Future Governments Will be as Effective as Their Technology Investment
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A decade ago, Government services in India were totally paper-based, even though computers had started making an appearance in elite corners of a few public offices. There was still no term such as ‘public sector IT’ acknowledged in the country. The technology was best associated and understood with the private sector.
However, the Digital India campaign by the Government of India brought a paradigm shift in this space. Implemented in 2015, the programmed pushed for the digitization of all Government services and Public-Government interaction. This carved a need for unique technology and solutions that would help the Government provide essential services to the citizen. Such solutions can be categorized under the broad umbrella, i.e. GovTech (Government Technology).
The absence of an established definition is perhaps the best indicator of how new, broad and rapidly developing the field is. It escapes its original meaning of “technology for the public”, constructed like FinTech or MedTech. Instead, it encompasses a much wider catalogue of actions aimed at making the public sector more innovative, agile and development-oriented. If you are updating governmental websites – it is GovTech. If you support your colleague’s suggestion to eliminate redundancy – you are supporting GovTech. All that matters are the result of your action does something to make the government more technologically functional.
Some of the current and potential use cases of GovTech in India are:
Public Involvement in Policymaking
India is an indirect democracy which means that elected representatives are responsible for policymaking. However, this premise was set in times when direct public involvement was not possible due to the sheer size and number of people in the country. However, in 2011, President Obama's White House team launched an online petition tool called ‘We the People’. It allows residents to submit a petition. If 150 people sign the petition, it became searchable on the site, and if it collected 5,000 signatures within a month, the White House guaranteed a formal response from someone in the federal government. Such an application could be extremely useful, especially for local Governance in India with several regional pockets still away from the reach of administration.
Monitoring Service Delivery to the Last Mile
India is the World’s seventh largest and second most populated country. There are several geographic and demographic barriers towards ensuring seamless delivery of Government services in every village and district. For instance, how to track whether a road in a village in far North East has been repaired post rainy season? Or, how to verify the daily attendance of employees of local municipality deputed on field assignments? GovTech has addressed such problems by combining the best practices from several other industries such as geo-tagging, photography of the local repair work in the digital logbook, or biometric identification etc. It eliminates corruption and makes public agencies more accountable.
Data-Driven Decision Making
Making policy decisions that impact the lives of 1.3 billion citizens is a task of a high order. Therefore, no amount of diligence could be enough. Therefore, it is time we move on from paper-based census and another exercise of collecting periodic demographic data to a more organized digital approach. Learning from other countries such as USA, UK, and Australia, a central digital database can be implemented for this task which could be updated in real-time by the field workforce (after due verification). Factoring in the local complexities, the interface could be accessed and filled in local languages. Queries performed on this digital database could give valuable insights about the ‘need of the hour’ and be the guiding force for policymakers. Similar data collection and mining would make our calculations and projections about other macroeconomic metrics such as GDP, inflation, job creation etc. more accurate.
Right to Information Act was steppingstone towards making information more accessible and transparent in India. Technology played a pivotal role in providing speed, structure, and efficiency of this information. Now citizen can file their queries to respective Government departments online and receive a response in less than a week. With artificial intelligence, machine learning, and deep analytics, some of these responses can even be automated, saving substantial time and cost for the stakeholders. This also makes the Government more accountable and effective its quest for public welfare.
There could be several more ways in which GovTech can make Governments more effective. This will also have a positive impact on the lives of residents. Considering the massive potential, The GovTech Fund report pegs this industry clock US$400 billion in revenue in 2015 with a 20% CAGR. Needless to say, India will provide the centrifugal force to this market with its massive human capital, digitization drive, and policy reforms.