Understanding technology in e-governance (December 2007)
Understanding Technology in e-Governance
Learning from Nemmadi, Karnataka’s 800 Telecentre Project
Kiran Jonnalagadda, Comat Technologies
• 800 telecentres across rural Karnataka, covering all hoblis
• Deliver a range of government and private services
• Prominent service: Bhoomi land records
• Each centre occupies a commercial space the size of a small shop
• Has two computers backed with a UPS and standard peripherals
• VSAT satellite internet connectivity
• The Government of Karnataka, and
• 3i Infotech, Comat Technologies and n-Logue Communications
• Works with Comat
• Manages technology for telecentre projects across India
• Technical Consultant to the State of Karnataka, on behalf of the consortium
• Has been directly involved with all aspects of technology in the project so far
Typical Technology Concerns
• What comes to mind when “technology” and “government” are considered?
• Public Ownership
• Transparency of Process
• Open Source and Standards
• All based on context, not objective qualities of the technology itself
The Bhoomi Certiﬁcate Delivery Chain
• Several agents responsible for the technology:
• Software by National Informatics Centre (NIC)
• Platform by Microsoft
• Data Centre by Reliance
• Maintenance by CMC
• Connectivity by Hughes
• Two human agents: the telecentre operator and the customer
• Certiﬁcates on controlled stationery
• Printing fails for various reasons. Failure not recognised by the technology
• Proof of transaction failure: presenting the wasted stationery
• Delivery chain:
• Collection from telecentre, courier agency, data entry operators,
transaction correlation software, accountants, bank credit, monthly
• All for a simple shortcoming in the technology
• Daily transaction reports, broken down by various criteria
• Oddity: sum for district is 1231, but sum for all taluks in district is 1232
• Is the reporting software ﬂawed? More such inconsistencies surface
• Accountants poring over transactions, testing their ability to add numbers
• Months spent looking for source of inconsistency
• Eventually traced to fake test transactions with invalid values
• Question: why was the possibility of their existence not documented?
• Chain was assumed to be all machines with two human agents
• Technology was assumed to be invariably consistent in behaviour
• Turns out each link in the chain is a techno-social construct:
• A combination of machine and human agency, with related complications
• Dealing with the issues illustrated involves a new set of concerns by which to
examine the landscape
The New Concerns
• What are the points in the chain where the problem is originating?
• Who created that particular component? Who is now responsible for its
• Is the problem caused by a deviation from the expected behaviour of that
component? Or is the problem due to an oversight of all possible behaviours?
• In the case of the latter, does responsibility for its resolution shift to someone
else? Who is responsible for the cost of identifying and resolving this issue?
• Notice that this is rather unlike the concerns we started with. It suggests that
the examination of technology in e-governance requires a paradigm unlike
that typically used when examining technology elsewhere
• Who will be accountable for this technology?
• How do they guarantee their accountability?
• Do they have a well thought out plan?
• Does it interact well with the other agents involved?
• Do we know how to evaluate their plan?
Technology is a Social Construct.
The Signiﬁcance of the Social Construct
Varies by Context
All technology involves both machine and human agency. Terms such as
“proprietary software” and “open source” both describe the social construct,
not the technology itself. The paradigm under which these terms acquired their
popular meaning may not necessarily be applicable in the context of egovernance projects.