Get IT right
A bureaucracy is sure to think that its duty is to
augment official power, official business, or official members, rather than
to leave free the energies of mankind; it overdoes the quantity of government,
as well as impairs its quality. The truth is that a skilled bureaucracy ...
is, though it boasts of an appearance of science, quite inconsistent with the
true principles of the art of business.
Walter Bagehot (1826-1877), British economist and
hear a lot about how IT is making life easier for the common man. Quite often,
this statement is made in conjunction with governance. Well, its true,
a lot has been done to speed up and simplify government-consumer interaction,
and we have many, many instances of that in the stories that follow.
That said, theres a lot that remains to be done. For instance, take income
taxa topic close to the heart of chartered accountants, but one that gives
most others hypertension. Why cant we file returns online? The technology
exists. In fact, in the US of A, online returns are preferred. Why, anybody
logging on to the IRS (Internal Revenue aka US Tax Department) Web site can
file their taxes electronically for free!
Or take the case of the Passport office that has an additional form called the
Scanning form. Its another matter that the form you fill out in triplicate
is meant to be scanned anyway. Why do you have to fill out a form in triplicate
anyway? To kill a few more trees?
How often do government organisations update their Web sites? The answer, most
of the time, is hardly ever. Once the site goes up with the hastily made PDFs
of highfalutin announcements made by the panjandrums in the corridors of power,
nothings uploaded, nothings changed. Which is a crying shame.
IT can help. Provided that babudom gives it a chance. Which is not to say that
some excellent initiatives havent been spearheaded and executed, because
they have. The best known case is that of the Indian Railways, which has done
a magnificent job of using IT to improve service levels to the extent that it
has introduced ticket booking through mobile phones, and is now toying with
the idea of an open ticket that can be changed online as desired.
Its just that there are a million and one ways in which things can be
oh-so-much-better. If only the government would give IT a chance.
Unfortunately, far too many government-to-consumer IT initiatives fall into
the above trap. IT in governance is not a slogan, and it should not be an excuse
to wrap the public in even more layers of red tape. Lets get it right.
This is the 21st century and long queues belong to the textbooks; lets
send them there.
Prashant L Rao
Head of Editorial Operations