Developing the Central Nervous System of Punjab

Tuesday, September 30, 2014
What role our brain plays in our everyday life? Is it for memory only? Does it also plays the role of coordination and command? Is it the place where decisions are made? Or it plays all of these roles? Yes, it does. Making effective communication and information processing among different parts of the body possible, it ensures their coherent functionalities. In governance structures, Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) work in quite analogical to the human brain. Separate parts of the body only play their roles properly only when guided by the brain. ICTs are playing this role in the daily lives of individuals, businesses, and governments by enabling direct and transparent communication, data driven decision making, and eventually leading to socio-economic development.

The first step, in our nervous system, is the flow of messages across our body processed via brain. Imagine the damage if information of burning hand is delayed or not conveyed at all to brain and muscles are not asked to move it away from fire. Before the conventional ways were replaced by ICTs, lags in information communication slowed governmental processes leading to social and economic losses.

In governance structures, timely coordination among various departments is crucial for meaningful and synergistic impacts. In the wake of recent floods, a flood relief portal was set up by Punjab Information Technology Board for interdepartmental information processing and dissemination among the institutes such as PDMA, WASA, District administration, flood relief organizations, and general public especially of the flood vulnerable areas. It updated about the water levels in rivers, flood sensitive sites, number of flood affected people, crops and property losses, and relief activities. All the information was publicly shared resulting in timely actions to avoid losses.

 Let’s go one step further. Assume our brain is connected to a monitor displaying its internal processing. Wouldn’t it be easier to detect dysfunctional parts based on the information swirling in brain? Same happens in digital world. When data is shared publicly, systematic flaws can be identified and then corrected.
But there is more than communicating the information. Information flowing through brain amounts to ‘big data’, which then processes and analyzes it to make decisions. Same happens in government business. Intra and inter departmental databases create trends and lead governments to ‘data driven decision making’. DDDM is a process of knowledge based decision making giving not much importance to gut feelings. Data based decisions have proved to be more effective than making intuitive decisions. Disease Surveillance System, another project by PITB, is a central database collecting patients’ data from all over the Punjab. After analyzing the data, insightful disease trends help health department officials to craft policies and take preventive measures to stop the prevailing diseases. The way artificial intelligence technologies are advancing, it is not for away when automatic decisions will be made by information systems which could be far more accurate than human beings.

So, where does this all lead us? What do we achieve from digital information processing and data driven decision making? Let’s go back to our brain example. As a well-functioning brain is a gateway to maintain our lives, a well-established ICT infrastructure is vital to efficient governance and eventually socio-economic development. It shifts the balance of power from top to bottom empowering common citizens leading to inclusiveness and sustainable growth. Citizen empowerment project, known as Citizen Feedback Model, is a feedback system developed by PITB to solicit feedback from common citizens who avail a public service. Large database of feedbacks are made public highlighting trends in service delivery eventually forcing the government to make corrective actions by changing service structures and transferring incompetent officials. Another research by World Bank concludes that a 10 percent increase in high-speed internet connections is associated on average with a 1.4 percent increase in economic growth in developing countries.

Pakistan has a great opportunity of fast socio-economic growth by developing IT infrastructures. In view of increasing marginal returns, a theory of economics, a little investment in this sector can lead to significant increase in our wellbeing. Punjab Information Technology Board was created to harness the true potentials of the province by installing necessary IT infrastructures for governmental data processing, data analyses, and reporting to the government to make directive decisions for meaningful results. The board has shown rapid progress in achieving these targets. It has automated numerous governmental departments, developed numerous smartphone applications for smart monitoring of services, established an incubator (Plan9), an accelerator (PlanX), and a freelance hub (Tech Hub) to promote technology entrepreneurship, and running an IT training academy for capacity building in the province. Its success in fighting against crucial issues such as dengue epidemic, flood relief management, empowering citizens, computerization of land records are visible notions that it is playing the role of central nervous system in Punjab. This is an ongoing journey to incorporate this brain into each and every activity happening in the province.