Dr Mehraj Ud Din Dar, Director IT & SS, University of Kashmir, in conversation with Ehsan Quddusi shares the achievements of his department in implementing e-governance at the University of Kashmir & road ahead.
An alumni of BITS Pilani, Dr Mehraj Ud Din Dar has done his Ph.D from University of Kashmir. He joined Universiy of Kashmir way back in 1992 as System Analyst, held the positions of Reader & Additional Controller Exams before taking over as Director IT & SS in December 2007.
First of all, will you brief us on the background, objectives & overall responsibilities of your department?
The department of IT & SS came into existence in December 2007 and we started operations by mid of 2008 and thereafter we are striving very hard for the objectives that we have associated with this ICT mission of University of Kashmir. Our broader objective is to develop e-governance solution for the university & to improve the manual workflow by way of including the benefits of IT in those activities.
Will you throw some light on the achievements that have been made in these 2+ years?
We have achieved lot of progress during these two years. Since the Admission & Examination system is very critical for the university, so we took these two systems for e-governance on priority basis. We submitted a proposal of Rs 4.43 crores to Ministry of Communication and Information Technology for the automation of our examination system, which was accepted and we have successfully developed the system for the benefit of students. This enables the university to facilitate the timely declaration of results. For the registration & admission system, we started this activity last year on trial basis for PG admissions and it was a mega success. 37 thousand applications were submitted through our system last year. Initially the student had to download the prefilled form and submit it in the university, but from this year, students will be able to submit their forms online without making physical visit to the university. We facilitated the submission of fee at all the branches of J&K bank for the benefit of student community & we are working to provide the facility of online payments for the deposition of fee. Our system has helped a lot to reduce the issues of discrepancy in student information, as the information is entered only once in the university records and reused wherever required. Same thing we have done for the examination system. This year if you will see, students get prefilled forms and they only sign the form and submit it with required fee. This has resulted in error free submission of examination data.
There are around 38 government degree colleges in Kashmir valley. How do you facilitate the flow of data between them?
In order to reduce the digital divide between the colleges and the university, we have set up information centres in 33 colleges as of date. We have connected them through WAN with the university data centre and provided them with dedicated internet and intranet bandwidth, apart from providing necessary hardware, software and office infrastructure. This has facilitated the digitization of registration data at college level, apart from solving other student related problems for which they used to travel to university.
There is always resistance to change. How you manage that?
As far as the e-governance is concerned, it is ‘e’ & ‘governance’; e is the ICT part, rest is the governance. And for governance, you must have will and determination of the top management. From day one, the Vice Chancellor provided all kind of support. Resistance has been there, but that resistance has been effectively neutralized by the top management. The operational level resistance was tackled with effective and organized training & awareness for the operational staff.
Why did you chose to go with in house software development rather than availing the services of any software company?
Basically for the e-governance thing, we have to take very important decisions, otherwise why should we reinvent the wheel. We have seen e-governance initiatives taken by the secretariat and revenue department, but they have failed. We thought, why can’t we have our own core team to develop the software. We took the initiative of building our own team, despite the fact that we were advised by the concerned departments to go with NIC.
You might have faced lot of difficulties in building your own team. How did you manage that?
As far as Kashmir is concerned, we have the people with best programming skills. We only need to groom them. For this, we tied with Wipro and they deputed few consultants onsite to our office and they helped us in different phases of software development for several months. Then we arranged training for our development team from a reputed agency on .Net technology, as we are using it as our development platform, and that has paid in the long run. We have been successful in development quality software systems internally.
How do you manage quality, scalability and other aspects of software internally?
We get our software tested by third party, as we don’t have a dedicated testing team as of now. For scalability, we have a good software architecture in place, which will take care of it.
What is the benefit of this project to IT entrepreneurs in Kashmir?
We have now developed number of online services for the students like downloading of forms, results etc. Lot of people associated with IT have benefited with this and they are doing good business out of this. Secondly our success story has developed lot of interest in other government departments and many departments have already approached us for the same. This has provided a good opportunity for local IT professionals to replicate this model in other departments.
Are you planning to extend your ICT mission outside this campus?
Considering the geographic existence of this region, we can’t have big manufacturing industries here, but IT industry has a good potential here. This is the area where we can generate business and employment. Keeping this in mind, we have started a project to ensure that IT industry grows here. We are planning to establish an advanced centre for communications and information technology. We have already identified few areas where we will be imparting specialized trainings to develop expertise. The areas are Software development, Network systems, Database systems, Multimedia systems; and VLSI & embedded systems. For imparting training, we will have collaboration with leading institutes and MNCs. The other thing that we have planned is technology incubation. We will provide infrastructure, back end as well as front end for startups to develop their products or services around IT and we will facilitate business as well for them upto the period of 3 years. There are some schemes of financial support upto 35 lacs from Ministry of Information Technology that these startups can benefit from, through us.
As you said earlier, that the project is being funded by Ministry of Communication & Information Technology, how are you going to make this project self sustainable in future?
Sustainability of the project is fundamental thing and we have this in mind. Now that we are providing good number of services to the students, and as a matter of fact, services can’t be free. We are charging Rs 50 per examination to students for the services they are availing and this is generating us enough of revenue to sustain our activities. For around 2.5 lac students, we are generating approximately Rs 1,25,00,000 for one examination.
What kind of services are you planning to make available to the students through this project?
Now that we have established a network & established information centers in most of the colleges, we are planning to effectively utilize this infrastructure to impart education & training. These information centers can be turned into training centers for running specialized courses through virtual mode.