The Passport Service in India has undergone a big transformation in the last few years. Today, there is complete transparency in the entire process that results in lesser anxiety on the part of the applicant citizen. Five fundamental factors – digitally enabling process re-engineering and transformation, ensuring citizen proximity, developing win win public private partnership, building ecosystem linkages and displaying bold leadership, form the basis of the phenomenal success. Passport Service is a case study for many other Government departments to understand and learn from.
But above all this, the aspect that really is at the core of the success is a new mindset of putting the citizens at the centre of the entire exercise. A citizen can no longer be taken for granted.
An excerpt of a freewheeling discussion between Dr. Kapil Dev Singh and Mr. Golok Kumar Simli, Principal Consultant & Chief Technology Officer, Passport Seva, Ministry of External Affairs brings forth the essential elements of the journey. Mr. Simli has been a key person involved in the transformation exercise at Passport Services.
Dr. Singh – Passport Services in India have really become much better as compared to the past. I can say this based upon a personal experience of renewing my passport a year back. How has the transformation evolved?
Mr. Simli – The transformation at Passport Services has evolved clearly in three distinct phases – conceptualization & design, core transformation and continual evolution. The designing phase was aimed at carrying out process mapping, analysis and reengineering activities towards making the core processes more agile, transparent and effective. Earlier the clarity on where any citizen’s application is stuck was not available, the need was felt to make it more transparent so that there is increased responsibility and accountability in the system. The new process design started with the citizens’ needs and was reworked backward to build the process capability to serve them. The core transformation phase involved carrying out the changes at three levels – building physical Passport Seva Kendras (PSKs) going closer to the citizens, digitally enabling the processes and training the staff for increased ability to leverage the new capabilities. And the long term evolution involves a continual improvement to make the services better, effective and relevant to the citizens in India and work is in progress to enable the similar facilities abroad at Indian Missions/ Posts for delivery of Passport related services.
Dr. Singh – That’s a very good model to emulate, it starts with a revolutionary change and persist that with evolutionary and gradual changes. Can you talk a little more about the gradual changes brought about in the past couple of years?
Mr. Simli – Yes, revolutionary and innovative change may be a good start, but that is not enough. A continuous approach to improvements is a must. As I said earlier, the centre of the entire exercise is the citizen. Hence all the continuous improvements must make the citizens’ lives better. I would like to talk about two distinct ways in which we are doing that. One, we are improving upon the direct interface with the citizens, and two, we are finding ways to build those aspects that make the process that serves the citizens simpler and better.
The direct interface involved creating a citizens charter, taking the services further closer to the citizens through Mobility and effectively handling their feedback and grievances.
A citizen charter is a deep commitment to deliver quality services with well defined metrics. Once an organization creates a citizen charter, it commits itself to a promise. It is open to any public scrutiny.
On the front of going closer to the citizens, continuing the PSK strategy we started Passport Seva Laghu Kendras (PSLKs), which are very bare essential replica of the PSKs but with the promise of same level of services. There are 12 PSLKs opened, with a chunk in the North East India and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Apart from this we are regularly creating Passport Melas in weekends and Passport Camps with mobile centers in areas which are distant from any PSK. The idea is to take the passport services as closer to the citizens as possible.
The third aspect is that of creating a well defined process internally to act timely on grievances or queries by the citizens. The feedback may come from multiple channels – kiosks, web portal, social media or even the call centre. Effectively capturing them is one thing, having the capacity to handle them is another. The real challenge came with respect to the feedbacks posted on the Social Media. To tackle that, we have built a well integrated set of tools and processes to gather feedback and act upon them. There is a complete transparency on the feedbacks collected and actions taken upon them. I would like to mention here that many a project suffer from the problem of lack of the capacity to act upon the feedback, even though the feedback collection process may be effectively working.
The indirect approach involves shortening the process of police verification, use of data insights to mobilize resources for load balancing and building interconnects with database platforms for authentication.
Police verification of the applicant citizen is an integral part of the passport delivery and one of the most time consuming process. Since it is outside the purview of the Central Passport Office, any meaningful intervention may help reduce time to deliver. We recently rolled out a mobile app, which helps the local police stations to carry out the process of verification faster using the app on a tablet and the district police offices to validate and control effectively. The initial adoption in states like Andhra Pradesh, Telengana, and Karnataka has shown encouraging results.
One of the byproducts of process re-engineering and digitalization is availability of process data. The veracity of the data allows for a meaningful analysis for decision making. We make regular use of the data to analyze the load at the various PSKs and balance them in order for ensuring that we meet services as per our charter.
The third and a less developed aspect is that of interconnect with the database platforms like the Aadhaar, DigitLocker, NCRB/ CCTNS etc. Though the interconnect with Aadhaar is done well to ensure validity at the personal level, records/ documents level authentication is still an issue. It is here that I feel a meta-level platform that ensures handshaking between service providers like passport and document database like DigitLocker shall be of great help. This is not a problem at Passport Services only, it is a common issue across EGovernance services. An approach like that will be a great boost to delivering faster and effective services to the bona fide applicant citizens.
Dr. Singh – Very interesting, I can see a great relevance of the digital technologies like social media, mobility, cloud and analytics even in delivering E Governance services?
Mr. Simli – That’s true, I think more and more E Governance initiatives must explore how they can leverage SMAC technologies for both creating better citizens’ experience and building process capabilities to serve them. And a converged play of multiple SMAC pillars will certainly be of great relevance. This is rather under explored so far.
I would like to highlight the converged play of ‘mobility in cloud’ as one of the key game changers in India. With more than a billion mobile phone subscribers in India and 34% of phones being smart phones, we have a huge scope for delivering E Governance on the mobile. The numbers are only going to rise with time. And when we look into mobile based service delivery, we cannot be content with traditional IT architecture. We will need to embrace multi tier architectures enabled by cloud technologies for agility, elasticity and efficiency. Though our traditional data centers may be good from the capacity point of view, they will need to become more responsive, something which can be done only by exploring cloud technologies.
Dr. Singh – That indeed is very relevant. Your perspectives have made me believe that Government has a lot to learn from Government itself. An initiative like Passport Seva has so much to offer to others as learning. Thank you so much for your thoughts.
Mr. Simli – My pleasure. Thank you for starting Maximum Governance, an initiative that curates the knowledge and share it with a broader set of government leaders. I wish you all the very best in your endeavors.
 Laghu means Micro