part of the new NeGP, say department officials, is the proposed national information infrastructure authority of India (NIIAI): an entity that will offer infrastructure on demand to government agencies.

The proposed authority is part of the national information infrastructure (NII2.0) project of DeitY, which will eliminate the hassles of procurement and expedite the rollout of e-governance applications. As of now there are different networks providing connectivity at different levels.

Under NII2.0, DeitY will set up a unified network which will integrate the existing networks, including national optical fibre network (which is providing connectivity till panchayat level), national knowledge network (providing connectivity at the state level and now moving to the district level), state wide area network (offering connectivity till block level) and NICNET (district level).

The coherent network of government agencies will be integrated with the national cloud initiative, Meghraj, to provide a whole gamut of e-infrastructure components. This includes servers, storage, network, internet and an application environment to government agencies at the central and state level on demand.

“The new entity will deliver through cloud. It will be a wholesale service provider of IT infrastructure to the government,” said professor S Sadagopan, director, IIIT-Bangalore, and head of the government’s committee on NII2.0 that submitted its report to the government last year. The line ministries and departments will be a major beneficiary of NII2.0, as the infrastructure procurement via authority will save a lot of time.

If a department wants to roll out a service to the panchayats, it doesn’t have to go to a third party for integration of the back offices. “The departments will just have to focus on applications, as cloud and network services will be available on demand,” says a senior official with DeitY. “For that to happen they (departments) should be able to approach just one entity (the authority),” said Rajiv Gauba, additional secretary, DeitY, while emphasising the need for a central entity.

According to Prof Sadagopan, the ‘provisioning’ of infrastructure may take only couple of hours. “The idea is to ask departments to fill a form online. While departments fill the form we would know what is feasible and what will be the cost. Subsequently we will be able to provide the required infrastructure.”

The new infrastructure regime
The national information infrastructure will initially cater to the requirements of government institutions. It may also be extended to privately owned educational institutes, Sadagopan said.

“Suppose there is an educational institute which is privately owned. They would want the infrastructure. Instead of giving Rs 10 lakh for setting up infrastructure, the government will give a grant of the same amount to buy the same infrastructure from NII2.0. And it is not just about bandwidth. It is about computers, servers and application environment,” he said. The unified government network will be a world class, future-proof network to cater to requirements of up to 20 years, he added.

The authority will do the estimation of the existing physical infrastructure, incremental infrastructure that needs to be created and disaggregation. There will be an institutional arrangement so that any ministry or department wanting to procure e-infrastructure will have to approach a single entity.

The authority will also hire professionals from the private sector, viewing the crunch of IT expertise within the government. “To communicate with and educate the users, we will require a large team of professionals. In some sense we have to recreate a new National Informatics Centre,” said Sadagopan. The NIIAI will charge the users for extending the services. Going by the existing norms, the line departments don’t pay for network usage and hosting of apps.

“This norm will undergo a change. The departments will be required to pay for the NII2.0 services,” said the senior DeitY official. Elaborating on the need for second phase of the e-governance plan, Gauba said, “It is essentially an attempt to take e-governance to the next level in the country.”

“While NeGP is under implementation and some MMPs have started delivering services (not the complete gamut of services as envisaged earlier), we can’t wait for these projects to be completed and then take up the newer departments and services. So the NeGP 2.0 will subsume all projects which are under implementation and at the same time expand the portfolio of services.”

The second objective is to use the new technology platform for reaching out to people. The third is business process reengineering. “This must get much greater emphasis. So that e-governance doesn’t remain skin-deep. The real objective of e-governance is simplifying the processes and not just automation, eliminating unnecessary steps and documentation.”

The concept paper on NeGP 2.0 has been shared by the apex committee. “The apex committee has endorsed this idea. So we will now engage with the ministries for their feedback,” Gauba said. A detailed project report has to be prepared so that the exact services and departments can be identified. A cabinet note has to be prepared for final approval. “We wish to get this done by the end of this year.”

The NeGP at present has 31 mission mode projects. In its next phase, said Rajendra Kumar, joint secretary, e-governance. DeitY, a comprehensive analysis of the portfolio of projects under the NeGP would be undertaken and new projects will be added after consultations with the relevant government departments and ministries. It would include the approved recommendations of the expert committee on human resources headed by Nandan Nilekani and the expert group on NeGP headed by Sam Pitroda, said Kumar. The department, according to Gauba, will get the final approval from the new cabinet before the end of 2014.

At present, DeitY is preparing the detailed report of NII2.0. The details of the project and the cost will be clear once the DPR is finalised. The electronic transactions—the delivery of services over the Internet—has been consistently increasing. This is a good sign as more and more services are being delivered over the Internet. Since 1st January 2013, there have been more than 305 crore transactions. In the month of January alone the figure was close to 10 crore. The number rose to 15 crore between 1st and 24th March. As NeGP 2.0 is rolled out, the numbers might grow exponentially.

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