News reel


Tuesday, September 15, 2015

PITB: An unheard story in Pakistan!


When the metro buses, offering scheduled rides, ply on roads in Lahore and Rawalpindi/Islamabad in a controlled environment and one looks at real-time maps on screens and listens to the automated voice messages on-board, the feeling of being in a developed foreign country is undeniable.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when one looks at reforms the Punjab government, powered by Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB), has been introducing in the realm of good governance and public service delivery. The growing e-culture in public departments of Punjab government, from interactive dashboards to smartphone applications, is fast changing the government. Ask anyone in government of Punjab and people can’t seem to run out of superlatives for PITB’s work.

Name any department in Punjab, the PITB’s mark is pretty obvious, be it education, health, agriculture, livestock, law & order and revenue and many more. The Board is spearheading almost all the key initiatives of the Punjab government to provide quality services to the public, data-driven monitoring and automation of operations.

From real-time information on attendance of teachers and students in public schools across the province to repository of free digitised textbooks and disease surveillance, flood monitoring and crime investigation reporting and integrated command, control and communication systems and digitising land records, the PITB is helping drive the reform agenda of the government by implementing a robust monitoring system.

This monitoring system has been effectively used in curtailing dengue, tracking vaccinators, assessing flood damages, and of course subsequent efforts by the Punjab government to introduce reforms and achieve desired improvements. The PITB’s role in education sector, which is something very close to Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s heart, is quite significant and the same has been resulting in different policy interventions from the government.

Today when we appreciate improvement in attendance of teachers and students (above 90 percent) in over 50,000 public schools across Punjab the fact should not be neglected that all this is possible through the monitoring staff, equipped with SIM-enabled tablet PCs developed by the PITB, which allow them to digitally submit monitoring forms during their visits. The system is really helping reducing absenteeism. Similarly it was the PITB designed smartphone-based early epidemic warning system which played a key role in fighting dengue epidemic in 2012. Nonetheless, the PITB is somehow an unheard story in Pakistan!

“What India Can Learn About E-Governance From Pakistan” goes the headline of a prestigious media outlet of neighbouring India in recognition of services being rendered by the PITB, which is being headed by Dr Umar Saif, a LUMS graduate, who holds a PhD from University of Cambridge and Post-Doc from MIT. Last year, the PITB work was mentioned as one of the three global examples of innovation in governance by the World Bank President.

Recently the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government has approached the PITB seeking its technical assistance in developing an android-based monitoring of Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) workers. It is pertinent to mention here that Punjab has successfully developed and implemented monitoring of vaccinators using android phone through its e-vaccination programme “eVaccs”.

According to Aizaz Akhtar, Head of Special Monitoring Unit at Chief Minister’s Office, the Health Department has been benefitting from PITB vis-à-vis the use of technology for better and effective service delivery. “PITB is our key partner in building technology to bring delivery culture in the government of Punjab”, he added. The PITB is also behind one of the significant developments taking place in Punjab Police vis-à-vis reforms in traditional “thana culture”. Through initiatives like Command, Control and Communication, commonly known as IC3, the PITB is engaged in improving operational efficiency of police and to put the force on modern lines. Through the IC3, the PITB is bringing together various elements of Punjab Police operation so that the same work as a unified team.

This team work seems to be at the heart of PITB when one visits its offices at Arfa Software Technology Park, named after Arfa Karim, the child prodigy who died at the age of 16. “The lights are never switched off at the PITB offices”, remarks one PITB employee about the grueling work hours at this organisation.

According to Waqas Hassan, AIG (Crime Analysis & Monitoring), who is focal person for these reforms at IG office, from automation of manual records to online FIR registration the PITB was helping Punjab Police to develop Police Computer System having features such as computerised registration of FIR, handheld biometric verification devices, digitised biometric criminal record database, and human resource management system etc. “An automated system of FIR system has been introduced in 201 police stations in Punjab”, said Waqas. The system along with other components will be replicated in all the districts across the province, he added.

Out of many other public-friendly initiatives the PITB has launched e-Stamping system in order to replace the arcane stamp paper system, fraught with fraudulent practices, and leakage of government revenues. The new system will enable a citizen to acquire a stamp paper within 30 minutes and will cut out fraud and forged transactions. Citizens can get an e-stamp paper through any designated branch of a schedule bank, saving both time and money.

Similarly the ATM-powered water filtration plants initiative to be launched as a pilot project in selective districts of Punjab is aimed at empowering people to reduce wastage of clean drinking water and its proper utilisation. “PITB is benefitting the common man by bringing down the barriers for accessing government services. For instance, with citizen facilitation centres (e-Khidmat Centres), citizens can access 16 government services under one roof without having to wait in long queues, track their applications through an automated process and expect a response within a stipulated time”, said Dr Umar Saif.

It is pertinent to mention here that Dr Saif is also the founding Vice-Chancellor of Information Technology University (ITU) and the first Pakistani to be named as one of the top 35 young innovators in the world (TR35) in 2011 by MIT Technology Review. He is also first Pakistani to receive a PhD in Computer Science from Cambridge and that too at the age of 23. He has a long list of international accolades to his name. He also received Siatra-e-Imtiaz (SI) for his services in the field of Information Technology.

The PITB’s success story is certainly a result of putting the right man for the right job, and in this case, the chief minister seems to have found just the right man for his reform agenda in the government.