Except for the exception that proves the rule, the software has benefitted all on board

 E-Governance: Tenzin Yuden started her civil service career on a typewriter.  There was no such thing as the internet then.

Today, the personal assistant to the information and communications minister is one of more than 4,000 civil servants who have transitioned to using the online office suite, Google Apps.

“Life is easier,” she says, explaining how it has removed many cumbersome procedures.

But there is one particular product that personal assistants seem to adore, the Google Calendar.

The product has allowed them to manage their minister’s schedules, while keeping all, who need to know of it, updated in real-time, a particularly challenging task for them previously.  One of the features, for instance, if the minister has an appointment in the next hour, he, along with all others, who should be aware of the meeting, are informed by Google Calendar through SMSs 15 minutes prior.

As Tenzin Yuden continued to explain Google Calendar’s various features, another of its effects becomes visible. There is much less paper on her desk.  Her printer has also been silent for an unusually long time.

This was one of the primary objectives of adopting Google Apps.

However, obtaining figures on how much the government has been spending on purchasing paper could not be acquired.  The government does not record paper usage.

Department of information technology and telecom (DITT) applications chief, Jigme Tenzing, estimated that the government had saved Nu 190M (million), by reducing paper usage, unnecessary travel and maintenance of email servers, in the past year.  He added that there was potential for the savings to go beyond Nu 300M, as it would cut down need to travel even further.

The figures are unverifiable but, if they hold any weight, would be a massive saving, when compared to the Nu 9M paid for the one-year Google Apps subscription.

Another group of civil servants, ICT officers, also cannot help but sing Google Apps’ praises.

“It has to a certain extent contributed to the GNH of ICT personnel,” the ICT officer for the foreign affairs ministry said.  He pointed out that it has freed them from managing and maintaining servers, a job that usually required them to constantly deal with SPAM and other hacks.

Today, the most frequent problem is docile in comparison.  The civil service commission’s ICT officer, Khando, said forgotten passwords is the common problem, rather than undelivered email or tedious searches for a person’s email, which usually required many phones calls.  A forgotten password can be easily reset.

Trashiyangtse administration ICT officer, Dorji T, estimated that the dzongkhag’s expenditure on travel allowances might have decreased by at least 30 percent.  Previously, gups usually travelled all the way to headquarters just to deliver documents.

The gups, many of whom had not known about email in the first place, have been trained to the point they are able to send or share documents with dzongkhag headquarters online.

As a result, besides spending less on travel and paper, expenditure on printer ink has also gone down, said Dorji T.

Losing information because of a crashed computer or lost flash-drive, is also less common today, said Dorji T.  All information is uploaded to Google’s servers, or the “cloud”, and accessible from any internet connected device.

But this also raises questions on the service being available only when there is internet connectivity and electricity supply.

Samdrupjongkhar ICT officer, Ngawang Tashi Dorji, pointed out that Google Apps could still be used when it is offline. Information can be entered and stored locally, which is then synced with Google’s servers once internet access is reestablished. He also pointed out that in comparison to delivering documents manually, it was still an advantage to be using an online office suite that is dependent on electricity and internet access.

Dorji T added that with mobile internet also available today, mobile devices can be used when electricity is not available.

But there are other factors that provide a more formidable challenge: low ICT literacy, user reluctance and some practices that continue to demand documents in hard copy.

Ngawang T Dorji admitted that older civil servants are more resistant to Google Apps, but that this could be addressed with constant one-to-one training and support.  He said that some of the older civil servants might not even have used email before.  However, with close and constant support, eventually the older members discover the benefits and move online.

Some procedures, especially those concerning money, which will be subjected to auditing, are still required to be printed in hard copy.

Dorji T said that Trashiyangtse tried to ensure no further printing of hard copies  but it was not possible, given auditing requirements.  He said that relevant agencies should deliberate the matter to find a way to resolve such requirements and move it online, or to the point where only one hard copy is required, scanned, and shared.

There is one unique problem with Google Apps.  Dzongkha Development Commission ICT officer, Rinzin Peldon, said that the particular Dzongkha script used in Bhutan is not provided in Google Apps.  As a result, work is not rendered accurately, she pointed out.

DITT officials said discussions are ongoing with Google to convince them to provide the particular Dzongkha script.

By Gyalsten K Dorji