IT can do things for the health department that havent been done or imagined before, says Sujata Saunik, Principal Secretary, Public Health Department, Government of Maharashtra, in an interaction with Elets News Network (ENN)
How do you visualise changes in your department through IT?
IT has a major role in any large department, particularly the Public Health Department, as we have a large manpower and also because the Government of India and the Ministry of Health is coming up with new programmes to bridge the gaps in public health service delivery every year. IT is an important tool for good governance.
How do you see the role of IT in promoting citizen services?
India today has become tech savvy and that is can be evidently seen in the youth who use mobile phones to spread information at a vast level, through social networking etc. IT can be used to spread messages and awareness at a fast pace and on a large-scale. In the health sector, one can download information about a disease, it cure, prevention and also know where to get examined, all on the click of a button. That is the power of IT and the good thing for the government today is that they can spread information at a much faster sped compared to the earlier days.
The other advantage is getting the information that one has missed out on. One can simply type and the information is there in front of him. I feel that information accessibility has touched new levels and only a citizen who is aware of the technological changes going around him would be able to avail the services to full extent, just at the click of a button from the comfort of ones home. I also believe that this is a path-breaking change as it enables us, the people in government, to spread information.
“The mobile phone has brought a revolution in the way India worked and thought until recently… Any and every opportunity to piggyback the m-revolution should be lapped up with both hands.”
The health department has a major role in the rural areas. Is it difficult to get connectivity there to provide services?
Yes, connectivity is one of the major issues we have to face in providing services in the rural areas. I have visited the BSNL in this regard, but bringing the whole country on IT map is not all that easy. The second challenge is convincing the people to use the system after it has been set up. Constant reminder is necessary to tell them the ease it offers. We need to overcome these two challenges.
Where do you think you stand today with regard to e-governance?
I think weve fared well. Weve collected all the important data such as number of employees, records of institutions etc and putting those on the website. We are also planning to create programmes for better analysis of data as the data weve amassed is huge. From data analysis we would be able to know what should be our key focus areas.
What steps has your department taken towards incorporating the concepts of big data and cloud?
We are still struggling to get Wi-Fi zones in our areas of operation and facing difficulties in implementing eOffice and eChoupal programmes due to absence of basic facilities like proper power supply, network coverage, etc. These amenities have to be put in place before moving on to the next level.
Personally, I have used a cloud to host my personal data but officially there are many challenges to overcome before its smooth going.
India today has become tech savvy and that can be evidently seen among the youth who use mobile phones to spread information at a vast level, through social networking etc. IT can be used to spread messages and awareness at a fast pace and on a large-scale.
What is your vision for e-governance?
Paperless offices, a smart corporate style of working, a place where information can be availed easily by a large number of people would together form my vision. Apart from that proper analysis of data would be my key focus area. I would like to go down to the block level of our administration and see what diseases are prent in which area, what drugs are being used, whether we are deploying proper doctors for the job, and so on. I believe we have not fully exploited ICT for awareness generation. We will have to design it in a people-friendly manner.
You often talk about using mobile platform for delivery of services. Do you see e-governance transforming into m-governance?
Definitely, as I said before, the mobile phone has brought a revolution in the way India worked and thought previously. Any and every opportunity to piggyback the m-revolution should be lapped up with both hands. Nowadays as people including women have started going to office, the question of watching TV for information doesnt arise. But with mobile phones, its a different story. I believe through phone, one can connect with an individual at a personal level which is a powerful way of conveying a message.
Please tell us about your other e-initiatives.
We are trying to make our website user friendly, so that not only us but even the common man is able to use the website with ease. We are also developing a system to check the performance of our employees, whether they are getting training properly and being paid in a proper manner. We are also in the process of designing medical reimbursement software, so as to analyse how many times an individual seeks medical reimbursement, whether the reimbursement is for him or for his family, what is the disease that he seeks reimbursement for, etc. All this will give us a view of the disease profile of an individual. Once the information is gathered we can spread awareness on prevention, cure and a whole lot of other things.
In order to make IT a part of our office life, one can follow the examples of young people in the corporate sector, who with their laptops, tablet and mobiles are always connected, and hence their productivity is very high.
Do these initiatives depend on private service providers also?
No, we rely on MahaOnline and the IT Department, which have been of great support. Recently we requested purchase of tablets for senior officers so that they can access information and store data when needed. Going paperless is one of our key focus areas. When a fire broke out in the Mantralaya, we lost a huge number of records all on paper, but once one goes digital, the storage space required would be much less, one can access and re-access information as many number of times required.
Collaborating with private entities requires a lengthy process. So, rather than floating tenders for the private players, it is better to make use of your own IT Department.
Is capacity building a concern in implementing such technologies?
Yes, it is a concern, but we dont have any initiatives as of now but we have been giving training to different cadres for the ongoing processes. Training requires both budget and time, so currently as Maharashtra elections are at hand, we are giving only needbased training at the moment. From next year, we will be having a more coordinated training policy in place.
Any suggestions for enhancing the use and scope of these technologies?
What works best for us in these situations is insisting people to do it and not leaving it as an option. In order to make IT a part of our office life, one can follow the examples of young people in the corporate sector, who with their laptops, tablet and mobiles are always connected, and hence their productivity is very high. But, for the same to happen in the government, it is necessary to provide the right environment. For example, one is able to use laptop and tablets at airports and airplanes freely, as Wi-Fi is freely available there; but imagine doing the same in a local train. To enable such services, one needs to have an environment and the right facility.