SMARTPALIKA : Digitising Local Governance

SMARTPALIKA : Digitising Local Governance

With the progress in information technology and the Internet, many governments around the world have started the concept of eGovernance in regard to public service delivery and conveyance. However, the use of IT by the government bodies of Nepal is still in its nascent stage. Realizing the dire need of an eGovernance portal and with the self-belief that he can contribute to making the governance system in Nepal better and more transparent, Manoj Bhattarai founded SmartPalika in 2017. Through this service, he aims to impact local governments with the use of smart technology, benchmark digital tools, database, and artificial intelligence. 

SmartPalika was founded as one of the major startups of Cellapp Innovations (a startup incubator) around three and a half years ago, with the objective to Digitize Local Governments. A decade ago, Bhattarai, CEO of SmartPalika founded Cellapp Innovations, a company which has more than 11 years of experience in IT innovation and a portfolio as one of the finest automation companies in Nepal. Before commencing SmartPalika, Bhattarai had gone to India and visited different smart cities to better understand the usage and operating mechanism of such systems. After that, he went through detailed research on how the e-governance system would be suitable and practicable for the local governments of Nepal.

SmartPalika is an integrated e-governance framework that includes a mobile application, web application, digital data, and a dashboard for the local representatives to use, access, and manipulate the available data. They aim to create a disruption in governance and change the way the public as well as the officials use technology. “With our ERP system, the goal is to Digitize government level operations in Nepal using smart governance modules,” says Bibash Mahat, campaign director of the company. They have more than 74 modules in their system, which are researched and built in such a way that they are practical and user-friendly. These modules help in areas where there is still a lack of properly trained technical human resources to operate the system.

Mahat says that SmartPalika is beneficial to both the local government and the public. People can accomplish most of the municipality provided services such as marriage registration, tax payment, birth or death registration, Data Chalani, Sifarish, etc. online via the Internet. The availability of demographic, infrastructural, and other information to the citizens through the software makes governance more transparent and provides proper data and insights to the local representatives to make plans for the future.  

The software also allows citizens to send suggestions, recommendations, and complaints to the mayor or other officials in authority. 

Productive Lockdown 
Besides e-governance, the team is highly experienced in Disaster Response Technology as well. Recently, during the lockdown period, SmartPalika launched a disaster management system. The Covid-19 Disaster Management System includes quarantine management, live tracking, contact tracing, migration assistant, and many other modules that have been handed over to more than 70 local governments. 

Mahat says that they utilized the lockdown period in a very fruitful and effective manner. During the lockdown, first, they added a Covid-19 module on all existing SmartPalika apps.The module has features like symptoms, precautions to be taken, myths vs reality and Self-examination feature. “After that, we voluntarily designed a Covid-19 Quarantine Management System and then distributed it to more than 70 local governments of Nepal, free of cost,” he says.

Mahat mentions, “As we have been working with the Local Government level for the past 3-4 years, we know how they operate and work. As it falls inside our domain, it was our responsibility to provide a technological solution to the Local levels in order to tackle the current pandemic. That is why we provided the system free of cost!” 

“We have a demonstrated history in working for disaster management in the past,” he says, “Apart from that we always like to work on new innovative projects that challenge us which brings the best out of our team.” 

Moreover, to facilitate proper and effective communication between the team while working from home, the team designed and deployed their own communication app ‘Team Collab’. The app has a desktop as well as mobile version with audio and video call functionalities as well. It was a big help to many organizations to manage their workflow during the lockdown. Now, Team Collab is being used by more than 50 companies in Japan! 

“Teamwork has been immense and as everyone in the team has a sense of accountability towards the work they are doing, we not just glided through the lockdown with ease but made an impact as well,” he added.  

Growth Rate 
The SmartPalika team strives to add value in people’s lives through their product, says Mahat. “Without that, we feel our work is futile,” he mentions. They focus on changing the system from traditional to technological. Their clientele includes metropolitan cities, sub-metropolitan cities, municipalities and rural municipalities. At present they are working with more than 110 local governments of Nepal in various projects. “We feel that we are moving in the right direction. We expect good things going forward from here,” he expresses. The team says that they have not felt the requirement to do extensive marketing till date. Till now, they have just been sharing information about their work, progress and products via various digital platforms. They have a dedicated digital marketing team that looks after their digital engagements, lead management and overall digital branding. Besides this, their work has been covered by different news and agencies that have helped them further grow their reach. 

Opportunities and Challenges 
Mahat states that in a country like Nepal, where administrations still resort to the pre-dominant traditional book-keeping, data storage and customer service methods, launching a Digital eGovernance system was difficult. They found it tough to achieve a breakthrough in convincing the government officials and representatives to switch into eGovernance. However, as they started working with a few local governments who wanted to Digitize their system, it was easier to explain their goals and motives to others as well. 

They are grateful as a team to the local governments who showed appreciation and belief for their work and collaborated with them to make their Palikas a ‘SmartPalika’.According to Mahat, “When government officials and representatives appreciate our hard work in developing the system, we feel happy, accomplished and strive for even better service and innovation.” 

 “Switching to e-governance is inevitable. We hope that in the days to come, our system will work as a benchmark and a guide for further forays into e-governance,” states Mahat. However, in Nepal, he says that there is a lot left to be done in this particular field. 

Sustaining an enterprise can be immensely challenging. For this, Mahat says that integrity in work, honesty and perseverance are the most important things among others. “There will certainly be difficult times for a startup but you have to keep chipping in and keep working,” he states, “You have to work smart and get many things right. Last but not the least, you must enjoy what you are doing.” Further, he believes the product must be outstanding in its functionality. Along with this, assistance to the client in operating the products and regular follow-ups should be maintained. In addition, proper quality should be maintained so that clients will have faith in the company in the future. 

Future Plans 
As soon as the four-month-long lockdown eased, they began working on stalled projects and handing over the e-governance framework to their respective local governments. “We have just completed our work to make Sunwal Municipality the first ‘SmartPalika’ of Province 5,” shares Mahat. They are close to handing over their e-governance Framework to a further nine local levels currently. 

The SmartPalika team is planning to make new ventures into artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and robotics now. The team is driven to make an impact and live by the motto‘Focus on working in the present to create value in the future.’

Source: https://www.newbusinessage.com/MagazineArticles/view/2701