The country is currently ranked 143 out of 193 countries by the UN

ICT: Bhutan has improved by nine places in the e-government development index (EGDI) and is now ranked 143 out of 193 countries, according to the United Nations e-government survey 2014.

The biannual UN survey measures how public administrations provide electronic and mobile public services. The EGDI is a composite measure of three important dimensions of e-government: online services, telecommunications connectivity and human capacity.

Bhutan achieved a score of 0.28 out of one in this latest survey, compared to 0.29 in 2012 and 0.25 in 2010. Bhutan was ranked 152 in both 2012 and 2010.

The world average is currently 0.47.

Bhutan’s score keeps it in the lower end of the middle EGDI countries category, which requires a score of between 0.25-0.50. There are two more categories in front, a high and very high EGDI countries category.

Globally, South Korea maintains its first place rank with a score of 0.94, Australia comes in second with 0.91, and Singapore is third with 0.9.

The EGDI score is the average of three components. In the online services component, Bhutan scored 0.24, for telecom infrastructure it scored 0.17, and in human capital 0.42.

While slight gains were achieved in telecom infrastructure and human capital, Bhutan’s score for online services decreased compared to 2012.

In the region, Bhutan ranks above Bangladesh (0.27) and Nepal (0.23), but lags behind India (0.38) and China (0.54).

While Bhutan is categorised as a least developed country, it’s ranking is above this category’s average score of 0.21.

Department of Information Technology and Telecom (DITT) director, Phuntsho Tobgay, attributed the increase in ranking to five factors: greater penetration of telecommunications services, rising internet subscriptions particularly mobile broadband, the adoption of an e-Gov strategy by the government, adoption of standards that allows for government information spread across agencies to be integrated, and efforts to professionalise the ICT sector.

On what efforts are being made that will further improve Bhutan’s EGDI ranking, the director said the government is working on getting agencies to strongly “adopt” ICT projects, changing mindsets, and addressing resistance to change.

“Ownership of ICT projects by agencies is very crucial for e-Gov success,” he said. “Technology or ICT is only an enabler so adoption of ICT by agencies has largely to do with the mindset,” he added. “So the government’s strategy is to start by engaging government agencies by developing or providing every sector its respective ICT master plan.”

He added: “The idea is to help build project ownership right from the conceptual or planning stage. For instance, agencies where ICT ownership is strong, they have always done better with ICT projects.”

Phuntsho Tobgay pointed out that Bhutan is currently at an “ICT convergence” stage, where common infrastructure like data centre, network management systems, email systems, and human resources, among others, are being consolidated.

But he also said that such efforts to consolidate ICT aspects are facing resistance by some agencies. “The biggest challenge will be in freeing IT human resources for deployment, we are facing some resistance but many are beginning to understand.”

Other areas the government is working on to improve its e-governance services include an e-payment system with the Royal Monetary Authority. This e-payment system would allow inter-banking payments, which are currently restricted, allowing payment for services irrespective of bank.

Another area of improvement being pursued is on e-commerce transactions to enable online commerce. “We will need to look at payment aggregation and intermediaries that will enable such transactions within Bhutan but in the future, first we will need the adoption of relevant policies and legislation,” Phuntsho Tobgay said.

The government has also created a task force comprising the National Environment Commission, the finance ministry and the cabinet for its paperless initiative, explained the director. Work is also ongoing to increase usage of the government’s official email system being provided by Google Apps.

More than 4,500 of the 5,000 Google Apps accounts the government subscribed for are currently being used by civil servants. “The department has seen significant savings after the adoption of Google Apps from decreasing paper use and printing in the office,” he said. “Besides this, the efficiency gains in the department is significant due to collaborative work that is enabled through this platform.”

The director said that activation of 5,000 accounts should not be seen as a measure of efficiency or target to meet since a buffer has to be maintained when new people are appointed, transferred or retired, among others. “Further, we are also still waiting for response from important agencies on the number of users from their end,” he said.

By Gyalsten K Dorji