“Primarily, the focus of the IT department is to invest in physical infrastructure in terms of connectivity, IT support and services that are required. The second major focus is on skill upgradation of government employees, through two processes. Each department has nodal officers, both at secretariat level and at directorate level, who continually hosts and run training programs for government employees, aimed for their skilling and upgradation”, asserted an optimistic M Sivashankar, Secretary, Information Technology and Electronics, Government of Kerala during a tete-a-tete with Poulami Chakraborty of BW SmartCitiesWorld. Excerpts as below:
What are the key projects that the Department of Information Technology, Government of Kerala are focussing on at the present time?
Primarily, the Information Technology Department, Government of Kerala has taken the stand that the e-Governance part is best done by the respective departments, and we, in turn, will help them run the portals and sites rather than being directly involved in the procedure. Our focus is being to create the basic government infrastructure with datacentres, wide area networks, ‘Akshaya’ centers, and IT-enabled service delivery mechanisms. Another basic focus area is to create a single basic online transaction portal on both internet websites, as well as on the mobile platforms. We have taken a massive initiative in putting across the data fibre optic network, which is primarily a network that would connect all the government offices and establishments in the state in a fibre frame and through this we will be in a position to control the data transmission distribution in the state.
Thus, primarily, the focus of the IT department is to invest in physical infrastructure in terms of connectivity, IT support and services that are required. The second major focus is on skill upgradation of government employees, through two processes. Each department has nodal officers, both at secretariat level and at directorate level, who continually hosts and run training programs for government employees, aimed for their skilling and upgradation. The department of Information Technology also runs a program called Post Graduate Diploma in e-Governance, which is a prestigious program of one year period, run by the Government and managed by Indian Institute of Technology and Management, Kerala. This way we try to ensure the project management skills are available in departments, in taking up e-Governance projects. One these projects are taken up and delivered we aggregate the public interface part of it, to move it on our mobile platform.
In the infrastructure part, what major emphasis we have done is setting up thousands of public Wi-Fi hotspots across the state, so far and another 1000 are in pipeline. In the state we have thousands of local bodies in the state, as a result of which we have a public mandate of setting public Wi-Fi hotspots, primarily in park, bus-stands, malls and other public utility areas. This way citizens are empowered to access internet easily and access government services easily on mobile platform.
Thus, the emphasis is primarily in capacity building of IT infrastructure in the state.
One of the major IT projects that is happening in the state is ‘Digital Village’ construction, which a major IT giant is working on in the state. Would you share with us the concept behind this major project?
We are acquainted with the concept called Smart Cities, and smart cities planning is complex as it includes multi-departmental interventions, cutting across transport, mobility, environment, water supply , security and a host of varied parameters put together in one line. The ‘Digital Village’ otherwise termed as Smart Village is primarily focussed on using technology to enhance the investing powers of entrepreneurs for the rural population, by strengthening infrastructure capacity in the region- in terms of enhancing the productivity, enhancing the economic difference and likewise, as well as providing them the technical support. So we are doing this program on pilot basis in two constituencies in Kavanur village of Kunnoor district, and there we are setting up a village economic centre, which will act as a hub for aggregating these requirements at a local level, and ensure that the services required by rural population is easily been delivered. Products like vegetables, honey, mangoes, prawns, muscles and shrimp cultivation have better drop management and better connects in the market. This project is been substantially supported by global IT major, CISCO, which has a networking component and Mindtree, which is providing a platform for internet services. This project is just in the initial phase and will take at least one year to prove its capacity, based on the support of CISCO, Mindtree and a start-up eco-system in Kunnoor district. We have set up a monetary system based on which we will be able to strengthen our services in the village and make it a wide-enabled template to cater to larger sections of the society.
As per trends across the states, it is noted that the Department of IT is adopting start-ups as a contributor in the state’s economy. How is the Kerala Start-Up Mission contributing in the state’s economy?
Kerala is one of the first states to involve their students in the start policy slated by the state government and initially it was focussed on college students who would out projects into entrepreneurship mode, while they are studying in colleges. Over the period of time we realised that student’s start-ups are primarily projects and not necessarily enterprise ideas or ventures and we have slowly shifted our focus to train and nurture start-up ecosystem. We have now larger number of professionals and larger number of people with desired skill-set to nurture the start-up ecosystem rather than amateur attempts made by students. What distinguishes Kerala from other start-up incubating states is the investment we made to create an entire pipeline for start-ups. We identify start-ups, provides them opportunities to work on variety of problems. Government itself has mandated a program for identifying legible start-ups for this purpose, through a program called hackathon. We have a fund of funds scheme through which we provide financial support at the early stage to eligible start-ups.
We have good marketers programs for start-ups which are being structured and very interestingly, start-ups in Kerala are primarily focussed on hardware rather than on e-commerce space. Monetizing or making valuation of enterprises has been quite normal but has a very robust networking of start-ups and over the period of time start-ups will play a prominent role in determining the direction of the state’s economy.
Being the state’s nodal head for delivering IT and enabled services to its citizens, what are the key challenges that you face while operating in Kerala? What methods of mitigation do you adopt for the same?
As mentioned earlier, the DIT Kerala has taken a stand that individual government agencies and departments has to decide which specific services they want to offer online to the citizens, as a result of which they need to change the business processes and public service delivery. The ideal situation of eGovernance services is to look at the government process of service delivery, identify the redundancies involved and also bring in the optimal method of ensuring the processes, and then wrap it with an IT touch of accuracy and perfection.
In other words, we need to do some significant administrative reforms substantially, before the IT enablement is done, otherwise complete digitalisation would not make apt sense. This has proved to be a massive challenge. As a method of mitigation, what we have ensured that almost 100 per cent of services that a citizen gets from government is made electronic. At present the major touch-points between the citizens and the government services move around three major parameters- firstly, they get more and more information about government programs, about payment interfaces for government services through which they can make payments of government services and taxes easily. The third is about entitlement of reservations. Though the second and third parameters of government citizen touch-points is much eliminated as Kerala is 100 per cent Adhaar enabled. Through our e-district we have completed over 4 lakh transaction in the state. Regarding all government related and its service related information most of it is given in the portal of the state government, but whether it is interoperable to the citizens or not, that part is under process and work is still going on.
What is your opinion about how the department can ensure last mile connectivity in all the parts of the state?
Primarily in Kerala, we have given right away permissions to all major telecom operators for setting up their network facilities, to ensure strong network facility in the state. In Kerala we have almost 10000 km of underground optical network fibres, thus the network set-up established by the telecom operators are fairly robust and unique. Basically, Kerala is a consumer society and there is high propensity of data consumption, owing to its high rate of digital literacy, last mile connectivity in the state is fairly ensured, rendering the citizens complete connectivity across all levels of the state and society.