My opinion on using homegrown solutions for e-Governance
ICTA and e-Governance have become a hot topic these days. With all the opinions flowing around whether we should build everything locally or implement what’s available in the market, here is my take on the subject.
The Software industry in Sri Lanka is one of the fastest-growing sectors in the economy and already have a sizable footing on the global market. The sector is mainly divided into two parts one is product-based companies where they build software products and sell and the other is the services sector where they do provide software services as a means of outsourcing for other companies.
In the early stages of ICT transformation of global businesses, services ( or outsourcing ) sector thrived because companies wanted to build and implement systems as part of transformation and outsourcing was the most efficient way to get things done. This sector is pretty much alive but slowing down and my prediction is this segment will keep slowing down in the future. The main reason for that is now companies are looking more towards out of the box solutions with fewer implementation times and less management and maintenance overhead. So outsourcing contract periods are now shorter in general.
on the contrary , Product companies are building a solution/product and selling it to its customers. It can be direct to consumer ( ex- 4 Axis Solutions, Bhasha, Creatly ) or Enterprise Solutions or both. This category has more future growth potential with the current trend of managed services and out of the box implementations over ingrown solutions.
Back to the original discussion, when it comes to e-governance projects, my opinion is Sri Lanka is lagging behind compared to other countries, and time to implementation is critical. With that in mind, I think we should focus on getting already established solutions implemented ( given they are a fit for requirement ). But we shall not lose the sight of a master plan and future enhancements during the process. If a local company has such a solution, they can get involved, if a local company has expertise in customizing the solution and implement it, they can get involved. even in the tender process, we can have a certain degree of bias towards a local vendor ( but we should not give a tender at a huge loss for the sake of supporting local business as well ).
We should not look into building a system if we have a solution already in the market. even if we give a contract for a local company to build such a solution, that will be just another outsource project where after implementation both parties are done with it. Pumping money for such a contract over choosing an existing solution is similar to giving government jobs to graduates for the sake of supporting them. it will create more issues than solving anything.
The situation will be totally different when we don’t have an existing solution and we are trying to tackle a common problem, That will be a great opportunity for a local company to build a product and sell it on the open market. This is a good example where getting the local industry involved will be beneficial for both government and the industry. But unfortunately, such situations are rare in today’s world.
I think building software products and solutions are the way forward for our industry to thrive and if the government wants to support it, that should happen in the means of policy reforms, tax concessions, and loans, etc. E-Governance projects should not be a way of supporting or pumping money into the industry ( except the examples mentioned above ). Finally, E-Governance projects are for complete solution implementation and maintenance which involves software, hardware, and logistics as well. So decisions should be taken considering all aspects not just the software.
( p.s — Digital India, the E-Governance initiative of our neighbors is taking a different approach to this but we have to evaluate the situation with our own parameters like population, size of the country and budget )