By Shailender Kumar
THE YEAR 2020 Has been a most unusual year. The last few months have taught us how to be resilient and how to adapt to digital living. With the unforeseen break in economic activity and a new paradigm of operating in a home-office, we are confronted with a new normal where everything is going to be far more digital. In all of this, the citizen becomes an important asset. And in order to support citizens, improving public service delivery becomes a key task for governments.
Over the last few decades, India has seen rapid growth in urbanisation. The country is experiencing growth in industrialisation, better educational and healthcare facilities, and hope from the people for a better quality of life. Such a growing urban population presents several challenges when it comes to maintaining civic infrastructure. Urban local bodies like India’s municipal corporations need to do more with less while promoting transparency and efficiency.
Government services could range from supporting a greater demand for digital-first services or bolstering economic development to driving global environmental programmes, providing efficient, critical support across safety, health, environmental, and social services departments. To support this, governments must invest in IT infrastructure upgradation. By doing so, they will not only be enhancing citizen service experiences but will also be aiding in revenue generation—a win-win for all.
Building an IT infrastructure that matches growth aspirations
Many of India’s urban municipal corporations have invested in digitalisation to some degree. Most of them, however, contend with data that is often spread across legacy or disparate systems with no single unified view. Such systems tend to lack the scalability and flexibility when new services need to be added.
Therefore, here are a few points they should consider when devising their strategic outcomes and help redefine delivery of public services in India:
Put the citizen at the centre
For any civic body, their IT infrastructure needs to have a citizen-centric design. Services such as getting birth or death certificates, permissions for building construction, licenses for events, etc., should be easily available. These can be made available through a convenient digital channel that is easily accessible through a mobile app. Look at the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC)’s ‘MyGHMC Citizen App’. It offers features such as ‘Near me’ to help citizens find information on services including disaster alerts or service centres such as sports, toilets, government meal schemes, etc. While ROI is mostly qualitative in terms of greater citizen satisfaction, better service quality can translate to greater revenue to governments—if more and more citizens tap into such services due to its ease of access and convenience.
Digitise your back-end systems
When referring to smart cities, usually front-end systems such as traffic cameras, IoT devices, environmental sensors, automatic challans, etc., come to mind. However, real impact is possible only when the back-end management is also automated. End-to-end automation ensures less human intervention, and this minimises scope for corruption. For instance, the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) recently introduced an e–office system for creation and transmission of files, thus putting an end to delays in processing requests.
Think about scalability
To ensure sustainability and long-term benefits, any IT system needs to be easily scalable—be it to cater to a growing population or to expand the scope of services that it enables. The system also needs to be flexible when it comes to allowing for new services or features to be added— without the need for high licensing costs or costly resources. Additionally, it needs to be a future-proof, end-to-end solution that allows for everything from cloud to database to AI to portal advanced analytics, and command centre integration to be incorporated.
As myriad new services get added to the bouquet of traditional city services, the cost of operating these need to be sustained by a two-sided business model that includes public-private partnerships and new smart services. The success of municipal corporations will depend on the availability of a robust central business platform and advanced billing systems that can accommodate evolving business models, new tech and yet meet expectations of modern residents.
As India moves towards its vision for smart and inclusive governance, the necessity to build a robust technology infrastructure should not be taken lightly.
Citizens today are more demanding and expect their local authorities to keep pace. They are impatient, well-informed and tech savvy. Embracing the right technology infrastructure both in the front- and back-end has to be the first step towards upgrading the quality of services offered to citizens and improve citizen wellbeing.
The writer is senior vice president & regional managing director, Oracle India