Briefly and without adding layers of complexity, here’s the actual challenge. First, the view from top-down.
The Central Government or a particular ministry releases funds for a public scheme which percolates down to the State Government and further trickles down to the districts or blocks. From the districts / blocks, either the banks come into play or the talukas or villages or panchayats, and the funds are allocated to who-so-ever is the beneficiary. The last mile, as we call it. Sounds simple enough.
Now from the bottom-up.
The beneficiary utilizes the fund or does not and irrespective of either, the village / taluka / panchayat has to provide a utilization certificate – consolidated, taking into account all beneficiaries, and the same has to be consolidated for all the villages & talukas and bumped up to the districts, where, again the consolidation happens for all districts or blocks and so on and so forth till New Delhi receives the final report.
For any IT company, the solution is simple. Provide something that tracks the fund flow and provide the reports, except that it is not simple. From bottom down, each taluka maintains its own distinct report format. Each format needs to be customized in the software. And we’re talking about thousands and thousands of villages. It requires flexibility from the software and a good understanding of the processes from the people doing the system requirement study. Patience is a virtue. Then, there is the challenge of little or no electricity and the project implementation site, meaning access to data is not 24×7. Cloud computing, much in vogue these days, fails at this critical moment. Probably the ubiquitous Microsoft Excel is the answer. Probably excel is all that they need to teach in the two years of MBA. Internet access is another hindrance. X network, claiming to be there by my side anywhere I go, gives up on me, 70 kilometers outside Mumbai. And when internet is not an issue, the hardware at these remote locations is. Because hardware needs maintenance. Also, because hardware gets stolen.
Then comes the people issues. The men and women have to be trained in a) accounting and b) technology. It is not that easy. Not everybody can train people in remote areas. Costs are involved, also motivation. And it is very difficult to keep a tab on how well the training has been given. Also, far more important is the availability of trainers. The best solution is to have trained manpower got from within the community. That takes time. Time is money. Budget is an issue in all of this. The solution provided has to be financially sound for both the Project Implementation Agency and the Government / Stakeholders. Most departments do not provision in the budget to drill down to the village / taluka level. Tech-enabled blocks in India is still a work-in-progress.
It is a challenge. Tamil Nadu is a good example where IT implementation in remote villages has been possible due to several positive influences, including fast tracking projects and able administrators. Steps have been taken in other states as well but it is not a universal phenomenon yet. Apart from this, some big tech names have failed to give the solution required to the unique challenges India possesses. There is a humongous opportunity for technology to change the face of this country. We need the best minds working on this rather than fighting over whose religion is superior. That would help.
Lastly, on the topic of Kimi Raikkonen, from Patna to Delhi to Bangalore to Kolkata to Mumbai, I have now seen more people wearing the “Kimi” helmets than the number of people who know who Kimi Raikkonen is. In which case, I let the situation be, for that exuberance of old at drilling into everyone the greatness of his High Lord the Iceman sounds like too much work now-a-days. I do like his new no.7 helmet for the 2013 season though.