In first phase, 16 of state secretariat’s 37 offices have already switched over completely to e-office
Geetanjali Minhas | May 13, 2013
The Maharashtra government is on its way to make its offices paperless, having already implemented a digital workplace system in head offices of 16 departments located in Mantralaya – the state secretariat. The project, which would eliminate manual file movement in the government by automating the process, is aimed at bringing in efficiency, transparency and accountability in the functioning of line departments.
In a fire that broke out in Mantralaya in June 2012, several departments had lost files – numbered at over 63,000. The departments did not have even backup of those documents. Following this incident, the government decided to go paperless, implementing e-office, a mission mode project under the national e-governance plan (NeGP).
A government resolution was issued on August 9, 2012 in this regard. Initially, the implementation and usage of e-office was made mandatory for all departments in Mantralaya from January 1, 2013. After missing the initial deadline, a group of 19 departments migrated to e-office on March 31. A couple of departments migrated to the new system on April 10.
In the first phase, 16 of the secretariat’s 37 offices switched over completely to e-office. Offices of the chief minister and chief secretary (CS), along with the directorate of information technology, departments of law and judiciary and planning and finance, were taken up initially and have moved completely to e-office now. Scanning old documents and moving them into e-office has been going on for some time.
Speaking about the successful implementation of e-office at the national rural health mission (NRHM), and later in the offices of the Sindhudurg collector and tehsildar, where more than 10,000 files have been made electronic in a span of three months, state IT secretary Rajesh Aggarwal says, “It is a gamechanger, as it fundamentally changes the way we work. In the government system, even after signatures are put on paper, 80-90 percent of time is spent on moving files from one table to another. With implementation of e-office, time taken for file movement is eliminated to zero. This is where you see the software’s real impact.
“Secondly, human touch points are reduced. While speeding up the process, e-office takes care of file confidentiality without leakage, as opposed to physical form where a file which is to be signed by four persons might actually be touched by 15-20 people.”
In due course, one will also be able to track files electronically, Aggarwal says.
“All new files and documents within and across departments are moving under e-office. The CS office and finance department have categorically instructed that paper files will not be accepted, no matter old or new,” says Ramanilatha M, senior consultant, state e-mission team.
“As e-office is being implemented to cover the entire administration, Maharashtra’s 35 collectors and deputy collectors, six divisional commissioners (and) deputy commissioners have been included in e-office and efforts to include other allied officers are on,” Ramani says.
Designed to provide rule-based file routing with quick search and retrieval of files, office orders, digital signatures for authentication, forms and reporting components, etc, in the electronic form; e-office takes care of letter/file processing needs and management of circulars/orders, leaves, tour and service book of its employees.
e-Office is designed to not just secure data with simultaneous backup at servers and disaster recovery systems but also bring in operational efficiency at the government level.
e-Office was given the green signal by chief secretary Jayant Kumar Banthia, who first saw its benefits at the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie.
The workflow-based system has multiple benefits. Unlike physical movement of files that was prone to delays and manipulations etc, the trail of papers/files, their movement up and down the hierarchy and across department/s is now transparent and goes straight into the inbox of the next person like an email. Integrated with email, e-office functions on a secure digital signature and a file may travel to any number of places. It reflects the number of files with each clerk, work done and their status to the officer.
This improves and reduces turnaround time to meet demands of citizens’ charter helping the state administration in resource management and improving the quality of administration. To the information seeker, it provides the correct status on his/her file without giving out confidential details. Moreover, due to its built-in monitoring and feedback mechanism, it will reduce RTIs and also bring in quicker response since it eliminates any question of files being misplaced, modified or lost, say officials.
Confidentiality and accountability of files in e-office is ensured through digital certificates (DC) which are to be mandatorily used by officers in Mantralaya. DCs are issued by NIC, for which it has set up a dedicated certifying agency. The NIC has so far issued 10,000 DCs to officers as per their mutual agreement with DIT, Maharashtra.
e-Office manuals have been circulated to all departments; several government resolutions, circulars and guidelines are being issued from time to time to all e-office users. Additionally, guidelines to set up a central registry unit and strengthen the registry are also being issued to all departments. Besides, a dedicated e-office training room is giving hands-on training to all employees of Mantralaya. Nearly 4,000 users, out of its approximately 6,000 employees, have so far been given hands-on training. The process for setting up a dedicated helpdesk to function as a support group for attending technological problems is going on.
With all departments in Mantralaya working on e-office now, the first phase is complete. In the second phase, all files currently in use are being scanned and provided to all departments by Datamatics and Sify.
“While the process of scanning was in practice for the last eight years through an amended order, we have now told them to insert all open files (ongoing /continuous) in e-office,” Ramani says.
The task of coordinating and monitoring e-office processes in each department is handled by a nodal officer of their respective department. Employee master data and organisation structures are mandatory for use of e-office. Only when the employee data has been fed into the e-office can they start using the process. If a file does not move, it will immediately come into notice. While the system has so far been operating from Delhi, it will now be shifted to SDC in Mumbai.
Available within the Mantralaya network, e-office is not available on open internet. A separate section of e-office is set up on Maharashtra intranet. Being a web-based application, it can be accessed from anywhere on virtual private network, the facility for which has been provided only to select people.
Developed by NIC-Delhi for DIT, it is a standard reusable product amenable to be replicated across government departments at the state and district levels.
Some teething challenges are slowing down the implementation process. To migrate to the e-office platform, the departments have to customise the e-office application according to their needs and requirements. They also have to come up with a transition plan and design their internal business processes, which is taking a lot of time. Besides, scanning thousands of open files in different departments has been another challenge, given the sheer amount of manual records lying with the departments. High-speed scanners have recently been put in use to address this issue.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, officials from the offices of the chief minister and the state chief secretary say that e-office is an idea still in very early stages, and requires much customisation as per requirements of departments. Besides, it will be a while before their departments switch over fully to e-office due to initial hiccups and technical glitches, such as lack of adequate scanners, trained staff and initiation of old hands into e-governance systems.
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