When Tim O‘Reilly coined the term “Government as a Platform” he was of the opinion that government bodies must adopt an open door policy and allow private sector players to responsibly access data and use that as a framework for public welfare projects. The term has evolved over time and government bodies the world over have gone beyond the O’Reilly definition to create an integrated system of services that can be accessed by citizens in one go.
‘Be Digital or be extinct’ started as a warning for private sector players, but today it is equally relevant for government bodies. While governments will not be extinct, their ability to offer quick, quality, and personalized service will severely impact their standing with the public. For a wider reach and to gain favour with the public, the government needs to leverage digital technologies.
While governments have created various digital assets, the focus has been to develop products. This leads to a lot more time and energy spent on developing the same kind of design and module as similar products are developed by multiple departments within the government. To bring about a sustainable model, the government needs to move from an on-demand service model to Platform as a Service (PaaS).
Globally, Platform as a Service (PaaS) is a known and accepted system and is gaining traction. The future lies in building digital platforms and letting others latch on to them to provide services and move away from creating products in silos. There are multiple benefits of the concept of Government as a Platform (GaaP):
Many governments that are successfully running this model claim that by adopting GaaP they have made it easy for their employees and their citizens. The services are more focused and user-friendly and genuinely improve the experience. The United Kingdom’s Government Digital Service has adopted this system since 2015 and has received glowing reviews from citizens.
There is a lot of duplication in multiple departments of the government. Citizens also know that they need to submit or procure the same kind of documents for different needs. Departments work in silos with their own set of rules, payment gateways, website, documentation, etc.) GaaP has been known to remove these unnecessary chinks from the system and create an integrated ecosystem that all departments across domains can access. Take, for example, the USA, where the government has successfully created platforms like pay.gov or cloud.gov, that are proving beneficial for all stakeholders.
Standardization of Systems
When governing bodies come under one platform, it is a ready reckoner for all. Specific toolkits or guidelines can be made to ensure that all employees are trained on the same system and can also help save time and money and reduce the hassle for the back-end teams.
Keeping up with the Age
APIs, data management, and cross-government components can benefit large government projects when demographics need to be studied. This one point information central can be used to check and build a data infrastructure to be used in the real world.
The Estonian and Singapore governments have created special services that take care of the entire lifecycle of their citizens so that people using them need to visit multiple portals when the need arises.
Open and Visible Policy Changes
Digital technologies attempt to bridge the gap between individuals and government departments and create a two-way street communication channel. With this in view, GaaP can also facilitate policy and service changes by fusing the opinions of the masses with the expertise of officials.
Coming to India, the government has created cloud.gov.in and PayGov India, but the platforms are yet to reach their full potential. There is also IndiaStack which is touted to be the most significant junction for innovation in this decade. Investments in these platforms can enable government and private players to share data (with advanced safeguards) to create services for citizens.
However, there is a lot that needs to be monitored while creating platforms. The government needs to ensure:
- Service delivery should be pull-based and not push-based. The service delivered should define the process and IT system and not vice versa.
- Current processes are not just upgraded into digital formats without looking at the inefficiencies, but new processes are engineered from scratch, keeping in mind the user’s needs.
- Platforms should store information in one location or a single source of data so that information is not repeated in different formats.
- Technology should be seen as horizontal, cutting across multiple departments instead of having technology function within every department.
As a next step, the government should identify various platforms which can be created to cater to the entire citizen journey map. Platforms should be designed and made available for both the private and public sectors to utilize. The focus should be on IEC to maximize outreach so that departments and organizations are aware of the platforms and the same is fully utilized. Over a period of time, institutional reform targets should be set to retire standalone products and move more and more applications into a stack using common platforms.
To effectively implement GaaP, governments must ensure that privacy is maintained across departments and public information is treated with respect. Digitalization of processes can be a great way to push the country forward and create confidence in the system, by easing the life of citizens and bringing about long-term reforms.
By Devroop Dhar, co-founder and MD, Primus Partners