Public Sector Future Podcast: Episode 18 | Digital India – Part 1

Episode 18 guest speaker, Abhishek Singh

Digital India – Part 1

with Abhishek Singh

Abhishek Singh is the CEO of MyGov, CEO of National e-Governance Division, and MD & CEO of Digital India Corporation in the Government of India’s Ministry of Electronics and IT.

Episode 18: Digital India – Part 1

Public Sector Future

Episode summary

In this episode we speak to Abhishek Singh, the CEO of MyGov, CEO of National e-Governance Division, and MD & CEO of Digital India Corporation in the Government of India’s Ministry of Electronics and IT Division. In the first of a two-part series, discover Singh’s priorities in his roles, his communications and engagement approaches, the structure of Digital India, and how the pandemic transformed and continues to impact hybrid work in India.

Listen to this episode on any of these podcast platforms:

Digital India with Abhishek Singh

Abhishek Singh is the CEO of MyGov, CEO, National e-Governance Division and MD & CEO, Digital India Corporation in the Government of India’s Ministry of Electronics and IT. Discover Singh’s priorities in his roles, his communications and engagement approaches, the structure of Digital India, and how the pandemic transformed and continues to impact hybrid work in India.

What is MyGov?

MyGov distributes information to India’s citizens. It is a citizen engagement platform of the Government of India, which allows citizens to contribute to policy discussions and contribute their ideas and positions regarding what they want from the government.

“It demystifies what the government does and explains in layman’s terms the policies or the schemes or the projects the government is implementing, why it is implemented, in what ways citizens can contribute to that,” Singh shared, describing it as a two-way bridge between citizens and government.

India’s unique challenges

India has unique challenges when it comes to digital transformation.

  • Population size: Over one billion people
  • Diversity: 22 official languages

The massive size and scale make digital inclusion a big issue. Singh’s role is not only to design projects for e-delivery of services, but also to incorporate the point of view of the citizens.

Meeting citizens where they are – on social media

When Singh began his role in October 2019, the MyGov platform was growing but he found that “people were preferring to engage with us on various social media platforms, rather than coming to our app or to our portal.”
MyGov increased their presence on all social platforms, which led to the realization that India is a young country.

“The demographic profile says that the number of people below 35 is almost 70% of our population,” Singh said.

“And therein we found that there was a shift that was happening even on the social media platforms. The engagement on the video platform, especially with YouTube or Instagram, was much more than the other traditional social media platforms like Twitter or Facebook,” Singh continued.

In turn, they reoriented their strategy to reach out to people with shorter video clips, clear communication, and direct engagement with people, making a two-way communication possible.

Impact of COVID-19 on digital communications

Within months of starting Singh’s role as CEO of MyGov, the COVID-19 pandemic began, which shifted his primary focus to providing communication support for the Government.

An example of the huge communication challenge which COVID-19 posed was the period when people could be asymptomatic. Back in early 2020, it was difficult to explain why someone should still stay home even if they were not feeling sick. Quarantine was not part of the common lexicon and there were no equivalent words for quarantine in Indian languages. Singh and his colleagues had to brainstorm how to best communicate this with citizens.

Singh credited using innovative ways of making short videos and clips and using influencers to share important health messages.

Creating an open, interoperable platform

In 2021, the prime focus shifted to the vaccination drive and addressing vaccine hesitancy.

“We had challenges like vaccinating a billion people and then keeping track of them and having multiple vaccines with multiple duration difference,” Singh explained. “One vaccine you take the second dose after 84 days, one vaccine you get after 28 days, and you have to ensure that everybody gets the two doses.”

The solution was to create a digital platform, which was built in record time.

“Today, we are one of those countries which have a robust system of not only tracking vaccination, issuing vaccination certificates, but also really verifying,” Singh said.

The system was built on an open, interoperable platform.

“We allowed open APIs, so that anybody could verify the vaccination status of anyone, so delivery boys and e-commerce operators, they could use that very easily,” Singh shared.

Simplifying the government for citizens

“As we go forward, we continue to integrate our systems, rather than delivering e-solutions in silos across multiple departments, how we can integrate them, how we can offer the whole of them into an experience to the citizens, and how we can simplify the government more to the citizens,” Singh said.

Singh explained that citizens often complain that they don’t know what the government is doing.

“But if we can kind of present it in a more humane, simpler way, and ensure that the technology is used for solving key societal problems and becoming an aid to governance, and that’s what objective remains,” Singh shared.

Civil service as a not-for-profit organization

The way that the Digital India Corporation is structured is different from the way that the civil service is typically structured.
“We incorporated as a Section 8 company, which is the not-for-profit company,” Singh said.
He outlined some of the benefits of being a not-for-profit company, including:

  • Flexibility in hiring – including private sector resources
  • Ability to work closely with industry
  • Collaboration with academic institutions

This allows them to be agile and “brings together the best of the minds for solving a public service problem,” Singh shared.

Collaborating with industry and private sector

Singh shared an example of building a contact tracing app to track those with positive COVID-19 results to be able to inform people who were in close contact with someone infected with the virus.

“We brought together the best of the engineering minds where there was lockdown and there were a lot of people from industry and all who were available. So we got them as volunteers to work with us along with our teams,” Singh said.

“Within 15 days, the Aarogya Setu app was developed, which has 200 million-plus users, and it really helped us in addressing the challenges that we had,” Singh shared.

To communicate better, they built a conversational AI tool (a chat bot) on their portal, in partnership with Microsoft, Accenture, and AI companies within India.

“That was done in collaboration with industry, that was done in record time, without going through the typical procurement processes,” Singh explained, adding that industry also contributed and did the work pro bono.

Building agile teams

“When we brought together a diverse team of people from government, industry, and academia, we were able to come up with innovative solutions and roll out things very quickly,” Singh stated.

Singh explained that the organization MyGov is made up of around several hundred people and most of the organization is from the private sector. This includes young people who represent India’s key demographic.

“When you listen to people, when you bring together diverse stakeholders, when you engage with the industry and other stakeholders, that makes you agile,” Singh shared.

“We feel that that’s the way to go forward, build agile teams, build diverse teams, have younger people in your team, listen to their advice, and then go ahead at what you have to do,” Singh said.

Increased pace of transformation

“I’ve been working in the space for a long time, but the pace at which digital transformation has happened in the last two years has been unbelievable,” Singh shared on the effects of the pandemic.

“There is a huge appetite, everybody wants to go digital, especially with the pandemic. Education went online, health went online, e-commerce went up, and there was a demand even for the government to work remotely. People had to pick up all their tools. Video conferencing became normal,” Singh said.

“Suddenly, we realized that one was able to do ten meetings a day. If we had had to travel physically, it would have been virtually impossible,” Singh explained about the ability to attend meetings from the south to the north of India in the span of a day.

Hybrid workforce

Another result of the pandemic was the ability to work from anywhere. Employees have the capability to work remotely from their family homes, rural areas, etc. No one should have to endure a two-hour commute.

“We found that the remote working brought in efficiency because it required more efforts in managing their teams in order to ensure that everybody is there in the breakout rooms and ensure their work starts on time and finishes on time,” Singh said.

“Overall output went up and the employee satisfaction was also very high,” Singh shared.

Looking ahead, Singh foresees a hybrid, mixed workplace. There are roles and situations where people will benefit from being physically together to brainstorm, while other work, especially IT, can happen fully remote thanks to collaboration tools.

Part two of Digital India with Abhishek Singh

Stay tuned for part two of Digital India with Abhishek Singh, where we discuss working with other levels of government, assisted access to digital services, and data standards and service integration. Singh dives into projects like Digilocker and shares where he draws inspiration from.

To find out more:

Learn more about Digital India

Learn more about MyGov

Follow Abhishek Singh on Twitter

Learn more about Microsoft for Government

About the Center of Expertise

Microsoft’s Public Sector Center of Expertise brings together thought leadership and research relating to digital transformation in the public sector. The Center of Expertise highlights the efforts and success stories of public servants around the globe, while fostering a community of decision makers with a variety of resources from podcasts and webinars to white papers and new research. Join us as we discover and share the learnings and achievements of public sector communities.

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