The first and foremost thing one needs to ask is what is required for fulfilling the role of the CIO for India? There is a center and there are states and then there are municipal corporations. What is the role of a CIO given the kind of organization structure we have for the country? What should be at the center of his work and what does he have to facilitate at the state level?
In a broad sense, it is not so unlike what we do at Mahindra & Mahindra. We have a corporate function and then we have sectors which are like independent entities. They are federations – making decisions on their own and be their own profit centers.
To achieve efficiencies that can be sustained with the help of technology, I propose that IT must be established as the National-level function with a model as given in the diagram and table below:
If you look at the figure, there are three primary things. Starting at the bottom is infrastructure and services. Over time, the country should have a central infrastructure with well defined standards. The next one is common processes. The idea is to share because you can get efficiencies of scale. The third one in the pyramid is differentiated processes.
While India is one country, we recognize that there are differences in the way methodologies or processes work in different parts. So, we will adopt a ‘Why not a common platform first?’ with enough flexibility in the model to factor in differences, wherever relevant.
The first and foremost task for a CIO is to create an architecture where both the center and the states collaborate and support rather than conflict or fight with each other. To me, this is the first job of a CIO – to say what he should do, what he must do, what he cannot do, and what he must not do. It is almost like the first constitution of India. This clearly states things that can be done in the state, and things that could be done at the
central level. IT is neither a state subject nor a central subject. Within IT – there are facets – some of which are central and some of which are state. So, they must collaborate to succeed.
India #1 with the Help of Technology?
While India has a chance to be number one, it has also got a plethora of challenges. Can I enable the country to reach the goal of number one faster, and can I lay down the plank of processes and systems to reach this goal? Can I create a cloud for India in the form of a shared services function?
As a national function, IT must have a strategy. If Dr Manmohan Singh says that there are certain areas where he wants the country to excel and areas where he wants to invest resources – then my job as the CIO is to ensure that the strategy is backed with IT support and systems which support the nation’s strategy.
The CIO’s strategy must also include formulation of a robust ‘Knowledge Management‘ strategy to facilitate nationwide tacit and explicit knowledge capture. This is extremely crucial as it will make sure that whatever knowledge we have gained is not lost in the future. For example: what did Sardar Vallabhai Patel do post-independence to forge a united India from more than 500 princely states? Can we use this knowledge to produce more Vallabhai Patels or can IT enable that process? Maybe it can, maybe it can’t. However, we certainly cannot achieve this without IT.
Finally, a robust Business Process Management (BPM) exercise must be initiated to standardize applications and registrations, which if done at one state or location will be valid all over India. For example: something may be good for Maharashtra, while something else will be good for Uttar Pradesh. We have to look at the common processes that good cities follow, and then try to create a template – say, an ERP + BPR.
If we focus on making IT a ‘National Shared Service’ function, a major focus would be to create a robust shared service infrastructure vide the public – private partnership route. Some examples which immediately come to mind include agricultural kiosks, enabling micro-finance through handheld devices or creating a public cloud for education.
The Direct and Indirect Role of IT
What should be the role of IT at the center – should it be direct or indirect?
I have plotted this in the form of a 2/2 matrix. Take the ‘Centralizing’ aspect where the role of IT is direct. Functions such as e-governance, cyber laws and the National Intelligence Grid are areas where IT will play a direct role. In the ‘Leveraging’ aspect, IT will play a role in making an alternative medium possible. For example: a virtual hospital can be created with the help of IT. In such cases, skills are centralized and patients are decentralized. Using IT, a doctor can be enabled 100 times more. The idea is to leverage everything that exists – but the last mile must be provided by IT.
On the indirect front, I believe that there are a lot of things that IT can facilitate or influence. For example: can IT create an innovation platform for India where innovations can be shared?
While as a CIO, I am not going to certainly create a ‘Rural Employment policy’, I certainly can use IT to learn why certain policies have worked, while some have not. IT can provide the necessary intelligence to make policies more effective. IT will, hence, create an environment where others benefit.
The 100-Day Plan
Everything must have a definite timeline. I think we should have a 100-day plan. This will help in setting the road map and also help in getting some quick wins. We also need to showcase certain projects that have a huge ‘pull’ effect and have the potential to catalyze other projects. So, I have picked some initiatives which I believe would be huge in terms of scale of impact. This could include a Virtual Hospital Network, a national portal for basic needs and a National Knowledge Network. This needs to be supported by enabling computerization of the Panchayat Office, accompanied by effective programs for skill upgradation. We also need to create effective local designs for labor intensive works to build rural infrastructure.
In summary, the role of the CIO of India would be to add-on or facilitate improvements in processes, rather than completely change the process. As a national level function, IT can help change the paradigm and lead the nation to greater heights of excellence.