India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi is creating the conditions for economic development, and its all by encouraging greater business growth.

Government websites are increasingly pro-business focused. Press releases are pumped out almost daily from various ministers at a national and state level on how they’ve launched a new business portal for almost everything.

But what happens when departments and state governments create these new portals following an over-arching pro-business vision but without any strategic or even tactical coordination?

The answer is a patchwork experience for business customers.

When the computer says no to eGovernment strategy

While a national eGovernance Plan exists for India, it is practically impossible to ascertain whether departments and states are aligning to it. Why is that?

Are you sitting down for the answer?

The website is so slow responding that anyone wanting a copy is more than likely to give up. Hardly a vote of confidence in what Prime Minister Modi is trying to achieve.

But wait, it gets worse. It’s not located on some insignificant site. It’s on the Indian Government’s portal at https://india.gov.in/.

Using the industry benchmark, Pingdom Tools, the portal homepage took 60 seconds to load. While the eGovernance Plan plan took a similar amount of time to load, the page did not include a copy of the plan at all:

National eGovernance Plan National Portal of India

While of course India is a developing nation and shouldn’t expect to have the same lightning broadband speeds of some countries, more effort should go into a platform speedy enough to meet a base load time measure. A recent BBC article found that over half of internet users won’t wait 3 seconds for a page to load, and will click their back button instead of waiting. On this count India needs to lift its game if it wants to foster a more digitally savvy business environment.

So without a copy of the strategy I couldn’t assess the degree of alignment between the articulated direction of government and what departments and states were doing.

While the is generally well designed and architected from a customer perspective, one major aspect is missing. No clear call to action for business owners or people looking at starting a business:

Possibly the closest logical fit would be “Commerce.” And while this produced another well designed and laid out page, it was very bureaucratic and clearly not the place to go for starting or growing your business:

Possibly one more click would deliver the goods with the Commerce website. But alas, no. As they say, back to “square one.”

500 Internal server error.

I turned to search and thought I may at last be on the right path:

National Portal of India - search results

At last success!

Indian Government page for start-ups

But it should never be that difficult.

What about the experience outside the national portal?

At the start of this article I mentioned how countless new portals are announced by Indian media release for businesses. How did they fare?

If you’re an investor and are looking at India as a possible destination your first point of call would be its website. One recent announcement aimed to attract additional investment in the mining industry with a new portal called TAMRA:

While aesthetically pleasing, it has no clear call to action for what to do and how to use the site. The Overview link takes you to the page displayed here with lots of data. Under this is a table with more confusing data:

TAMRA table

I muddled my way back to the Ministry of Mines hoping to find what I needed to invest in India’s mining opportunities and the best I could find was this hardly helpful page:

The pages under this didn’t get any better. One of them said the page was best viewed with Internet Explorer 6 or Mozilla 2. Didn’t people stop using these five or ten years ago?

Overall if I was an investor the frustration levels would be so high I’d just give up and look instead at a country that was clearly more focused on attracting investors and making it easy for them. Not giving them the run around like India’s Ministry of Mines.

The overarching Indian Government site for investors while better is such a confusing array of constantly moving images it again makes a clear call to action very difficult:

This month the Times of India discussed the Indian Government e-Marketplace platform GEM. It’s a really great concept, consolidating the eprocurement activities of government into a single transparent Amazon-like marketplace.

They quote a government official giving the example of how much A4 photocopy paper the Indian Government must buy in a year and if they bought in bulk they could achieve fantastic efficiencies. For businesses, opportunities would be more open and transparent, giving them a greater chance of being considered. It’s a really positive step forward and something India should be given credit for.

Sure, searching for opportunities to sell A4 photocopy paper is difficult; the site menu gives a really long list of options that it takes forever to scroll through. But sure enough photocopy paper is there:

The Indian Government says it is going to make it manditory for its departments to use GEM. That’s fantastic if you are a business gaining access to this easy to use website to sell your products. But if you’re a seller of services - apart from transport services you may have to wait a while!

Government e Market GeM - services

But that said, it’s great to see broadly speaking a really positive step forward from India in its Government to Business digital service delivery.

Checklist from this article

  • Ensure your online offering has sufficient bandwidth: minimise load times to less than 3 seconds
  • Manage department alignment with overall government digital strategy: create incentives for active ownership and participation
  • Develop information architecture to be customer centric: whole of government portals need a clear call to action for businesses, linking to a business customer focused channel
  • For niche business focused sites conduct customer journey mapping and run usability testing early: identify early on what they want and need and prioritise
  • Avoid techfail: manage and correct server errors, ensure your digital offering renders across contemporary browsers and devices
  • Ensure menu items are easy to navigate
  • Avoid an “under construction” experience: if future offerings are planned but not available yet, don’t say “coming soon.” Say when, or don’t include.