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21 December 2009  
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Home - Management - Article

Tech Views

Cloud computing as a new e-governance paradigm

Guru Malladi and Anand Hariharan on how cloud computing holds the potential for the Indian government to offer better services while adding a green touch to its e-governance enabled transformation

Guru Malladi
Anand Hariharan

Cloud computing holds the promise to transform the functioning of governments. In www.apps.gov, the United States administration has taken a definitive stride to infuse cloud computing paradigm into its Enterprise Architecture. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (“NIST”) defines cloud computing as “a model for enabling on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction”. The cloud computing industry represents a large ecosystem comprising of many models, vendors and market niches. Significant investments are being made by leading technology players to create tailor-made cloud computing solutions for governments. The case for cloud computing for government agencies is on account of the following.

Sharp spikes in demands for infrastructure: Government to Citizen (“G2C”) services witness periodic and often unpredictable peaks of demand. As a result, ICT infrastructure created as part of e-governance initiatives often hold excess capacity, which is unused most of the time.
Similar software investments leading to redundancy: Often similar software solutions are required by more than one government agency. One of the largest software investments made by government agencies is in procurement of office productivity software and collaboration solutions. The license costs and creating ICT infrastructure for hosting these solutions often constitute a large portion of software costs of governments. This not only entails higher investments in servers but also desktop processing power.
Complex software change logistics: Low levels of IT infrastructure maturity and complex organizational structures in government make software upgrades difficult. It requires significant time investments from IT support staff of government agencies to track the roll-out of changes on each individual workstation.
Inadequate capacity for ICT management: Government agencies make large investments in creating data centers and networks for their needs and due to inadequate internal capacity for ICT management, service levels often leave a lot to be desired. It also creates information security related vulnerabilities.
Difficulties in enforcing ICT standards: Considering the autonomy enjoyed by government agencies in ICT procurement, it is often difficult to enforce minimum ICT standards, which are vital for creating a uniform Government Enterprise Architecture.

It is in this context that the two aspects of cloud computing are of interest. First, scalability and on-demand procurement of software services, platform and infrastructure. Government agencies could procure to meet additional needs on a need basis. This will save setup and maintenance costs as well as contribute to green

computing initiatives as cloud computing setups can provide the scale necessary to make green technologies feasible. Second, multiple, customizable deployment models adhering to e-Government standards: Cloud computing allows for four different deployment models—Private Cloud, Community Cloud, Public Cloud and Hybrid Cloud—which could be suitably designed for specific purposes of government. Being centrally managed, these models enable better implementation of e-governance standards. For example, government agencies which have strong security concerns could create a private cloud within a specified premise and use the shared infrastructure thus created.

Cloud computing could add a new dimension to India’s ongoing e-governance program. Certain preparatory steps could be initiated by the Government of India to launch cloud computing as a model for e-governance programs. These are as follows:

Setup a nodal agency for cloud computing: This is the first and vital step that needs to be undertaken. The role of this agency will be as follows:

  • Create a cloud computing strategy for supporting India’s e-governance program
  • Outline standards that need to be adhered to by cloud computing vendors, which would include separate guidelines for software providers, platform providers and infrastructure providers. A key area to be addressed will be security
  • Create standard procedures for enlisting of vendors so that new market offerings are made available to government agencies quickly
  • Define payment and service level models which could form the basis of the public private partnerships with the cloud computing agencies

Create pilot solutions and demonstrate their success: This will be vital in order to obtain a buy-in from government agencies. Some of the large mission mode projects can provide a good test bed for cloud computing. As an illustrative example, the tax offices could pilot tax return filing based on cloud computing infrastructure and demonstrate their on-demand scalability. Another option is to create a cloud based on the State Data Centers and offer the same as a private cloud available to all governmental agencies of India.

Develop a legal framework and risk management program: There are a few risks that need to be addressed to realize cloud computing for which a supporting legal framework may need to be created. Considering the large investments required for setting up cloud computing infrastructure, there is likelihood that some of the vendors may not be from the domestic market. In this context issues such as security in the cloud computing context and potential liability arising out of security breaches in the cloud may need to be addressed.

Creating a solution portfolio for cloud migration: From the point of view of each government agency or department, creating a Cloud Migration strategy may be of importance. This will call for a significant change in mindset as these agencies are used to an IT infrastructure that is either hosted in-house or in-country. This may also call for inter-departmental collaboration to identify the solutions which are easier to transition and create necessary volumes to realize cost benefits. This could be done by the nodal state level information technology agencies.

State governments and their departments are at varying levels of e-governance maturity. As a result, citizens and businesses get varying degrees of accessibility and quality of government services across India. Usage of cloud computing can ensure the reach of citizen services in all states irrespective of their present e-governance readiness.

Guru Malladi is Partner Ernst & Young and Anand Hariharan is Senior Professional, Technology Advisory, Ernst & Young. The views expressed herein are the personal views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Ernst & Young Global or any of its member firms


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