Samir Sachdeva | December 11, 2010
Prakash Kumar, director, Internet Business Solutions Group at Cisco, served as joint secretary with the ministry of earth sciences before taking up this position. An officer of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), Kumar had earlier worked as secretary (IT) of Delhi, chairman of Andaman and Nicobar Islands Integrated Development Corporation and additional commissioner (systems), Sales Tax Department of Delhi government. Edited experts from an exclusive interview with Samir Sachdeva:
How do you view the implementation of e-governance in India?
Technology, when applied appropriately, not only improves performance and lowers the cost of government operations but also brings about a paradigm shift in the relationship between the government and the
people. Government agencies have been experimenting with the use of ICT, first to improve their internal work and later to improve the delivery of services but with varying degrees of success. The National e-Governance Plan (NeGP) gave it a much-needed direction and focus. There have been failures and successes, time overruns, cost overruns but that is only to be expected in a plan of such magnitude. While infrastructure for e-governance is largely in place, the application needs to be accelerated.
How does Cisco plan to utilise the opportunity that the partnership with the Indian government presents?
Cisco is working with partners such as IBM, HCL, Wipro and Infosys to draw synergies in their applications being developed for the government. Some of the large projects that the company is involved in are the implementation of State Wide Area Network (SWAN) and the creation of State Data Centres. The company is also working with the Indian Railways for their unreserved ticketing solution (UTS) and with Wipro for the Rs 1,200 crore IT outsourcing contract for Employee State Insurance Corporation (ESIC). In addition to the ongoing engagements with state and central government organisations in ICT infrastructure creation, Cisco is also working closely through its strategic consulting arm Internet Business Solutions Group (IBSG) with the Department of Information Technology (DIT), National Institute of Urban Affairs, National Institute for Smart Government (NISG), Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) and a few state governments. In India, a large part of the consulting undertaken by the Cisco IBSG is for government projects. We also have a government affairs wing which contributes extensively to policy formation by bringing in global experience and expertise.
How has Cisco contributed to the growth of e-governance?
The transformation that Cisco has brought about is the transition from product-based to solution-based and now to architecture-based approach. Architecture is the sum of all the parts – a truly integrated portfolio of products, services technology and business solutions. The next innovation from Cisco, called Smart & Connected Communities (S+CC), focuses on bringing all services delivered to people across the city using the network as the platform. Bringing together a broad portfolio of products, services, partners and solutions, the initiative creates sustainable solutions for public safety and security, transportation, buildings, utilities, healthcare and education.
What about Cisco’s role in e-health, e-education and e-content?
Cisco has successfully demonstrated use of ICT in delivering education and health services from a remote location to rural areas. Cisco’s Remote Education Centre brings teachers virtually to classrooms located in rural areas and this was first piloted in Chhindwara district of Madhya Pradesh. Partnering with Apollo group, Cisco is going to bring quality healthcare to remote villages using similar technology developed by our Bangalore unit. Cisco also runs a network academy at 163 institutions across 24 states in India where students are trained on networking technology. More than 45,000 students have been trained under Cisco’s network academy program so far. Another very successful project has been the Lifelines project. Cisco, along with British Telecom, has joined hands with OneWorld International Foundation to launch the Lifelines Service. This service provides rural farming communities with vital e-content on various agriculture and agro-business related issues. Additionally, farmers also get weather guidance, updates about the market (prices, quality etc) and relevant government schemes. The application helps the farmers sell their produce directly to the distributors and get a better realisation for it.
Please elaborate on Cisco’s role in SWAN, SDC and other mission mode projects.
Cisco has partnered with various organisations for the SWAN projects, including HCL Comnet, Wipro, TCS and UTL. Cisco is working closely with its partners in setting up of SDCs which are at different stages of the bidding process. As per DIT estimates, 12 of them are expected to be functional by the end of this year and the remaining by the end of next year. With ICT infrastructure nearing completion and application software being developed, delivery of services to people will soon be a reality across India.
Cisco is also involved in some other major government projects namely Tax Net of Ministry of Finance, modernisation of police departments, e-municipality etc.
What are the key challenges in implementing such projects?
The biggest challenge facing the government agencies is the lack of trained manpower to handle such projects. The other challenge is the long procurement process. Procurement of service and designing of service level agreements is rather new to government employees who have been procuring goods traditionally. Lack of standardisation is another challenge as that leads to problems in interoperability. DIT and line ministries are working to overcome these by training staff to create capacity and by opting for innovative processes.
Do you have or are seeking some sort of collaboration with the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI)?
Cisco IBSG worked closely with the UIDAI on its working paper titled “Creating a unique identity number for every resident of India” detailing the proposed approach, processes and architecture for implementing this program. The focus of the IBSG team was to identify gaps and to make suggestions to make UID’s implementation smooth. A large number of recommendations and suggestions were made regarding policy, strategy, architecture and implementation of the UID initiative based on the experience of other jurisdictions, attempts made by different authorities in India on the issuance of a card, and the experience of Cisco public sector, architectural design and technology experts. The Cisco team had earlier provided information on national identity cards of various countries to the UIDAI team.
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