Passport Seva Programme (PSP) Division of the Ministry of External Affairs has undergone complete digital transformation in recent years and is today helping in the delivery of seamless passport services to all citizens of India at their doorsteps.
Golok Kumar Simli, Chief Technology Officer, Passport Seva Programme, Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, believes what we are witnessing the next phase of technological revolution within Government sectors with the adoption of the latest cutting-edge emerging technologies
Here, Simli tells us more. Excerpts from an interview:
DQ: Elaborate on the Smart Governance Initiative taken by Passport Seva Programme (PSP) of the Ministry?
Golok Kumar Simli: The PSP has been continuously discovering and enhancing citizen service experiences in the country, be it adoption of latest and emerging technology, innovative business model, data governance, workforce skilling and re-skilling, a vibrant stakeholder ecosystem, and data security and privacy.
The geographical coverage of the PSP, which includes 36 Passport Offices, 93 Passport Seva Kendras, 428 Post Office Passport Seva Kendras, and more than 180 Indian Missions/Posts abroad, reflects the magnitude and enormity which delivers passport related services to more than 6,0000 citizens on a daily basis. The citizens can also access the services through mobile app available on IOS and Android platforms.
The end-to-end digital platform, state-of-art Passport Seva Kendars with required facilities and amenities, young and dynamic workforce, and a robust feedback and grievance handling system makes the programme and governance truly smarter.
The citizen-centric portal and mobile App is available 24x7x365 for anytime-anywhere access to the citizens in India and Indian diaspora across the globe. We say passport services are ‘a click away to smart phones’ and ‘suggestion/grievance redressal is a tweet away’.
DQ: How are you using technology to facilitate and support better planning and decision making?
Golok Kumar Simli: We are leveraging technologies at the fullest and have been the core of our service delivery ecosystem. Be it citizen engagements, application processing or taking decisions on the passport, technology has been playing a major role as regards removing the silos, taking a collaborative approach among stakeholders, informed decision making process, resource planning, end-to-end security, traceability, quick and easy staff skilling and re-skilling, and for an expeditious and transparent service delivery.
Technology has also helped us to bridge the rural-urban divide in terms of accessing passport services and citizens do not find any difference, whether someone is availing services from Delhi/Mumbai or a remote village of Jharkhand, Bihar or UP. Rather, it has helped to reach the rural masses of our country providing them equal opportunity and facility to avail services with similar speed, scale and security.
DQ: Please share your experiences about emerging technological intervention within Government sectors, which would help in shaping up the digital economy and overall economy of the country?
Golok Kumar Simli: I truly believe, and what we are witnessing so far as the next phase of technological revolution within the Government sectors are the adoption of cloud, Big Data, AI, deep learning, blockchain, advance bot, robotic process automation, IoT, NLP etc.
These advanced technologies have given us new business opportunities, a new way of engaging with citizens, customers, and beneficiaries, and has forced us to innovate new and industry-oriented partnership and business models, which is win-win to every stakeholder, sustainable and quality driven.
I am confident that such emerging technologies would bring in an intelligent transformation among other core sectors of the country, be it agriculture, education, health, logistics, transportation, etc., which would facilitate us to explore the true potential of these core sectors.
I strongly opined on the need for developing hyperscale data center, Cloud Economic Zone and Data Economic Zone, which would help in shaping up the digital economy and would add to the overall economy of the country.
DQ: The ongoing pandemic taught us ways of survival in adversaries, while dealing with the work in the changed scenario. Could you tell us, how have you overcome these challenges?
Golok Kumar Simli: Very true! We realized and learned the ways to address such adversaries, especially dealing and aligning to a new work culture, which was required to be realigned, re-trained and re-skilled. The workload needed to be categorized and aligned to a hybrid environment based on its security, criticality and sovereignty.
Most of the corporate data centers, networks and applications went into remote (WFH) mode, bringing in new challenges to overall visibility, strategic control, data security and privacy concerns. Hybrid cloud became the de-facto option for businesses and services providing the organizations readily available infrastructure, resources with required agility and quick and easy accessibility to customers/beneficiaries with cost efficiency.
Digital-first strategy became ‘the Mantra’ for everyone to attain such adversaries, for the Government, public sectors, private industries, academic institutions, research labs, etc. We needed to develop a culture of digital ethics, train our workforce, and re-assess the organizational risk, viz., people, process and technology, to continue delivering the services to the citizens and masses at large.
I can proudly say that we took control of the changed digital environment within a week and continued delivering the passport services during this testing time.
DQ: How are you managing the data security and privacy concerns, especially during WFH scenarios? Was there any shift in data security strategy?
Golok Kumar Simli: The more we are advancing towards bigger digital footprints across all facets of life, the data security and privacy issues including data breaches are increasing in scale and occurrences both. Therefore, we need a predictive, swift and well orchestrated response. Our experience suggests that the data security is seen in silos, which should be discouraged, and a holistic, intrinsic, secure by design, risk avoidance end-to-end security measures be adopted across the organization involving all stakeholders.
We also need to have a data strategy that clearly states about the principal owner of the data, execution model, rules of engagement along with regulations, compliances, land of laws and tools and technologies used, thereby, ensuring the essence of a vibrant data governance model.
I must say that we have entered an era of constant data-driven decisions and predictions. We are also witnessing much of data’s value is in its secondary use, which was not thought of during the data collection stage. Therefore, such a mechanism may not be suitable at a later stage.
In my considered view, we need a privacy framework which focuses less on individual consent at the time of collection and more on holding ‘users of data’ accountable for what they do and I do believe the future privacy laws will define broad categories of uses, including ones that will be permissible without or with only limited and standardized safeguards. The IT Rule 2021 and the upcoming Data Protection Bill are the major steps towards this direction.