“No project is a failure”

Interview with Sanjiv Mital, head, NISG

samirsachdeva

Samir Sachdeva | October 31, 2012




The National Institute for Smart Government (NISG) completed a decade of services to the nation this year. Established in May 2002 as a not-for-profit company, NISG has its origin in the recommendations of the national task-force on IT and software development. The organisation is currently headed by Sanjiv Mital who has three decades of experience in the technology and telecom sector. In conversation with Samir Sachdeva, Mital speaks about NISG’s role as a key stakeholder in e-governance implementation in the country. Edited excerpts:  

NISG completed a decade in services. How was the journey so far?
As an organisation, it has been a good experience so far. Over the years, it has proved to government departments that it can really help in their e-governance initiatives.

What are the key projects NISG is working on currently?
There are five or six flagship projects of NISG. One of the most successful projects is MCA21 (for the ministry of corporate affairs). After the project received the prime minister’s award for excellence in public administration, we set up a programme management unit (PMU), where we have a team of people monitoring day-to-day activities. It is becoming the technology arm of the ministries and advises them whenever issues come up.

What is the current stage of MCA21 project?
MCA21 is in its second phase. The project was given to an implementing agency for five years after completion of which NISG got involved to facilitate re-bidding for another implementation agency. We are undergoing a transition wherein the project done by one organisation is being handed over to another organisation.

MCA21 focuses on companies and their working. Is there any project which has direct impact on the common man?
The passport seva project (PSP) impacts the common man directly. The project has been rolled out across the country and it is fairly successful. We are setting up new PMUs. Many members of parliament are coming forward with the demand of setting up a passport seva kendra (PSK) in their respective constituencies.

Two projects under the health and education ministries have become mission mode projects (MMPs) under the national e-governance plan (NeGP). We are trying to understand how IT can make a big difference in the state of education and improve healthcare delivery  in small towns and villages – whether it is about creating electronic medical records, timely availability of information or managing the information related to health. These projects will create significant impact in the years to come.

Which initiative, apart from MCA21 and PSP, can be seen as a key achievement of NISG?
One major project which we are doing in terms of transformation potential is with the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India. It’s a new organisation whose mandate is to ensure that the packaged or stored food is fit for consumption and follows certain guidelines. In this initiative we are involved in setting up new processes.

We also play a major role in capacity building by focusing on four major activities. One is training because a lot of people need to get trained in area of e-governance and we conduct a lot of training programmes ranging from the political leadership to the operational-level people at the project level. Then we also do a lot of change management. Whenever there is a project getting rolled out, there are people who are resistant to change. We address those issues of change management. We do a lot of manpower augmentation services by deploying a large number of people in departments and ministries. We also conduct a one-year full time MBA programme on e-governance in partnership with IIM Indore and TA Pai Management Institute, Manipal.

Can you classify e-governance projects as success and failure?
It is very difficult for me to say which project is a failure. Some projects, due to various reasons, don’t see the light of day. Do we classify these projects as failures or is it that some decision has been taken to defer these projects? All projects follow a particular path and sometimes there are obstacles in their path. There may be a budgetary obstacle which may delay the project. I would say very few projects get derailed completely, where people say we are dropping the whole initiative. Some setbacks may come in but I would not call a project a failure.

How do you see the common service centre (CSC) scheme of the government – a success, a failure or somewhere in-between?
I find it difficult to comment because NISG has not been involved in the infrastructure projects like state data centre, state wide area network and CSC, which are being implemented directly by the department of electronics and information technology (DeitY). NISG had a very limited role in those projects. I would not claim to have any first hand information on the CSC initiative.

Government projects are individual driven. So how do you address that challenge with your clients?
Not only in the government but everywhere someone has to take an initiative. When such a person comes he should be there till the time the project gains momentum. People may go on changing after that. But the project will have a serious setback if there is a change of guard before it acquires a critical mass.

What efforts are on in the area of capturing knowledge around various e-governance projects?
As far as knowledge management is concerned, we are ensuring that we capture the learning of a project and make it available to the other teams. Not much work has been done on the same. We have attempted a few things but there have been many challenges. We are trying to revisit the same. It is a critical aspect because in each project there is a lot of learning. One thing which we are trying to do is to capture the institutional learning. But a lot of learning gets lost as people move on. It is one of the weak areas and we need to focus on the same. We had made some attempts but so far it has not got the right ingredients.

While many government organisations are taking the social media route, NISG is not active on social media. Why?
I think that is a good point. I had not thought of it. For various reasons, a lot of our activities have been satisfying the needs of various ministries and our clients. A lot of our focus is on needs of the ministries and how we can fulfil them but many of the aspects, like knowledge management and effective use of social media, we have been lacking in that. That’s an area which we should give more attention to.  

There are many stakeholders like National Informatics Centre (NIC), Media Lab Asia (MLA), NICSI, National e-Governance Division (NeGD), working in the domain of e-governance. What differentiates NISG from these stakeholders?
All these organisations have their own roles and their own areas of expertise. There are some overlaps but no organisation is competing with another. We are primarily working in the area of consultation. Our role is to guide, advise and hand-hold various government departments in their e-governance initiatives. We do not have any role in implementation or software development. This is something which NIC does in a better way. It sets up infrastructure and implements a project. Our domain comes before that – looking at what needs to be done, how it is to be done, what business processes needs to be re-engineered, what are the best practices that need to be adopted.

There are private sector consulting organisations like Accenture, Ernst & Young, PWC and Wipro. How do you differ from them?
These organisations are in the same space as NISG but what differentiates us from them is that we are virtually an in-house organisation and secondly we are a not-for-profit organisation. Our goals are 100 percent aligned to the goals of the ministries we work with. We don’t have any other agenda or objective of achieving any other target than making the project a success.

What is the role of NISG in the unique identification (UID) project?
We have been key part of the thought process and had been writing various requests for proposal (RFPs) for UID. We are doing a lot of capacity building there. We have set up entire PMU in UIDAI. We are working on the processes needed to make various other projects UID enabled. In a way we are evangelising and promoting UID induction in various other projects.

NISG was planned as a lean organisation. But now it has taken a mammoth size just with the number of employees. Is this transformation a deviation from the original agenda?
We keep debating whether we should make NISG a very large organisation. We want to remain focused on what we do rather than stretching ourselves or getting into a number of things and not being able to deliver the quality that we are known for. In the area of core consulting that we do we are still thin. From 30-40 people we have stretched to 70-80 in our core consulting domain. So, that has not changed very much. But some of the new things that have come up, like setting up a PMU for a number of ministries, state e-governance mission teams (SeMTs), etc; we are doing a lot of recruitment for the same.

What is the road ahead for NISG?
One for sure is that we will continue helping, advising and guiding more and more ministries. We would like to become a centre of excellence – a centre which will have experience and expertise in select domains. So whether these are new trends like mobile computing, cloud computing or anything else, we are looking at becoming a centre of excellence. The whole country can look up to us as the right people for advice in the area.

Do you see NISG giving consultation to governments of other countries?
There are so many things happening in India and our hands are already full managing the issues in our country itself. We are keeping NISG as a reasonably lean organisation. We do not have spare capacity to start addressing the needs of other countries. At this point of time if some country comes to us for some help, we may give our advice but we will not proactively go and market ourselves.

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