Every country should have a CIO: Jens Romaus

By : |August 15, 2014 0

NEW DELHI, INDIA: Neurons, car engines, fire trucks and what not. There was no limit to the sheer variety of metaphors being used to describe PSU IT implementations in New Delhi this week. At the SAP Forum focusing on Governance, one’s earshots were full of different languages expressing the same sentiment all around. From keynote to panels to conversations stolen over a coffee cup, the air was brimming with juggling acts around the words ‘technology for better citizen experience’.

At one point noted leader Arun Shourie led imaginations to equate smart governance with synapses in a brain, and at another track, Muktesh K Pardeshi, Joint Secretary (PSP) juxtaposed IT as an engine that can make a difference to the car of governance it helps run. When he talked of how entities like NPR (National Population Register) or Crime Control Tracking System or advanced bio-metrics and e-chips could redefine the end-to-end helm of a passport, it did not sound too futuristic, echoing the confidence and enthused ideas he carried. The way technology can help iron out duplication and stitch in more transparency, as he explained made is not limited to global citizen-governing bodies.

India is not far away from this good contagion and yet it seems to have a grip on the ground-aspects well. Vishesh Garhpale, a key member of the Bhopal Municipal Corporation initiative (BMC) with SAP (to implement solutions from SAP to automate and centralize public service offerings )reminded well that good governance is not just implementation of a software but a lot about BPR (Business Process Re-engineering). One has to work with the processes transformation part time and again and at the same time focus on capacity building to ensure that everything is indeed the success as aspired and anticipated.

Tejaswi Naik, Commissioner, BMC seconded that saying that just by digitizing everything, problems are not going to go away unless IT and analytics are really leveraged for their strengths.

For instance, BMC will now manage and streamline day-to-day functions, like issuing marriage certificates, birth and death registrations, city infrastructure development and open space management, permits, health services, water supply, lake conservation and tax collection. While they reflect a significant step in the SAP Urban Matters program, they iterate government’s vision is to make services accessible to every citizen in the language they speak and understand, as Naik stressed.

He cited examples like Project CityApp that aims to develop an SAP mobile app for easy access point for city services and helping citizens navigate through city services, stay informed and engage with their neighbors.
Minimum Government and maximum governance, it couldn’t have been shrunk in a few words better than how SAP India MD Ravi Chauhan expressed it ,amplifying that the only lever to do that is through technology.

These could be lenses and voices of extreme diversity and yet they seem to be based one common denominator – unprecedented hope and excitement around IT in governance.

It can however not be ignored that even if Public Sector’s late-adopter status is shelved for a few minutes in memory closets, one can’t help ignore a few skeletons that have a tendency to pop out time and again.

As cynical as this may sound, it makes for an excellent cue for a conversation with someone who has been a CIO, a CFO and hence adequately seasoned on the user side. That basket of empathy certainly gives his vast and well-rounded 20 years of expertise in PSU space on the other side, a different colour altogether.

Irresistibly open-minded to argue with, cheerful and adrenaline-pumped even after a series of red-eyes, and a sportsperson in every way; Jens Romaus, Senior VP, Public Sector Business Solutions, minces no words in giving a real taste of how government segment all over the world and in India is actually moving. A front row view:

You have travelled across the nooks and corners of government sector atlas globally. What makes India different or not-so-different for you?

It is hard to can anything in terms of country-specific funnels. Public sector is certainly a tad behind private sector in terms of IT and despite discussions on unique aspects of in-house software and other few things; I would say we are on the same journey here as anywhere else. Budget constraints challenge government spends in no different way. The pain areas and problems here are not very different than any other international public sector segment. Except for small differences on laws or regulations, India is on the same journey as a Poland or France or Belgium (almost 80 per cent similarities).

Countries are boarding new-generation of software. The change is happening not only on the ‘inside’ but also on the ‘outside’ so internal deployments are going hand in hand with better and interactive connectivity with citizens. Why can’t citizens play a more inclusive and empowered role in governance, specially as their opinions can help a lot and more so as it is a tech-savvy generation out there already. All you need is a good platform and government bodies have started looking at governance that way. Public sector in India can open up a lot more and so much innovation, new approaches and ideas are all around to be tapped.

Would you consider that an inveterate part of the slow pace is perhaps the challenge of weaning off public sector from the bureaucracy it has been entrenched in for so many years now? Can IT be seen as not more of an enemy than a friend to beadledom?

The pace or adoption levels have nothing to do with public sector culture but about people. If people are conservative they pose challenge to improvements that technology can immediately bring in. That’ why we try to see and feel solutions from an ‘in your shoes’ posture. We have to offer them ideas and not just boxes. We have a unique and balanced view of both IT and business-sector’s way of working, so we can help government bodies better with an ‘outcome’ approach.

Is it disappointing to hear public sector IT projects making more of failure/controversy-haunted noise than positive reviews, like what we have seen with MyCALPAYS or NHS etc.

I would see it as a marketing problem for PSUs because there is so much good and successful work happening too. May be it is not in their DNA to trumpet about it but if we can use better communication there to bring good news to light and show progress areas well, we will have a different view for sure.

Obamacare has been a pet word and a controversy child when we think of so-called IT fiascos. Why did the IT part botch up the way and the time it did? A case of issues with programming or testing or vendor accountability? What’s your dissection?

All other presidents have taken things from the level they were already but Obama was remarkable in keeping his promised and actually starting something afresh. I would say Obamacare is not a problem of IT providers but a problem of politics. So many people are against the policy that they would pull every argument they can to assert their views. Even if it was something to do with IT, in any other case, software always works and improves with releases progressively. You start with something and then improve upon it.

Has G-Cloud in UK being doing it well? Does the model or concept per se sounds good for someone let’s say Indian public sector enterprises to leapfrog to Cloud?

Yes, am a fan of such initiatives and its vision is great. It’s going in the right direction but sometimes organizations may use as an excuse to do nothing. For technology shifts like Cloud, you may find ten-per cent of the space with front-movers, 80-per cent as slow movers and ten per cent who just wait and do nothing. They need to stand up and innovate. E-governance policies of US or UK etc are good but they need to move faster and tap innovation. Now the IT world is way different than it was earlier, with software release cycles happening almost every three months and hardware changing like never before. Now we have to learn from what we have covered and go to the next level. If I can recommend anything, I would say that every country should open up an IT function and have a captain or a CIO.

As to India or specific markets, at the end of the day it is people who decide but yes the framework might work on supplier part and implementation choice for IT solutions.

What if the whole Cloud pitch is one-dimensional, harping too much on costs? Is that a good way to talk about Cloud to Indian public sector, despite the budget constraints?

Cloud is important for organizations that have been running legacy systems for 40 – 45 years. Developers there are at an retirement age so the challenge is obvious. But why can’t payroll systems etc be on Cloud, with updates as Cloud accountability? Specially when there is a no landscape to change. To change from one vendor to another is expensive in comparison. What works is finding an application that fits in your landscape. SAP gives generic solutions and answers on-the-top of existing scenario, and have a Cloud First approach in many countries. Cloud computing is not just a technical model but a pricing model and it’s high time we get away from these piles and piles of paper. It has to change for India.

Could the reluctance be about lack of strong exit strategies for users? Or the challenge of handling data quality?

Trust and SLAs are great helpers there. Plus, these days you can do audits for third-parties and security aspects have improved drastically. The choice between private and public cloud has also got better.

What would you say to the criticism that a lot of maintenance money that customers hand over is used less on existing product enhancements and more on new-fangled stuff like HANA?

For most of the solutions, the functionality is already there and we are still spending maintenance bucks on improving customer edge. We are not just thinking of adding something to a finance module but how can finance department work way better than it has been working so far as. That makes us invest in technologies and new paradigms below and around the application, like the Fiori user interface.

You are confident about SAP repeating its impact and footprint in government segment?

SAP has a unique scenario if I answer that frankly. We do good things and don’t speak about it much. SAP is not just the back-office IT company it has been popular as. The new SAP is so much about SAP for self-services, SAP mobility and what not, in addition to what we have always offered. For many people, it is still just an ERP company but the new DNA is something more people need to know about. Imagine how partners now can build their own solutions using SAP as an ingredient and execute their own individual ideas in the new market wave.

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