The rise of the digital citizen

Updated: May 22, 2017 10:33:50 AM UTC
Image: Reuters (For illustrative purposes only)

Citizen services form the core of good governance. Over the years, the government has been investing in technology and processes to upgrade and standardise the disparate processes in the traditional citizen services model. Computerisation and connectivity have helped to add efficiencies and transparency, and many departments today offer services through multiple additional channels (callcentres, websites and mobile apps), easing the way for citizens. Furthermore, the government has also been using technology to listen to citizens and acknowledge to their needs. The revamp of the Indian Railways IRCTC website, for example, was in response to user complaints about its poor performance. The upgraded portal has almost doubled its peak performance, which has considerably eased the Tatkal ticketing process.

But this is a mere taste of things to come. I believe this wave of technology disruption has the potential to upend the traditional mechanism of serving citizens. Technology is proving to be the great equaliser and is transforming Indian citizens from disconnected and often powerless entities into engaged and effective champions for themselves and others. Mobile phones and social media platforms have given them a voice that helps them reach every echelon of the government. The government, in turn, has been a pushing a digital governance model through its Digital India program to provide inclusive development and growth by harnessing the power of digital outreach.

The program is off to a good start in adopting a cloud-first approach. What must follow is a focused strategy to build standardised technology platforms that are secure, interoperable and incorporate the benefits of disruptive technologies. Big data, IoT and social media should be important elements of the digital framework that will provide much needed data standardisation. Every governmental agency that deals with citizens needs the same core set of citizen data. Therefore, it is critical that the cloud data framework has mechanisms to standardise citizen data for efficient functioning as well as fraud prevention.

In addition to the more established technologies already in production, early evaluation and adoption of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) is imperative. These technologies have a range of applications that can well serve a country as vast and diverse as India. Imagine a bot that can handle questions about welfare schemes from every distant corner of the country in a variety of languages. Or law enforcement agencies that use detection patterns to stay one step ahead of criminal activities. These applications are powered by AI and can help take government services to the next level.

After AI and ML, blockchain is going to be the next disruptive technology that could completely change the way organisations use and manage data and transactions. This technology is behind the groundbreaking virtual currency Bitcoin, but it has exciting possibilities in many other areas. Governments across the world are already investing in blockchain applications in the areas of financial transaction management, asset management, regulatory compliance and even contract management (particularly in PPPs). The technology uses a tamper-proof and distributed “ledger” system that can minimise or eliminate fraud in every area of government. Blockchain for cloud storage is already available and must be built into the early stages. It should be a strong contender for identity and security management for the Digital India citizen data.

Every citizen service (healthcare, education, land registration, legal etc.) involves identity management. Blockchain technology can serve as the underpinning to every interaction between the government and a citizen by creating a distributed and verifiable system that is very difficult to manipulate without immediate detection, making for a transparent and self-governing model that shuts out the middleman. For example, it can provide the framework for secure and interoperable electronic health records that gives control to the patient. It can be the powerful weapon that the government needs in dealing with widespread problems with fraud and money laundering with land and property related transactions.

The customary approach of waiting for technologies to become tried and tested should be replaced with the “early adopter” approach. Digital India is a bold and challenging undertaking and it must reflect this spirit when it comes to building up the technology infrastructure and programs that will help make it successful. Indians across the board are aware of the power of technology and have always been eager adopters, and they expect no less from their government. The positive response to the drive for cashless transactions demonstrates that Indians are willing participants in the country’s digital transformation. These digital citizens are akin to customers looking to their government to provide an outstanding experience for them.

Treating its citizens as valued customers should be the guiding principal for every government program. Disruptive technologies are the tools at its disposal and can help the government achieve its lofty goal of transforming India into a knowledge economy where our vast population will be our strength rather than our downfall.

- By Shailender Kumar, Managing Director, Oracle India

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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