‘We are also focusing on adoption of Design Thinking approach in developing citizen centric platforms. In the days to come, we will witness intelligent and smart operations by the government organizations where we can envision recent technology interventions to create smart services,’ Says Dr Neeta Verma, Director General, National Informatics Centre (NIC) to Souvik Goswami, APAC Digital News Network in an exclusive interview.
How has NIC established itself as the backbone of government ecosystem when it comes to providing technology services to the citizens?
At NIC we have been associated with Central as well as state Governments for over four decades to provide ICT infrastructure & solutions. Today we have established our offices in every State and Union Territory reaching up to the district level administration. This has helped us connect at the grass-root level and devise solutions to cater varied needs of the citizens. We have established a pan India state-of-the-art ICT infrastructure for exclusive use by government departments for internal communications, programme management and online delivery of government services as well as citizen engagement. Today, this ICT infrastructure comprises of High-Speed Secure Network, Data Centres, National Knowledge Network, Government Cloud, Messaging, Video Conferencing & GIS services pan India.
Over the years, NIC has also developed a wide range of solutions for socio economic development of the country. Some of these solutions have evolved into nationwide platforms leveraging the robust infrastructure of Cloud Computing & gigabit networks. Platforms such as eTransport has helped connect the ministry of Transport, State Transport departments, RTOs, Citizens, automobile manufacturing companies, insurance companies to PUCC centres pan India on one common platform. This has brought in far more convenience and efficiency in delivery of services to the citizens. Such an integration has also given rise to a lot of innovation and entirely new set of services, never seen before. Integration of e-transport system, with e-Challan & eCourts have given rise to Virtual courts which has eliminated the need for litigant or lawyer to visit the court in most of the cases.
MyGOV is another innovative platform which is helping citizens engage with the government, share their views on different aspects of governance, participate in various policies formulation and other related activities. To add on to this, for the internal functioning of the government, NIC has consolidated its various offerings and put-up a cloud-based platform which is available to all government organizations and departments as a service. Digital solutions such as E-Office, E-HRMS, E-Procurement, etc. have helped government organizations in managing their internal functioning effectively & efficiently.
Shed some light on NIC’s role for government to tackle corona crisis.
The Corona virus pandemic has brought in unprecedented circumstances. As the pandemic marked its presence in almost every part of the world, nations grappled with its impact on almost every sphere of life. In India also, we have experienced its impact and how it made us reimagine the way we conduct businesses, impart education or simply live our lives. NIC being the technology partner of the government had the onus of coming up with innovative citizen centric solutions that could alleviate the relief process during this pandemic.
With our existing set of services, we embarked on the journey of fighting this challenge and assist the government in monitoring & managing the pandemic. Our Videoconferencing services proved to be the first line of defense for ensuring effective communication within the government and with the citizens. Since COVID-19 brought in a state of isolation where physical meetings were not possible, Video Conferencing proved to be a useful service for everyone in the government. Right from the honorable President of India to the Prime Minister, Judges of Supreme Court and High court, Union Ministers and almost every government office, video conferencing helped connect each other virtually ensuring that work doesn’t suffer. Around 1400-1500 VC sessions, pan India are supported by NIC VC infrastructure every day. Further, the mobile applications powered by cloud have created a completely new experience for the people of India.
Some of these applications have today become household names. One such app is Aarogya Setu App which was launched soon after the lockdown was announced and in a short span, with 150 million downloads it has become one of the most downloaded government applications in the country. Exclusively developed to contain the spread of COVID-19, AarogyaSetu empowers the users with focused information on the potential risk of infection, self-assessment tools and contextual advice. The app is a classic example of employing cutting edge technology to curb the spread of virus as it uses Bluetooth technology, Data Science combined with artificial intelligence. To ensure its widespread adoption and usage, the app is available in 12 different languages.
Similarly, NIC has developed RT-PCR app for the Indian Council of Medical research (ICMR). This app helps in real time capturing of patients data during collection of samples for RTPCR test for corona Virus. Lakhs of samples are collected everyday for RTPCR test. RTPCR app is helping in fast, accurate & real time transmission of data from fields to Testing Labs to national Test Portal of ICMR. NIC has a strong presence in every state and district and with that reach across the country, we could come up with customizable solutions as per the needs of various states. NIC has developed E-Pass issuance system for more than 20 state governments which has ensured safe movement of citizens and essential services during the lockdown period.
NIC has also built several COVID 19 management & monitoring systems for state governments. These systems have been developed to monitor & manage different aspects of pandemic right from dissemination of Information, advisories, guidelines to quarantine management, COVID tests, hospital management, surveillance, Telemedicine, Tele education, etc. Over a period, NIC’s solutions have contributed to almost every sector in our country. As we embrace more technology in our lives, our offerings are becoming more innovative to cater to the diverse needs of the users.
How NIC is embracing new age technologies such as blockchain, AI to change the game of digital governance in the country?
With the use of digital technologies, there is a tremendous growth in generation of data pertaining to various aspects of Government functions and services. At NIC, we have been employing this data to derive meaningful insights which further helps us in developing citizen-centric solutions. Large amount of data generation has also led to a surge in the demand of advanced data analytics and considering this need, NIC in partnership with NICSI established a Centre of Excellence in Data Analytics (CEDA) in 2018. This CoE is providing a wide range of services to the government which include data quality assessment services, custom built data analytics solutions, social media analytics, self-service analytics, to name a few.
Further in 2019, to explore the applications of Artificial Intelligence in developing innovative solutions, we established the Centre of Excellence for Artificial Intelligence (CoEAI). Even during these COVID-19 times, our CoE for AI has developed multiple chatbots for various state governments to assist the citizens during this pandemic. NIC’s developed VAANI Chabot is available in Khasi regional language and has proved to be useful to the citizens. CoE for AI is working on the different aspects of AI such as machine learning, Deep Learning, Text Analytics, Computer Vision as well as Conversational AI and building prototypes so as to effectively use these technologies in future ready e-governance applications.
A step ahead in exploring new technologies and to enrich the learning of young scientists at NIC, we established Centre of Excellence for Block Chain Technology (CoEBCT) in January this year. Although the CoEBCT is in its nascent stages, but in the days to come, we have envisaged that it will help us create a coordinated, inter-operable blockchain ecosystem in the country.
What are the future plans for NIC’s expansion keeping in mind the fastchanging technology scenario all around the world?
Technology has brought in a paradigm shift in the way we work, study or perform other day to day activities. High speed internet and affordability of smartphones have helped in increased adoption of these technology-enabled solutions. Aadhaar, Direct Benefit Transfer and digital payments are helping in transforming more and more citizen centric services into a faceless, cashless and paperless mode.
Use of emerging technologies in e-Governance systems is another focus area. The technologies such as machine learning, deep learning, conversational AI have immense potential in transforming e-Governance systems into more intelligent & innovative systems.
To ensure that we stay ahead of the curve, at NIC, we are working towards developing pilot applications of emerging technologies in governance across all levels, i.e. from Central government, State governments to District administration.
We are also working towards developing a Work from Home platform for Government which will provide access to all the productivity tools as well as domain specific applications of government in a seamless manner. Our Centres of Excellence are now partnering with various Central and State government departments to explore the applications of emerging technologies in improving the efficiency of their existing systems. We are also focusing on adoption of Design Thinking approach in developing citizen centric platforms. In the days to come, we will witness intelligent and smart operations by the government organizations where we can envision recent technology interventions to create smart services.
We are experiencing exciting times as the citizens are embracing these new technologies. Today, these technologies are helping us realize a whole new level of economic and social growth which wasn’t experienced earlier. With COVID-19 bringing unprecedented challenges in front of us, it is evident that technologies that are emerging today will soon shape the future of tomorrow with a considerable impact on economies and societies at large.