The scale of transformation needed to migrate public services to mobile delivery is daunting. No coincidence then that, to date, the outstanding pioneer in e- and m-government has been Estonia, with a population of just 1.3 million and noted for its relatively “lean” public sector (OECD Economic Surveys: Estonia 2011).
In contrast, India’s 1.55 billion people, of whom around 800 million are mobile phone users, present a whole different challenge. Nonetheless, central government has built an ambitious policy framework designed to make thousands of public services accessible from mobile phones by 2012.
Since the launch of the National e-Governance Plan in 2006, hundreds of online forms and processes of each state authority have transferred online – such as tax filing and payment of utility bills. But with dismal penetration of home broadband, most citizens rely on public access kiosks, including some 100,000 Common Services Centers directly funded via a public-private partnership.
Recognizing that it could reach 10 times the number of citizens on their mobiles, the Indian government opened consultation on a national Mobile Service Delivery Gateway (MSDG) in April 2011. The first services rolled out in September and around 25 should be live by the end of the year, supported by a national payments gateway. An app store is due in March 2012 and public funds will be targeted to encourage applications innovation.
So how is a country of India’s size and complexity able to move so quickly? The m-government initiative is built on four pillars: joined-up national policy, including support for open technology standards and interoperability; financial commitment; close regulation of telecom operators; and crucially, the digitization of public data during the first wave of e-government.