While they have traditionally been slow adopters of technology, government utilities are now gradually changing their mindset and taking the digital route. The sector is realising the need to reinvent the way services are delivered to citizens. New-age technologies such as AI, IoT, blockchain and cloud are seeing rapid uptake among government enterprises. These tech solutions are enabling them to enhance their capabilities and deliver better services by building innovation into their DNA.
A look at the benefits offered by some of the key technologies, their application in various government enterprises, the challenges and the way forward…
Of late, government utilities have started deploying AI to run analytics on citizen data that is accumulated through their digital websites, and gather insights based on this data. The intelligence collected can help offer personalised public services to citizens, derive actionable insights, and help them predict future trends. In addition, AI- and ML-based applications can also help improve the mission reliability of the equipment and the weapon system. An AI-based application can identify defects in the system and recommend the course of action to rectify the faults, thereby preventing any failure or crashing of the system. Moreover, AI and ML can revolutionise the power sector by offering predictive and analytic solutions to assess the load pattern and consumption trends of electric vehicles.
As far as on-ground deployments are concerned, in April 2021, Vehant Technologies secured a contract from RailTel to install 100 AI-based cameras at railway stations across the country. These cameras can recognise faces behind masks and thus help in identifying people who are not maintaining Covid-appropriate behaviour like social distancing. As per the terms of the contract, cameras will be installed at the New Delhi, Nizamuddin (also in Delhi), Prayagraj and Lucknow railway stations. Further, cameras installed at Raipur, Hyderabad, Thiruvananthapuram, Mallapuram, Kozhikode, Palakkad, Thrissur and Kannur will also be used to identify stolen vehicles by shortlisting vehicles based on their colour and logo.
Blockchain is yet another tech solution seeing widespread adoption by governments across the world. As per market reports, more than 40 countries have taken initiatives to implement blockchain and develop a robust and holistic blockchain ecosystem. Governments are rapidly deploying the technology in an effort to make their systems more efficient, agile and secure.
India too is jumping on the blockchain bandwagon. As per media reports, over 50 per cent of the Indian states have initiated blockchain projects (in the pilot stage) to provide better customer services. In February 2021, the government announced that it was exploring the use of blockchain technology proactively in an effort to promote the development of a digital economy. Earlier, in 2018, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) had introduced the Telecom Commercial Communications Customer Preference Regulations, 2018. Its focus was on the adoption of blockchain-based distributed ledger technology. With this, TRAI became the first regulator in the world to harness blockchain technology on such a scale in the telecom sector.
The government is increasingly deploying IoT-based applications across smart cities. This involves large-scale deployment of IoT sensors across the city to provide real-time data about city events. In addition to this, an IoT-based centralised monitoring system help authorities analyse the vast amount of data being generated across servers and connected devices. By gathering insights from this data, the government authorities are able to enhance their decision-making process and improve governance. Some of the other critical applications of IoT in smart cities are smart parking, intelligent transportation system, smart grids, water and waste management, smart urban lighting, smart city maintenance and digital signage.
IoT sensors have applications in various other utilities as well. For instance, IoT sensors can improve workplace safety for oil and gas workers. They can also help optimise the generation and distribution of key utilities like energy, water, gas and electricity. They help PSUs involved in the supply of such utilities to better address consumer demand.
Recently, in June 2021, RailTel installed internet-based video surveillance systems (VSSs) at 269 railway stations in 10 zones across the country. Under this, 17 stations under South Central Railway integrated with the VSS control room were inaugurated. The other zones include East Central Railway, Southern Railway, South Western Railway, Western Railway, West Central Railway, Central Railway, North Eastern Railway, North Western Railway, North Central Railway and South Central Railway. Further, work at 31 more stations to install VSSs is in progress and will be completed soon.
Cloud computing and virtualisation
Cloud computing can provide a host of benefits to government enterprises. Using cloud computing, the PSUs can drive innovation in ways that would not have been possible earlier. As per popular industry opinion, there is a pressing need for restructuring within the public sector in terms of processes in order to enhance efficacy and efficiency. Analysts have argued that one of the best ways to achieve this is by introducing the PSUs to software delivery models such as software-as-a-service (SaaS).
The Indian government has already initiated a project called “GI Cloud” or “MeghRaj” with a focus on leveraging cloud computing to accelerate the delivery of various government e-services and optimise the ICT spend. Technologies like SaaS will ensure that the e-governance applications are optimally utilised.
Analysts have highlighted that applications and infrastructure developed using SaaS are scalable, agile and cost-effective. Such applications can also facilitate the procurement of ICT services for the government.
Location-based intelligence and surveillance
In an effort to reduce the crime rates in the city, the authorities are increasingly deploying citywide surveillance and location intelligence systems. The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic has further accelerated the deployment of such solutions as they enable the government and public sector organisations to track the movement of infected patients and accordingly take measures to avoid any further spread of the disease. In April 2020, the government launched the Aarogya Setu app for contact tracing. The state governments and PSUs are also using geofencing technology to impose quarantine on the ones suspected with infection. It helps create a virtual geographic boundary, alerting officials if a particular mobile device leaves a designated area.
Apart from this, with physical office spaces becoming redundant and remote working picking up pace amidst the pandemic, various public enterprises are using location tracking systems to track their employees.
While new-age tech solutions offer several benefits to government enterprises, the challenges concerning their deployment are also many. For instance, there are security challenges if the data of an organisation is hosted on a cloud model. Analysts have pointed out that since a third party is involved in handling the data, measures to deal with cyberthreats and other such attacks must be precisely mentioned clause-wise in the service-level agreement between the client and the service provider.
There are also some roadblocks in the deployment of AI solutions. According to a report by the Centre for Internet Society, the infrastructural prerequisites for the successful and cohesive implementation of AI-driven solutions have not yet been developed. For instance, in the law enforcement sector, inputs that may be used as training data are not cohesive or diverse enough to develop algorithmic models that accurately capture the socio-economic realities used in predictive policing models. In the education sector, the lack of internet penetration and access to IoT devices serve as infrastructure barriers.
In order to make AI deployments across the government sector a success, it is imperative that the necessary skills training is imparted to concerned individuals such as teachers, policemen and government officials.
The deployment of IoT solutions across government utilities is also laden with challenges. Indian utilities face issues related to interoperability, reliable communication, cybersecurity and capacity building while implementing IoT. The successful working of an IoT-based application is dependent on a robust ICT infrastructure that can provide high network bandwidth.
The way forward
Going forward, government utilities must devise strategies and plans that can effectively mitigate these challenges. Merely putting together a set of new technologies is not enough. The effective utilisation of these technology solutions can only be achieved if infrastructural and other roadblocks are properly addressed. Government enterprises should also consider organisational restructuring with respect to governance and culture.
By Diksha Sharma