طراحی یک مدل کسب و کار پایدار برای دولت الکترونیک جاسازی شده مراکز روستایی (EGERT) در هند
|کد مقاله||سال انتشار||مقاله انگلیسی||ترجمه فارسی||تعداد کلمات|
|7701||2011||12 صفحه PDF||سفارش دهید||11220 کلمه|
Publisher : Elsevier - Science Direct (الزویر - ساینس دایرکت)
Journal : IIMB Management Review, Volume 23, Issue 2, June 2011, Pages 110–121
An effective inclusive growth model for rural areas in India will have to be driven by information and communication technology (ICT), and telecentres (places where shared access to ICT and enabled services are available) are the potential instruments of rural information and empowerment. Realising this, the Government of India has under its National e-Governance Plan, committed to the setting up of 250,000 common service centres in rural India. However, the experience with the roll out of this plan has not been encouraging as many of the centres are closing down due to the weak business model. The first part of this article, the academic perspective, suggests an alternative model for rural telecentres, the e-governance embedded rural telecentres (EGERT), in which e-governance is an important service to be provided, and details the contentious issues clustered round the role of the government; the viability of partnership models with the private and NGO sectors; the institutional design for rural telecentres; the services to be rendered by the centres and the likely markets for them; the location of the centres and support in the form of infrastructure and manpower; and the technology to support the institutional design. Stakeholder representatives from the government, the industry, the NGO sector and the academia discuss these issues in the second part of the article, and make suggestions towards a viable model for service.
Telecentres (places where shared access to information and communication technology (ICT) and IT enabled services are available) are considered a potential instrument for addressing the asymmetric information problem and the digital divide, and therefore as development enablers (Fillip & Foote, 2007). The World Summit on Information Society held in 2003 recognised telecentres as a cost effective way of bringing the information revolution to developing countries, and thus endowed with the potential to empower the poor. There are instances of E-Government projects of this nature in some countries that have yielded significant positive gains for the poor (Bhatnagar, 2009). In the current debate on inclusive growth in India this assumes added importance as we are yet to find an effective inclusive growth model for rural areas. The growing concern is that poor people, especially those in rural areas, have benefited very little from rapid economic growth. While the migration of the rural poor to urban areas has helped cater to urban requirements, it has accentuated urban poverty and migration related social problems. Asymmetric information coupled with poor skill sets are considered the root cause of the inability of the rural poor to take advantage of opportunities in the markets created by technology advancement and policy changes. Addressing the problem of asymmetric information is expected to empower the rural poor to take advantage of the market opportunities as well as overcome the skill set deficits in the long run and therefore enhances inclusiveness. This would also contribute to faster and more balanced growth of the economy. Realising this, the Government of India has under its National e-Governance Plan, committed to setting up 250,000 common service centres (CSC) in rural India. In the roll out plan it is envisaged that Village Level Enterprenuers (VLEs) will provide the front-end interface with people. The experience so far has not been very encouraging. While the plan has been rolled out in many states, the viability of the VLE model is yet to be established and in many places they have been wound up. The initial enthusiasm of the private sector in participating as service providers is dissipating, and the sector has become cautious as the business model for providing the services is perceived as weak. Financial sustainability of such telecentres has been an important impediment all over the world.
نتیجه گیری انگلیسی
Role of Government Gopal Naik: What should be the role of the government in providing the infrastructure and in running rural telecentres (RTs)? Rahul De: Referring specifically to the ICT infrastructure, just as we insist upon the government providing us with basic infrastructure such as roads, or amenities such as drinking water, the government has to create the infrastructure that enables people to access bandwidth for different purposes. It may be through wireless or through mobile phones. And it should be in the nature of a public good. There is a strong aspirational demand for IT services and innovation will flow from it. Gopal Naik: There are several challenges in the smooth delivery of services. The lack of a continuous power supply and the long queues at the centres are problems that we have seen; space is also an important aspect in the delivery of services. People need a space from which they can access the various services. How could these challenges be addressed? Rahul De: Let me address this question of space first. The location of telecentres is the toughest challenge. Location within private premises raises caste issues, certain fractions of the population will simply not access premises belonging to another caste. Location within government premises is prone to corruption issues. Touts, document writers and agents will promptly show up to extract rents and misguide citizens. I do not think we should create those fixed facility centres even in schools or the panchayat office. Even the panchayat office is a charged space unless there is a culture and a history of the panchayat being a shared space. While things do change, space is not an infrastructure that has to be provided. Many of these devices do need power. Some of these solutions are coming from the green technology movement. People have also found ways around it. For instance, I have a small radio in my office which costs very little, runs on a charged battery and can work wonderfully for several weeks on one charge of 2 h in a week. Such innovations will emerge from the ground. I don’t think the government can solve that problem. Further, the power demands will take time to be settled because presently, the urban areas are dominating the requirements, with rural areas coming second. S Kalasad: The government could act more as the catalyst to provide the infrastructure but I would like to depart from Prof De’s view that it should quit after establishing the infrastructure and say that the government should actively involve the stakeholders after creating the infrastructure. For example, the market forces may decide the costing and the pricing, but the government could decide the ceiling limit at which the services could be targeted or marketed. In the case of something like the mobile telephone, the government can create an environment of participation to enable participation at the lowest level and of competitiveness where competing technologies can compete to offer better services. The role of the government is not just to create infrastructure but also create an environment of competitiveness. Government presence is required to initiate the process of devolution of power and getting the services enabled at the lower levels. Susheela Venkataraman: As we go forward, information technology enabled services will be an integral part of the way any country, any society works. So creating a virtual highway on top of the physical, will be very important. There are private providers who do it, but until the demand picks up and until it becomes much more financially viable, it would make sense for the government to invest in the resources, much as was done for physical infrastructure such as roads and highways. How do you make it viable for private players to offer services? That’s the key question because if a private provider is limited by the rates that can be charged, that in itself sets a restriction on how far they can go. We can look at it in two ways. It could be a target that an innovator works towards, saying – “How do I land the service to the end point for this price point?” on the other hand, we are still in an evolutionary stage, and have not reached a level of maturity with all services. There is still room for experimentation before we arrive at the kind of prices that could be expected. The government does have the number one role in providing high quality infrastructure and as Mr Kalasad said, it serves the role of the catalyst. Serving as a catalyst. It helps the people in the community to understand the value of what is being provided, to make the mental transition between expecting everything to be delivered by the government to accepting that one has to pay for some of the services, as has happened with water and tolls on roads. If we want to make such initiatives work, ICT is a critical enabler. Devices will evolve over time and services will transition to them. The proposition has to be viable for the private players and at the same time, acceptable and affordable for the people in the rural areas. There is another aspect of the affordability issue that I would like to table here. We often tend to think of rural areas as much more impoverished than the urban, but if we were to segment the rural populace we would see that a substantial number of people in the rural areas can afford good services or goods and would like to spend money to get them. Ravi Rangan: My thoughts on the role of the government are mixed with the aspect of sustainability. While I agree with all of Prof De’s comments, I have a question on the aspect of infrastructure. In my experience, telecentres have never been looked at as shared computing structures. They have always been a service delivery mechanism. They are not places where people might come and browse the web and so on, so the experience is slightly different. If one were to classify the centres in the interiors where we operate, we would classify taluk centres as A centres, slightly larger locations as B and the smaller ones as C centres. Today A has cyber cafés with people willing to pay Rs. 20–30 per hour for browsing. In B and C centres, while there seems to be a demand, there are no players at this point of time. So it may be worthwhile to try out this model. Further on the aspect of infrastructure, it is not the IT infrastructure alone that is critical but also the supporting infrastructure (such as banking). You have to look at infrastructure holistically and not just physical or electronic bandwidth. The government has to fully enable or find a way to subsidise this infrastructure in all its different forms. The government is the largest service provider in the rural areas, the services including banking, insurance and so on. It is very critical that the government enables the backends of these services to make them accessible to everybody efficiently from these centres. Further, I don’t think the government is efficient at creating, buying and deploying IT infrastructure. The best thing would be for the government to provide transaction-based support rather than according to a fixed revenue model. So, if a certain service is performed, say, a land record is delivered, the citizen may be charged a fee with the government filling in the subsidy. Gopal Naik: I have one more question for Rahul De. You spoke about the experience around the world and why telecentres have not succeeded. However the experience of developed countries may be quite different from countries like ours, in terms of vastness of population, accessibility of the Internet and of computers and so on. In our case there is probably more need to have a telecentre like the present model, which is shared. Secondly, we have to take into consideration that technology is constantly changing. While mobile telephony may seem a better option today, we have to consider the range of the instrument; further services like teleeducation and telemedicine or accessing certificates and information, need a place from which they can be accessed. In rural areas, literacy itself may be a problem and they would get the help they require in a telecentre. Another relevant aspect of telecentres is governance. Despite the extensive budgetary support, the government is finding it difficult to deliver the services because of the lack of trained people at the lower levels. It is difficult even to disseminate information on the various schemes that exist. Therefore if there is a reliable place which can be a point of contact, where information can be displayed, where people can download applications, fill them and send them off, it would be the more feasible option for our country. Of course, the situation will keep changing and what is good for today may not hold good five years down the line. Audience: Our model of telecentres perhaps cannot be called shared computing as the citizen is not a direct participant in the whole transaction. He/she operates through an intermediary, who enables the citizen to access services from the government. About location, the GP is the most logical one in our rural centres as people visit gram panchayats more frequently than say, the post office. In the US experience, kiosks in libraries have proved to be successful. Rahul De: There may be isolated examples of success. But on the whole, the shared computing model has not been widely successful. To clarify, by shared computing I mean the sharing of a resource, where people go to kiosks since they do not have a private computer and an Internet line. The international experience with shared computers is applicable to us and the reasons for this have been argued in the literature. Your point about technology change is well taken. The standard argument is that the government should step in where the market fails. On the contrary, in my opinion, in ICT in particular, the government should not step in. The government should create the infrastructure and leave the innovation that is possible on services, service delivery and on computing needs to players. And there will be many players who will step up to the mike. As for delivery of certificates, why can’t certificates be delivered on the phone? Let us take the case of Bhoomi, a project that enables the online delivery of land titles in Karnataka. Farmers approach the Bhoomi kiosk or telecentre to obtain their RTCs, which they require mainly for bank loans. Why was this even put in the telecentre? At the bank, the farmer could show his RTC on a phone, pinging for it on a borrowed phone if he doesn’t have one. The bank can pay the regular fee of Rs. 15/- for the RTC. Many of these processes are redundant. Many of the certificates are not required by the citizen at all, but by other agencies for official purposes. In an ideal world scenario, agencies should deal directly with each other without involving the citizen. We have a regulatory environment that is blocking us in many ways. Further, we are locked into certain ways of doing things. We are thinking along the lines of: How do we convert manual applications into digital applications or of computerising the government office? We have to think along the lines of: Do we need those processes? Do we need that government office at all? Coming to the last point, about informing people about schemes, the mobile as a device has far deeper penetration and far greater potential than the kiosk based model. People have started using mobile devices for giving information on market prices and are building up from here. Susheela Venkataraman: The mobile is a very critical information device. There are many groups of people, such as rural women, who still do not have access to a mobile. At this point of time it is not an either/or debate – it should involve both. Telecentres are a place where people can physically congregate and carry out transactions; mobiles can act as an additional information layer. We have to see how they can coexist and ensure that telecentres are viable. There are no simple answers to resolve this debate. Audience: Since we are talking about rolling out advanced technologies in the market, we could even consider automatic kiosks (similar to ATMs) or to deal with different kinds of certificates, consider a solar panel driving an iPad machine with a printer attached. We can work along these lines. Services provided by rural telecentres Gopal Naik: What are the kinds of services to be provided in rural telecentres? Do we draw a boundary for the services to be offered by them? S Kalasad: Taking a cue from Prof De, rural telecentres should not be bound by any specific location. We could even make use of the existing structures such as schools, post offices etc, to act as front ends. The services provided could be flexible and open ended. There could be any number of services which could evolve at a later stage, depending upon requirements. These include food services, the ration card, milk societies, rural banking, election ID cards, the market fair and vegetable vending, to name a few. Dissemination of information is an important service. These services could be multiplied to provide employment opportunities to educated rural youth and telecentres could help rural youth find employment as well. Telecentres could be the centre of money transfer schemes, including the NREGA disbursements. We could arrive at a basket of services which could include transport services, educational services and telemedicine services. Susheela Venkataraman: Different services have different cycles. They should be driven by the needs of the community and may vary over time, some eventually becoming irrelevant. For instance, the role of the government in many countries is being completely redefined. In many cases, the services required are inter-related. For instance, telemedicine is just one part of healthcare delivery. We have to see that there exists a supply chain that will ensure all the related capabilities such as drugs and lab tests. We cannot address only one aspect of the problem, but expect systemic improvement. Taking a community centric view of what should be delivered is absolutely critical. Key in this is ownership along the entire chain. Supporting processes, chains and people must be in place to ensure effective delivery. The challenge is to be able to identify where the real problems lie. While I am not in favour of extending the services of telecentres into unrelated areas, there are centre-related issues which are not ICT based alone, and which would involve physical transactions. For instance, if the telecentre provides the procurement prices of food grains, it can very well serve as a procurement point, and you could have a logistics chain at the back which delivers to buyers. Such aggregation makes sense and the cost of logistics gets handled. When Cisco looked at products and solutions appropriate to emerging markets, what we realised was that it is not a question of picking up a product that is relevant for the developed world and stripping it down. Products or solutions have to be built keeping in mind the requirements of the market. And therefore they have to be re-engineered or re-designed. That is another transition that has to take place and it will, once the market opens up, once the bridge has been provided. Rahul De: I will answer in reverse and look at the kind of services that you can take away from these centres. Let me give a few examples. The first one is the very popular M-PESA model in Kenya, through which customers could transfer money through mobile phones, through an application installed on the SIM card. (Incidentally it was not a service enabled by the government.) It is a kind of banking in which banks are out of the picture, with SIM card operators and the mobile companies running it. The second example is the use of the Grameen phone in Bangladesh. It is a completely commercial model, where women share phones on a very low transaction cost basis. (The government is not involved.) Next, the example of e-Chaupal, which very clearly is not an ICT based service. It has to do with the supply chain of ITC, where they have been successful in overcoming the traditional lock in that farmers had to the money lender. It is one of the few successful applications of the kiosk model. The entire e-Chaupal model can be run completely on a mobile phone, pinging the centre for prices. For a large number of the services enumerated in Mr Kalasad’s list, you don’t need kiosks. They were traditionally delivered by the village accountant or some other official, which can now be transferred even to private players if necessary, or post offices and so on. There has to be very significant thinking along these lines of why you need to create parallel infrastructure when there already exists fairly large and dense infrastructure in our country in the form of various organisations, the post office being one. Further, there is simply no need for providing most of these services. Design of telecentres Gopal Naik: What would be the appropriate institutional design for telecentres, considering that the government is going to take an active interest in shaping these service centres? How do you involve the private sector? What are the models of public–private partnership (PPP) that would be suitable? S Kalasad: We need to learn from our early experiences, such as our experience with the Nemmadi kendras to say that it should not be left to one particular individual company or consortium. Let the market forces decide. The government can at best create the infrastructure, decide on a fixed number of basic services which are to be provided by the consortium or the private entrepreneur, and then leave it to the forces of the market. The services beyond the basic ones would depend upon the nature of the demand and local requirements. In a particular village or panchayat there may be several women entrepreneurs and women’s self help groups. So the income generating activities there could be vastly different from those in another village. The government will have to intervene in the pricing and settle on a middle path but it should not become unviable for the private entrepreneur. The PPP model would work best. The government can act as a backend provider; it does not necessarily have to be a service provider. It can infuse the initial investment and then withdraw and act as a catalyst. It will be best left to the private entrepreneur to make use of his profitability motives, well known to the public. (The public generally expects services provided by the government or government sponsored schemes to be free.) Further, the competition would keep the private entrepreneur on his toes; he is more likely to give better service if there is a demand and he would increase the number of services. I think the PPP model, with a private player playing a more active role and the government playing a passive role would be a preferable mode of service. Ravi Rangan: To clarify on the role of the government in the design of the telecentres, we have seen that the participation of gram panchayats in this scheme has been very poor. This is one of the reasons for our not being able to get a mass stakeholder participation in this process. They should have a larger role – we have to find ways to include them. There is a very interesting model we were working within Gulbarga district some years ago where 30 GPs signed up. It was a simple model wherein we were to set up the centre and deliver the services and the panchayats would provide the infrastructure, the power and so on. The centre did not take off for other reasons but we could see that it was a positive thing to get the GPs involved. If we look at the Nemmadi rural telecentre project as being partially successful, the reason for the success is the government’s transactions. It has created a foot fall into the system which then can be leveraged to do other things. Today, on an average, 60,000 people avail the services on a daily basis at the Nemmadi centres. Susheela Venkataraman: The service level agreements in PPPs in the past have been loaded with conditions and penalties. That mentality has to change. While there are issues with service providers, in all fairness, the delivery of services to rural populations is also fraught with issues of lack of awareness, insufficient information, no background or history, lack of clarity and very high levels of expectation. However, the government must of course remain as part of a larger roll out. Another aspect of the design is that centres that offer a large number of services present a challenge for co-ordination and programme management, not just at the backend but on a daily, ongoing basis, and this aspect has been underestimated in the past. Whether the model is a PPP or market driven, we must ensure that there is adequate co-ordination amongst all those who are part of the service chain, including government. When we looked at the public part of the PPP, in many cases we found that the government services, the applications, were not running. They were not accessible, the response time was not good and so on. You cannot have a situation where backend applications do not work efficiently. Problem avoidance is as important as response to a problem. If there is an issue, that is where the role of the government as an underwriter or a buffer comes in. Service providers should see this rural market as being just as important as other markets; large volumes, the opportunity to up sell/cross sell to increase market and wallet share, as well as financial motivation are extremely important. Any PPP agreement should provide for incentives to do better, and provide higher levels of service. We feel very strongly about the need for incentive clauses. That could be the single biggest factor in driving better acceptance of the centre’s role. To smoothen relationships in PPPs and avoid problems, there must be frequent open dialogue between partners so that all are benefited. Parties must set realistic expectations of each other, and expectations and requirements need to be fine tuned regularly. Rahul De: The PPP models seem to work but there is a large amount of evidence that they don’t. The running costs of such kiosks are never recovered from the revenues. The private player generally is the loser; the government is too big to lose. The only types of kiosks that survive economically are those funded by large corporations for their own manufacturing and supply chain needs, such as the e-Chaupal. Gopal Naik: In this discussion on PPP, are we talking about the different stages of processes? With the learning that happens over time, the government should be able to streamline their own system. Is there a process in place to enable that? Can Ravi Rangan comment? Ravi Rangan: The attitude of the government is moot. The government wants to play safe, always erring on the side of caution. They are worried about whether the initiative itself gets killed. The PPP model would be the appropriate model provided there is a shift in bureaucratic attitude. In the recent past we have been working on an alternate model that has been using local communities and self help groups, and taking local needs into consideration. The participation from the government this time round has been significantly different and there has been a quicker turnaround time in providing buildings, infrastructure and so on. Location of telecentres Gopal Naik: Locating telecentres in the gram panchayat has certain advantages. It is a centre which people visit and where they congregate, so it is easy to disseminate information about services and to access them. A location backed up by the government gives it a certain validity – our surveys reveal that the reliability factor is very high with the government, compared to other private structures, cooperatives and so on. However, as Rahul De pointed out, it probably replicates the weaknesses associated with government ventures – such as the presence of agents or middlemen. Is there a way to address this through the design of the rural telecentre? Rahul De: Gram panchayats have traditionally been controlled by the dominant castes. That begins to create distinctions in access and use. The original design of the technology may not have intended it but we begin to shape the technology to our needs, as we have done with the mobile phone. We cannot walk away from certain issues, which is why I submit that this model be rethought very carefully. Ravi Rangan: I beg to differ on the caste-based issue in respect to Karnataka. I don’t know about other states, but in Karnataka there is no differentiation in the way people of different castes are treated. However in terms of the location vis-à-vis, corruption, our experience is different. It may be as simple as the person at the counter not giving back the change after collecting the fee for issuing a certificate. We find that the centres which are closer to the decision making points, such as taluks, become a hub for touts in that area. Coming to the location of the telecentre at the gram panchayat, in many places there is no other infrastructure available other than the GP office, where people can congregate. Much depends on how effective the social mobilisation at the centre is. If your social mobilisation is effective enough, a big chunk of the local community which has been aggregated into self help groups (SHGs) and farmers’ organisations can play a dominant role both in terms of viability and oversight on the services delivered, and the GP is a good point to congregate. Another interesting development is that the GP today, at least in Karnataka, has a computer of its own with an operator. Telecentres could subsume that into their model to create additional viability. Given these considerations, the GP is a good location. Susheela Venkataraman: While you need a home for the equipment, service delivery need not be restricted by physical boundaries to the GP office or any other location. Once you have the concept, it can be housed anywhere. We could use hand held devices. Coming to the question of access, while equity is important and the eventual goal is to provide 100% coverage of everything to everybody, initially we should be thinking of services and mechanisms that may not be ideal but still deliver good quality services to a substantial chunk of the population. Ravi Rangan: Till now, financial inclusion has primarily been through a banking model that used a hand held device and operated through a smart card mechanism. There have recently been initiatives from banks, the biggest being SBI, where the bank’s core banking system can directly be accessed from kiosks. Till date the models have been such that one had to go through an intermediary middle ware which did not have all the services but only a restricted set. If this kind of model catches on and works well, there is a big advantage to be gained. Its positioning in the GP centre can bring in a huge amount of viability and you will have a large number of banking transactions passing through in a very transparent manner. Susheela Venkataraman: This would give you the opportunity to up sell or cross sell and you can plan the next steps. Audience: In the context of agriculture, telecentres can play a crucial role in creating awareness, they work as training centres and hand holding centres. Farmers can be given crop advisories and initial hand holding on the use of mobile would lead them to subscribe directly on their mobiles. Selection of technology Gopal Naik: The other question is with respect to selection of technology. Should it be open access or the proprietary product? What is the appropriate connectivity? Rahul De: I have always been for open source and open technology. Open source technologies go into the public domain. They become a public good which can be shared equally. The technology can be replicated by various states without having to pay royalties to the owners. This is both on the software side and the application side. Even on the hardware side, there is a nascent movement of open designs and open hardware technology platforms which don’t have proprietary hooks into them. Several mobile technologies are on open source platform, although the hardware is still proprietary. (If I have a wish list I could give to the government today, I would ask for one thing – half an hour talk time free to all BPL families in the country. This would not cost much and would enable a far larger number of capabilities than we are envisaging today with the kiosk model.) Some things may not be possible but these technologies have a way of enabling innovation which is phenomenal. There have been very interesting experiments in connectivity with devices made of low cost material which allow long distance communication. And once we roll out bandwidth at a massive pace – S-Band, 2G, and 3G – and with private players in the game, connectivity is not going to be such a big issue whether you talk about voice or data. The government can go ahead and build the connectivity and we will do the rest. Susheela Venkataraman: Connectivity is perhaps not as much an issue as is consistency of bandwidth and the availability of good bandwidth. It should not be an issue as we go forward (one the fibre network is rolled out) but it is something that needs addressed now; if not, we will end up with fragmented solutions which could lead to the whole initiative being dumped – throwing out the baby with the bathwater as it were. Private players too are looking at open technologies and adapting them for their applications. However, until many of the technologies/applications are proven, become scalable and robust enough for you to achieve, you may need to go through a proprietary solutions phase. It is important not to tie down to specific software or hardware option, but provide flexibility to bring in new solutions and ensure interoperability. The relevant technologies will be those that will allow multiple end points, which will allow the applications to take advantage of whatever mechanisms there are that allow people to interact. Power consumption has to be low and the technology should be easy to maintain. The ability to manage remotely, from a central location, is important. Ease of use is very critical. Ease of use not so much for the person in the kiosk who is trained to deliver but when there is a direct interface with the consumer – there you needs a very simple interface. One flaw in our past thinking has been thinking about the technology first and then the services offered. Technology is integral to service delivery and cannot be viewed in isolation. Going forward, the services on offer are going to drive technology. What is important is good architecture. Ravi Rangan: Our experience in terms of connectivity has been very good. Over the last four years we have moved from VSAT, the only option available, to broadband which is universally available at the hobli level and even the GP level. The cost has come down by a factor of four in the last four years and left to market forces, it will keep improving. With regard to the rest of the technology pieces, based on our experience, we would rather have a thin client environment on the telecentre end because that pushes the complex management on to the server end. A cloud application would be ideal because then it is much easier to manage and maintain and the upgradation on the telecentre end would be minimal. Lastly, there is a huge management information system (MIS) backbone that needs to be set up once all the CSCs are rolled out in Karnataka, 5000 individual offices will have to be monitored and managed. So, technology has also to be looked at for the layers in terms of MIS and management systems. Human resource issues Gopal Naik: One critical aspect of telecentres is the quality of service and there are many challenges here such as getting the right kind of people to work in rural areas, giving them the right training so that good quality service can be delivered and issues such as ensuring equity in the quality of service and being alive to corruption will be addressed. Ravi Rangan: The employees of telecentres weigh their job in their context, in their social environment and consider it to be an important, white collar job. Over the last five years the attrition has been less than 5%–6%. People haven’t left these centres seeking opportunities in urban areas – they look at it as a socially relevant and important job. You can build on this and motivate people. There has been some debate about whether people should be swapped between telecentres. We have not seen much of a difference here – the net impact seems to be the same. Because over a period of time they become localised to that area. Also people have their own networks across hoblis and gram panchayats. So I think it is irrelevant in this context. The other issue is incentives, on which the jury is still out on how and whether the incentives impact performance. A larger challenge is the employee model vs the VLE model. In the VLE model you have an open-ended system where you can set up your incentives as a kind of all or nothing. Whereas in an employee model, keeping in mind certain sustainability constraints, the amount of incentives that you can afford to give out is not very large. On incentivising people to perform better, we are trying to learn more about the different models that are there. Coming to attitudinal training, it has to be done on an ongoing basis. Susheela Venkataraman: Amongst HR issues, stability and training are very important, and telecentres would perhaps require a broader set of skills than may be envisaged today. One could use the MIS in the backend, one could use the rich information being generated by building dashboards etc, to monitor service levels closely. Apart from quantitative information it is just as important to look at the qualitative aspect as well, especially when we are trying to put something in place and drive acceptance for it. Video technology today enables organisations to stay in touch with remote individuals, and supports motivation and constant skill upgradation. It is easier to talk to people face to face, coach them and counsel them. But video has to supplement ground supervision. We can explore the use of the social media here because that would allow a lot of collaboration among remote individuals and the exchange of notes on challenges and problems. So there is a tremendous amount you can do just by being able to use technology not for just service delivery but also for organisation building. If there is one soft skill that I had to choose, it would be customer centricity and it is something that can be taught. The other thing is to be able to teach people in the centre to tease out the real problems, the real issues and not just perform mechanically. Communication between the rural and urban worlds can be a real challenge. It would make sense to view this as a consumer driven service with the added complexity of distance and isolation. Gopal Naik: Thank you all for a very exciting discussion. We have benefited from the experiences of all the panellists.