The time has come to move beyond basic automation and digitization. The real questions today are: What must be done beyond Mode 1 of Digital India? Which core dimensions must be addressed for taking the leap forward?
Coeus Age analysis has identified seven important pillars of next leap—platform centrality, capacity building, digital state, governance agility, citizens’ experiences, new policy environment, and citizen participation through technology ubiquity (Figure 1).
Figure 1; Source – Coeus Age, 2018; #DigitalIndiaNextLeapForward
Let’s discuss each of the seven pillars here:
1. PLATFORM CENTRALITY
Governance must think in terms of platforms and transform by putting platforms at the center of the transformative process. Platforms are built for subsuming the inherent process complexity that lies underneath a simple interface for all the stakeholders—citizens, employees, and the ecosystem. It is built for simplicity, scale, speed, and effectiveness and aims to provide elevated levels of user experiences. Platforms are built for converging operations, interactions, and decision-making with the help of technology. A simple philosophy of Core, More, and Beyond must accompany any platform thinking.
Core represents the basic processes, their integration, access and usage by multiple stakeholders, both within a particular domain (e.g., soil health system) and across domain (e.g., soil health system and fertilizer management system). More represents value add to core like collating and presenting data centrally (e.g., AwaasSoft MIS, eUrvarak Portal, Annavitrana Portal) or designing a high-level security framework. Beyond represents continuous exploration of emerging technologies to strengthen the platform by making the processes more autonomous, obtaining deeper insights for decision making, and building higher levels of security, it must leverage the power of modern technologies like hyper-converged infrastructure, cloud computing, mobility, analytics, big data, API, machine learning, artificial intelligence, blockchain, and natural languages interface.
A highly effective digital platform can provide new services to the functional leaders who are willing to roll out new ways to reach out to the people and provide services to the unserved but also do that in a highly cost-effective and secured manner. There are tens of millions of such citizens waiting for governance to get better.
Integration is the key to building such a digital platform, and handling of the data imperative is the way to go. Integration operates at two levels—intra-domain and inter-domain. When multiple processes within a department are integrated, say the registration, record submission, and verification processes for passport, it is termed as intra-domain integration. On the other hand, when the processes are integrated across departments, say an agricultural marketplace integrates with the common electronic National Agriculture Market (eNAM) or a land registration and mutation process integrates with banks or courts, it becomes an inter-domain integration. Eventually, a digital platform that supports deeper technology play that subsumes complex cross-domain processes and ensures a broader reach is desirable.
For the majority of MMPs, a lot of ground remains to be covered with respect to building an integrated digital platform. For example, of the 6,000 odd agriculture markets across the country, around 50% are integrated with AGMARKNET, while less than 10% are integrated with the eNAM. Similarly, 25 out of 36 states and UTs are yet to integrate their digital land records with the banks while most of them are yet to integrate with the courts. When these are achieved, an entirely new ecosystem would emerge.
Figure 2; Source – Coeus Age, 2018; #DigitalIndiaNextLeapForward
The story is similar across various other MMPs. Integration is waiting to happen at the infrastructure, data, and workflow layers that would enable seamless service experience for the citizens. However, eleven data imperatives must be addressed before that happens (Figure 2). These include faster fetching of data, handling of high volumes of data, higher speed of data travel, joining together of data for creating new data sets, higher availability of data, better presentation of data, and improved security of data, among others.
2. CAPACITY BUILDING
Capacity building is about having a skilled workforce that could not only interface with the digitalized platform for carrying out transactions but also leverage its power to make continual improvements.
Figure 3; Source – Coeus Age, 2018; #DigitalIndiaNextLeapForward
At an individual level, it refers to skills and competencies but at the collective level it is also about building a new culture. A survey of 78 bureaucrats and technocrats by Coeus Age Consulting clearly identified change management and understanding the continuously evolving technologies as the top priorities for 2017–18, which signifies a clear need for capacity building, both in the technology and the line-of-business (user department) domains (Figure 3).
3. DIGITAL STATES
The real game changer for Digital India will be the onboarding of all the 36 states and union territories on the bandwagon. Though the center plays a very crucial role in forming policies, guidelines, infrastructure, structures, and skills pool, which is a strong foundation for Digital India, the real action will happen in the states. The nature of our co-operative federalism is such that without the states going digital, the dream may not get fulfilled. According to Coeus Age’s research, Digital States of India – A Comparative Analysis, nine leading states/UTs have been front-runners in adopting Digital across the spectrum of governance domains; seven emerging states/UTs are evolving fast towards Digital, while 15 other states hold strong promises but a lot must be done to help them evolve further. Then there are five remaining states that are lagging considerably behind others. A very strong push is required, both from the center and the state leaderships, to help them evolve faster.
4. GOVERNANCE AGILITY
Digital allows for policy decisions to be operationalized faster and more accurately on one hand and channelize feedback on the ground reality into policy decisions on the other hand. One good example is the Bhamashah Scheme of Rajasthan where an integrated platform of service delivery allows the government to track all the benefits given to an individual as well as to the family.
Governments could use the power of analytics to determine if changes in citizens’ service policies need to be made and operationalize those changes in an automated manner. The more the governments make the operations digital-led, the more agility they will achieve in decision making and policy implementation. Both integration and capacity building will play key roles in building this dimension, where the government leaders can act decisively and faster.
5. CITIZEN EXPERIENCE
The term ‘customer experience’ is quite popular now a day, yet when it comes to governance delivery, ‘citizen experience’ is rarely thought or talked about. This is being oblivious of the fact that the same citizen is also a customer and hence exposed to different standards of experience. Many government websites and apps provide a gateway to governance, yet their designs and user friendliness call for lot of improvements. The experience of citizens with the digital interfaces must not be ignored just because there is no competition. Rather, an interface must be considered as an important dimension of ‘service’ and designed accordingly.
6. NEW POLICY ENVIRONMENT
This is related to the earlier point but there is a strong overlap with policy formulation here. Ever imagined whether a government website adheres to the most contemporary guidelines or addresses the needs of visually challenged individuals who require voice support or follow the guidelines and standards as set by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)? Data protection and privacy is another area that is gaining prominence, and laws and policies are expected to be framed soon. Moreover, policies regarding the new technologies such as IoT and machine learning are also evolving. A strong enforcement of these policies is another cornerstone of the leap forward.
7. CITIZEN PARTICIPATION
The highest level that eGovernance could reach is when citizens are engaged in policy formulations, implementations, and checks, and not just remain the last points in delivery chains. The real challenge lies not in allowing citizens to participate but in doing that as an integral part of the service-delivery-and-transactions ecosystem. While in a standalone mode, citizen participation is happening even today, the real value would be unlocked by making it an integral part of the delivery system.
So, when citizens consume a service, do they have the power to provide feedback? Could this feedback lead to an appropriate action by a concerned government authority? Could the concerned officials’ and departments’ performance be rated using this feedback? Could this interaction lead to making the system better over time? These are the issues that must be at the core of designing an integrated citizen-delivery-and-participation platform. Needless to say, the earlier three points—the integrated digital platform, capacity building, and governance agility are important precursors to integrated citizen participation and empowerment.
The discussion so far makes it amply clear that if Mode 1 was about the basic use of technology, future modes would be about using technology to weave people, processes, and policies together in innovative and creative ways for strengthening governance. These would also be about spreading Digital India footprints to all the 36 states and UTs of India.
It’s time indeed to collectively build upon the ideas. If this paper has triggered thoughts in your mind that you think
would be worth discussing at length, please do drop in a word at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The debate has just begun.