Integrated IT projects still a dream

The Planning Commission could not clear a $305 million (Tk2,592 crore) project to streamline the government’s information technology infrastructure and bring all digital services under one platform even one year after the World Bank approved a loan for the work.

Even though the Planning Commission’s Socio-Economic Infrastructure Division convened meetings of the Project Evaluation Committee thrice on the project proposal sent by the ICT Division, no decision could be made to present it before the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) meeting as costs estimated in a number of areas were deemed excessive, officials responsible for the implementation of the project say.

The project, entitled “Enhancing Digital Government and Economy”, has been designed to create an integrated digital platform to be shared by all of the digital service providers in both public and private sectors through cloud computing.

It is expected to help the government reduce IT costs by Tk1,700 crore as well as increase the private-sector IT firms’ revenue by around Tk2,500 crore.

The World Bank has already approved $295 million (Tk2,507 crore) in loan to implement the project in November last year, while another $10 million (Tk85 crore) will be spent from the government’s exchequer.

The global lender proposed an integrated approach for ministries and divisions to reduce investment in their own IT resources, operational and overhead costs, improve interoperability and coordination between systems and agencies.

In the concept paper of the proposed project, the World Bank said the Bangladesh government set out an ambitious “Digital Bangladesh” agenda for the country which remains core to the overall strategy of leveraging ICT for development.

“The government intends to take a more strategic, holistic, and integrated whole-of-government (WOG) approach to improve governance and increase digital services to citizens and businesses,” reads the paper.

Many government agencies in Bangladesh continue to pursue their own IT investments, which results in information silos, duplication of assets e.g. hardware, software, and hosting, and heightened cybersecurity vulnerabilities, said the World Bank.

The project also aims to create one lakh new employment for the youth after developing them as skilled IT professionals, trained on emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, big data, Internet of Things (IoT), machine learning, block chain, robotics, and data analytics to meet the employment challenges aligning with the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

In the meantime, one year has passed since the World Bank approved the loan proposal, but the Bangladesh Computer Council could not yet start work to implement the project.

Dr Md Abdul Mannan, executive director of the Bangladesh Computer Council said that the proposed project would help to create a window to provide integrated digital services from the government to people.

He also said the project is taking some time to go into the implementation phase because of delays in the approval process by the Planning Commission.

Mentioning that the Planning Commission arranged Project Evaluation Committee meetings several times and provided some recommendations with observations, he said, “We have sent the reformulated development project proposal (DPP) to the Planning Commission following the recommendations of the last PEC meeting. I hope the commission will send it to Ecnec for final approval.

“It will strengthen the security of the government IT system and reduce cost. The public sector would be benefited through the project with the supply of highly skilled IT professionals and increasing revenue.”

A review of the proposal presented at the last Project Evaluation Committee meeting found that about Tk260 crore have been proposed to be allocated for consultation support from 42 individual consultants as well as six institutional consultants.

According to the Planning Commission, over 10% of the total estimated cost of the project has been earmarked in the project proposal for consulting support but, usually, 2% of the total expenditure of a project is spent for this purpose.

The meeting decided to form a committee to review the proposed expenditures on consultancy as well as in other areas and bring them down to reasonable levels.

The Planning Commission also questioned the rationale for the proposal to hire five more vehicles even after purchasing three vehicles for the project. In this regard, the Bangladesh Computer Council said one vehicle would be purchased for the project manager and two for use in the project, while five vehicles would be hired to conduct activities outside Dhaka.

The Planning Commission also disagreed with the proposal to allocate Tk468 crore as “general allocation to meet emergency and post Covid pandemic”. The Bangladesh Computer Council said this money could be spent for other purposes if required.

The WOG approach for digital governance has been a long-term strategy of many governments around the world for the past 10 years and countries such as Australia, South Korea, Singapore, and the UK have successfully implemented it, an official at the Computer Council said.

By setting up a common infrastructure, development platform, and service for all government agencies, the approach may help cut spending in ICT resources, operational and overhead ICT cost, and cyber vulnerability, said officials at the Dhaka office of the World Bank.

The “build once, reuse everywhere” digital platform will consist of common digital government infrastructure, cloud platform, and software services that will help the government avoid fragmentation, duplication, and increase the effectiveness of its ICT investments across all sectors and agencies, a source at the Computer Council said.

The upcoming project will also offer citizens and businesses at least 30 new digital services by government agencies to benefit from access to more value-added online services.

The project would spend $82 million to create an integrated platform for Digital Government and Digital Economy by establishing three cloud computing layers.

Another $38.5 million would be invested for strengthening cybersecurity for the government. This component would procure and install a cybersecurity package, provide email security for 2,00,000 email accounts, and web gateways for 10 key ministries.

Another $79.5 million would be invested for creating an environment for the digital economy for economic growth, employment creation and IT Industry-led sector transformation.

It will also help Bangladesh prepare for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) and face the impact of disruptive technologies.

This subcomponent aims to establish a Centre of Excellence on Digital Technologies and introduce a “Hire and Train Programme” for 20,000 youths to provide specific and digital economy-related training for new employees in local IT companies.

A sub-component will implement a strategic partnership programme (STP) to help local small and medium enterprises (SMEs) scale up their digital capabilities and expand their global reach through collaborations with global organisations.

Under the project, 10 research and Innovation centers will be established to train 80,000 youths and women.

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