Connectivity issues, low ICT literacy, continued use of personal email might be to blame

E-Governance: Not all of the 5,000 Google accounts, which the government paid Nu 9 million or USD 150,000 for, have been activated despite the one year contract ending at the end of next month.

Of the total number of accounts subscribed for, there are still 463 accounts that have not been activated.

Additionally, of the 4,537 Google accounts that have been activated so far, 460 of them have not been used by the civil servants they were activated for.

With each account having cost the government Nu 1,900 or USD 30, this translates to the government having paid around Nu 855,000 or USD 13,800 for the activated but unused accounts and around Nu 861,000 or USD 13,890 for the unactivated accounts.

This means that as of yesterday, the government has paid around Nu 1.7 million or USD 27,690 for 923 dormant Google accounts. However, with the contract ending only next month, this figure can go down.

Additionally, the normal cost of a Google Apps account is actually USD 50 per user per year but the government was able to negotiate a lower cost of USD 30.

Department of Information Technology and Telecom (DITT) research officer, Sanjay Gurung, said that not all the 5,000 accounts have been activated as a result of transition related technical difficulties being faced by some agencies. 

Accounts are activated based on a priority user list submitted by ministries and other agencies, he pointed out.

On the 460 activated accounts that are not being used, Sanjay Gurung said connectivity issues, lack of budget to conduct trainings, and civil servants continuing to use their personal email accounts for official correspondence are to blame.

During the recent mid-term review of government agencies, DITT once again raised the issue of users being reluctant to transition to their Google accounts and recommended that the government issue directives to migrate tot he online system.

The department had previously raised the same concern that some agencies and civil servants were not transitioning to their Google accounts fast enough in October, last year, when not even half of 3,653 accounts were being used.

Despite the government adopting Google Apps to increase data security, even the media cell of the Prime Minister’s Office sometimes still uses a free Gmail account to email press releases.

Despite the problems, Sanjay Gurung said that the DITT is working with ICT officers of agencies to monitor and encourage all users to migrate to Google Apps as soon as possible. He said that they are also deploying officers to agencies to conduct trainings and to provide technical support for the transition.

DITT has so far trained 250 ICT officers of all agencies. These officers in turn train the staff at their offices.

While using Google Apps is not complex and similar to using any free email service or even Facebook, low ICT literacy is being attributed as one of the reasons for some civil servants not transitioning to Google Apps. “Trainings for that would require additional budget which the department currently does not have,” Sanjay Gurung said.

However, he added that the Asian Development Bank will be providing financial support to DITT so that they can conduct more trainings and ensure users are adequately trained to work on Google Apps.

While there is a tangible cost element to the Google accounts lying dormant, there will undoubtedly be a cost benefit, that is yet to be calculated, from those 4,537 accounts that are being used in terms of increasing efficiency and doing away with needless bureaucracy.

For instance, the Google accounts have been used to collaborate online in finalising minutes of meetings in significantly less time than the previous process that required the document to be physically passed around several times.

The government adopted Google Apps as part of its transition to an e-government. The move was made to increase data security and improve efficiency by cutting down on lengthy manual procedures.

The government officially adopted Google Apps in June, last year.

By Gyalsten K Dorji