Public Sector Future Podcast: Episode 19 | Digital India – Part 2

Episode 19 guest speaker, Abhishek Singh

Digital India – Part 2

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 19: Digital India – Part 2

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. In the second episode of a two-part series, discover how Singh provides assisted access to digital services, works across various levels of the government, and implements data standards and service integration. He dives into projects like DigiLocker and shares where he draws inspiration from.

Listen to this episode on any of these podcast platforms:

Digital India with Abhishek Singh

Abhishek Singh is the CEO of MyGov, National e-Governance Division, and Digital India Corporation in the Government of India’s Ministry of Electronics and IT. Discover how he provides assisted access to digital services, works across various levels of the government, and implements data standards and service integration. Singh dives into projects like DigiLocker and shares where he draws inspiration from.

Natural Language Translation Mission & voice enabled services

India has a population of over a billion people that speak 22 official languages.

“We need to capture every perspective that is required for governance. So one part is of course the languages – how do you ensure that various services are offered in multiple Indian languages?” Singh said.

Singh and his team are working on a project called Natural Language Translation Mission, which allows them to build various tools which can help deliver services in multiple languages.

“In India, we have around 700 million-plus people on the internet consuming services, but there are another 500 million people who are not. And these 500 million people, majority of them are not literate,” Singh explained.

On top of building services offered in multiple languages, accessibility to people with low levels of literacy also needs to be factored in. India’s response is to explore building voice-enabled services. This allows people to talk to an app on their phone and ask the Government of India questions like how to get a driver’s license or how to get food coupons.

“That voice interface is being built, and that ensures inclusion, that ensures access to services to all parts of the country,” Singh shared.

Assisted access to digital services through Common Service Centers

To serve those who do not have a device, access to connectivity, or the skills to navigate an app or online form, the Government of India has provided assisted access by setting up 400,000 kiosks across India.

“We call them Common Services Centers, which are run by entrepreneurs at the village level in which these fellows have a set of computers, they have internet connectivity, and then they offer solutions on an assisted access,” Singh explained.

For a service fee, anyone can visit Common Service Centers to get help with services like filing an application or tracking their entitlement, pensions, or scholarships.

“That way that ensures that everybody is able to access a service in whichever form they have,” Singh said.

Working with other levels of government

Singh highlighted that his team works closely with the federal government and state governments to ensure that they become equal partners in the way they offer solutions.

“We have almost 36 States and UTs [Union Territories], and these states have their own local level services,” Singh shared.

“The architecture is designed in such a way that there might be a central application of software, which was offering software as a service,” Singh explained.

Customized modules are made available at the local, state government, and city level, including the required functionality and language of the region.

“Every city or every state will have their own instance. For MyGov, there’s a MyGov India, but if you go to Uttar Pradesh, there is a MyGov for Uttar Pradesh. If you go to Maharashtra, it is MyGov Maharashtra,” Singh said.

“People there can access similar services in their language with the look and feel that they can relate to. So that ensures that they are able to follow that and they are able to engage there and they’re able to contribute and get information from that portal,” Singh continued.

Data standards and service integration

While building e-services and trying to integrate services across departments and India, data standards and metadata standards become very critical, “because we actually should be able to talk in the same language when databases have to talk,” Singh explained.

Singh gave an example concerning services given to farmers, each unit of land area needs to be communicated in the same terms and language. The service cannot communicate in square feet for one farmer and in square meters or acres for another. Standards must be in place to ensure that everybody is communicating accurately.

“Then whatever information or data resides in one government system should be able to share with other government systems. That’s key to build open, interoperable systems,” Singh shared.

While working on a driving license registration project, they discovered that every state had built their own systems with different fields. Something as simple as a driver’s name became complicated, whether the name of the person should be first name and last name in two different boxes, or the entire name as one common string. They discovered the order of the first name and last name also differed, depending on the state.

Therefore, they had to take time to break it down and lay down standards. The resolution for the final data standard was to have one common field for the entire name, as opposed to two fields, which let people write their name within the box in whichever order they prefer. This process had to be replicated for every field of entry in the driving license registration and every project that required data standardization.

Digital Health Mission – Data standardization in health

The Digital Health Mission allows electronic health records to be imported from one health facility to the other, and grant citizens access to their electronic health records over time.

“When health records are being issued by multiple health facilities, then they all should follow the similar standard,” Singh shared.

There are global standards and WHO standards, which India has worked to align with.

“Wherever there are no standards, we have had to lay down standards via a consultative process, by ensuring that everybody is able to adopt that,” Singh explained.

Then there’s a lot of advocacy to ensure that everyone complies with the standards set “and that becomes the key for offering services across the board,” Singh said.

Aadhaar project – Common IDs

Once data standards are set, India has been looking to implement “services being offered by multiple departments at different points of time can also talk to each other,” Singh said.

“One key enabler in this has been, of course, the Aadhaar project, the unique identification project that we have implemented, through which 1.38 billion biometric unique IDs have been issued to people,” Singh shared.

The unique IDs become a common identifier across services. Singh gave an example if a pregnant woman goes to the Health Ministry with her ID, she will also carry it to the Women and Child Department when her child is born. Similarly, the child will get an ID there, and will continue to carry that ID when he goes to school.

“Whether it’s Health or Women and Child Ministry or the Education Ministry, they should be able to talk to each other through these common IDs and common standards,” Singh said.

Laying down e-Government standards, data standards, and metadata standards is a huge part of their strategy, and it enables more interoperable and open services.

DigiLocker – Document wallet

“The DigiLocker is a document repository or document wallet in which all your e-documents can be accessed by you at anytime, anywhere. It’s a mobile app,” Singh explained.

Tax, academic, identity, driving license, and most recently, health documents all come to DigiLocker.

“It allows you to access the document seamlessly at any point of time by using your credential. But it also allows you to share it with any entity, with your consent, and also third parties can verify that document electronically,” Singh said.

“Last year, the number of users of this service has gone up from 30 million to 100 million-plus. So that’s a huge, huge growth. And then we have more than 4.5 billion documents stored there, and the daily authentications are happening in multiple ways,” Singh shared.

“Apart from serving as a mere document wallet, the DigiLocker project has a huge, huge potential in improving delivery of education, health services, and other services,” Singh said.

DigiLocker – Academic impact & National Academic Bank of Credits

Traditionally, if someone in India was applying for a college and the college wanted to verify that their academic credentials were legitimate, the school board in question would have to verify it or write to the university to confirm the credentials, which could be time consuming.

Now when a query is raised with DigiLocker, if the applicant has given their consent, the verification happens immediately. It has been extremely helpful for students to get admission to universities and colleges during the pandemic since they were unable to physically submit documents.

DigiLocker is helping build a system called National Academic Bank of Credits.

“We are building in all the university documents across India on that platform. Already we have a thousand universities onboarded, and going ahead, all of them will come onboard,” Singh shared.

Through the digital wallet, if a student transfers to another university, the National Academic Bank of Credits allows the student to transfer their credits from one university to another virtually and continue their education seamlessly.

The same project is being built to extend to the grade school level, which gives the ability to track the progress of a child’s learning from grade one onwards.

“We are able to use the data and analytics for improving our learning, improving the teaching that happens in schools and colleges,” Singh said.

DigiLocker – Impact on health services

DigiLocker gives citizens the ability to track their own health parameters. For example, when someone is getting their blood reports and lipid profile numbers over time, the analytics will give advisories regarding what should and should not be done to improve their health.

DigiLocker also has the power to discover and track regional and country-wide health problems and epidemics.

“Since health records are coming there at an aggregate level, we’ll be able to track if there is a problem, if there is an epidemic happening in any part of the country, and if any intermediary measures are being taken,” Singh said.

Where does Abhishek Singh find inspiration?

When it comes to digital transformation, Singh draws inspiration from Estonia.

“Their X-Roads project and the way they have integrated IDs and the way they have brought in services from multiple departments on one platform, that’s something that we aspire to do,” Singh said.

Singh shared that his team is working on a similar model to Estonia’s X-Roads project, the Aarogya Setu project, “which brings with it all the services of multiple departments on one platform, allows interoperability of services, reduces hardship of citizens.”

“Even though on a scale, they are much smaller than India, but as a model and the technological architecture, I think I would like to design my systems similar to that, and I’m pretty inspired by that,” Singh stated.

He is also inspired by what top companies around the world are doing in the field of emerging technologies and artificial intelligence.

“We look forward to work with multiple such players globally, with the academicians such as Carnegie Mellon University or in India with teams like Wadhwani AI. We work very closely with them in trying to use emerging technologies, especially AI and blockchain, in improving the way we deliver our public services,” Singh said.

Digital India – Part 1

Want to hear more from Abhishek Singh? Don’t forget to listen to Part 1, where he discusses his priorities in his roles, his communications and engagement approaches, the structure of Digital India, and how the pandemic has transformed and continues to impact hybrid work in India.

To find out more:

Learn more about Digital India

Learn more about DigiLocker

Follow Abhishek Singh on Twitter

Learn more about Microsoft for Government

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