Thinking Digital India app store

Apps can help simplify the delivery of multiple government-to-citizen programmes in a central yet transparent manner, while also ensuring holistic participation of all stakeholders

Deepak Kumar | May 1, 2015



Looking back, India’s first policy-level government digitisation drive – the national e-governance plan (NeGP) – may well be termed as a 1.0 initiative. By comparison, Digital India easily has the makings of a 2.0 programme. In fact, one of the constituent pillars of Digital India, eKranti, is very much a rechristened NeGP 2.0.

The success of NeGP, as we know, has been limited to pockets and silos. Arguably, NeGP has fallen short of its vision statement, which was to “make all government services accessible to the common man in his locality, through common service delivery outlets and ensure efficiency, transparency and reliability of such services at affordable costs to realise the basic needs of the common man”.

A SWOT analysis of NeGP that was later carried out and put up on the NeGP website, as part of a presentation, attempted to analyse some of the programme’s key weaknesses. The weaknesses listed included lack of attainment in desired impact; significant time overruns; weak standards and interoperability; weak monitoring and evaluation system; and problem of last mile connectivity among others.

The NeGP SWOT analysis can rightly be termed as something too little too late. For eight long years, the programme continued to be pushed ahead in a make-believe manner and the weaknesses, even if realised, were brushed under the carpet. Not surprisingly, “weak monitoring and evaluation system” was cited among the weaknesses as part of the analysis.

That NeGP fell short of the desired goals is not unique to the programme itself. Many mega government programmes in the history of independent India have failed by varied degrees.

Is Digital India foolproof?

This is the question the Digital India programme’s stakeholders and managers should be asking now rather than later. For, it would be naïve to assume that a programme of this gigantic scale and complexity won’t be having inherent structural weaknesses that could lead to potential failures a few years down the line.

If NeGP, which was a fraction of the size of Digital India, could suffer from silo formations that led to systemic inefficiencies and resource redundancies, why should one make the mistake of assuming that Digital India is born foolproof?

On the contrary, one can safely bet that the people behind this multi-modal, multi-dimensional programme would have racked their brains enough to identify and address numerous weaknesses before the nine-pillar structure was presented by the prime minister.

But the problem with programmes of this scale is that many of the challenges and weaknesses aren’t even revealed until the actual implementation begins. To make things even more difficult, the challenges can be so different in different demographic settings that it’s hard to visualise which weaknesses could amount to those challenges at a later stage.

Is agile monitoring the answer?

In today’s era, use of ICT is not enough for a system to be termed as agile. Legacy software-based models of monitoring, evaluating and reviewing, no matter how sophisticated, are simply inadequate to provide actionable insights to various stakeholders in a timely manner.
Elasticity, scalability and mobility are some of the essential attributes of an agile IT architecture. An agile monitoring system too should be able to exhibit these characteristics.

But how does one determine if a government’s ICT architecture and its monitoring system are agile? The SMAC (social, mobile, analytics and cloud) test can be a good way of ascertaining. How?

The very presence of an industry-grade cloud component within the SMAC stack ensures that the ICT architecture is both elastic and scalable and is capable of delivering government-to-citizen (G2C) as well as government-to-government (G2G) services in an on-demand manner.

The mobile component makes sure that the last-mile issue is effectively addressed, given the near-ubiquitous reach of the mobile in India. The social component not only makes the feedback mechanism highly interactive, but also makes it possible to source feedback from a wide and diverse set of users and stakeholders. Last but not the least, analytics is what helps to make the monitoring system agile. It aggregates data points from the other three components namely, cloud, mobile and social in up to near-real time and presents it to decision makers in an actionable manner.

Ride the apps wave

The good thing is that the Digital India programme does appear to be making use of the SMAC stack, even if it has not been stated in so many words. Particularly, there is a discrete cloud programme and roadmap in place. Mobile too has been stated to be an important vehicle for the delivery of government services. Various government bodies have also established their social media presence and are using platforms like Facebook and Twitter to send out communication as well as receive feedbacks.

To unlock the full potential of SMAC, however, it is important that the interplay between its four key components is well defined and orchestrated. That is something that still seems to be lacking.

Yes, that may be easier said than done given the humongous complexity and scale of the Digital India programme. Something like a common thread or a binding glue is required to orchestrate between the various components of a government SMAC.

It is also important that the orchestration simplifies the overall complexity of the stack (as well as that of the nine-pillared Digital India super-structure). In fact, anything that adds any iota of further complexity should be shunned without a second thought, at least for now.

If we look around for cues, the simplifying and binding factor could perhaps well lie in integrating all the stacks as well as the nine pillars of the Digital India programme to an apps store. Different types of apps may be created to address G2G, G2C and even government-to-business (G2B) requirements and hosted in the app store. Access to those apps may be pre-defined on the basis of the users’ profiles.

To its credit, the department of electronics and information technology (DeitY) had launched Mobile Seva AppStore under the National Mobile Governance Initiative a couple of years ago. The app store has 449 live apps and there have been 2,62,002 downloads as of date. 

Going forward, the Digital India programme objectives can provide the much needed big impetus for broad-basing the Mobile Seva AppStore offerings. This may not be so much of a challenge, given that the apps store model per se is adequately matured. The already immense and still growing popularity of the ones like Apple App Store, Google Play Store and Windows Phone Store also ensures that the awareness creation and education around apps usage has already been done by market forces.

The ground is well laid for the adoption and proliferation of a host of e-governance and other Digital India apps as well. The large mobile subscriber base and the speed at which users are understood to be migrating from feature phones to smartphones in India, further ensures that the required mass of citizens and other end-users is equipped with the right set of access devices.

Kumar is founder analyst at Businessand-Market.net, a market researcher and strategic advisor with diverse interests.

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