The growing role and scope of digital solutions in Indian enterprises has encouraged government and public utilities to move beyond the basic application of information and communication technology (ICT). They are now using next-generation technologies like internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain, in addition to the delivery of e-governance services through various portals and websites. This has helped transform the information and service delivery mechanism of government enterprises. Further, these technology solutions have helped government enterprises bring in greater efficiency in their business processes and improve their ability to meet citizens’ needs.

Government programmes such as Digital India and the Smart Cities Mission have played an essential role in driving ICT adoption among government enterprises. A look at some of the key ICT trends that have transformed the Indian government and utilities space…

Leveraging IoT

IoT use cases for different government agencies vary according to the service domain and the programme mission. For instance, city governments can use IoT to analyse the complex aspects of city planning and management such as population growth, zoning, mapping, water supply, transportation patterns, food supply, social services and land use. IoT can also aid in waste management by ensuring waste disposal and waste collection at regular intervals. It also helps in deciding the ideal route for waste-carrying vehicles. Moreover, IoT applications can help government agencies in disaster management. IoT sensors can be installed in forests to detect fires and areas prone to flooding. It can aggregate and analyse information about an emergency event such as a gas leak.

The government is taking significant strides in leveraging opportunities in the IoT space. The recently released National Digital Communications Policy 2018 aims to expand the IoT ecosystem to 5 billion connected devices by 2022. It also aims to put in place appropriate security frameworks for IoT, earmark adequate licensed and unlicensed spectrum for IoT, and develop a market for IoT/machine-to-machine connectivity services in sectors such as agriculture, smart cities, intelligent transport networks, multimodal logistics, smart electricity meters and consumer durables.

The government’s Smart Cities Mission and Digital India programme are likely to further fuel the demand for IoT products and services. The various initiatives planned under the Smart Cities Mission such as smart energy, intelligent transport systems, waste management and smart lighting depend on IoT. The Digital India programme, which aims to make India a digitally empowered society through the creation of a robust digital infrastructure, will provide an opportunity to start-ups to build digital products and services around IoT. In fact, the government has already outlined a plan to undertake an investment of Rs 70 billion in IoT to develop 100 smart cities, conserve water and energy, and improve healthcare, transportation and security.

While government enterprises have started exploring IoT use cases, they also need to overcome challenges such as the lack of skills in handling the data generated by IoT, insufficient funding to modernise their IT infrastructure, and risks regarding privacy, security, interoperability and return on investment.

Cloud storage gains traction

Government enterprises are increasingly turning towards cloud technology to save costs and increase agility. Initiatives like Aadhaar, the National Population Register, the National Rural Heath Mission and the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) have propelled government utilities to use cloud as a medium to store citizen-centric data. Further, cloud has been a key technology component under the Digital India programme. The adoption of cloud computing has led to the development of e-governance solutions such as DigiLocker. It is a cloud service, which allows citizens to use a shareable cloud space to upload, store and share documents. DigiLocker is now being linked to government departments to enable users to access documents in a digital format.

The government is one of the biggest users of the cloud, and it is expected to play a key role in the growth of the technology. The government can leverage cloud-based services to launch new e-governance initiatives at lower overhead costs. A common cloud platform also enables local governments and other public agencies to delivering better citizen services without setting up significant IT infrastructure.

However, the large-scale adoption of cloud technology by government enterprises is not devoid of challenges. These are related to data safety and privacy, infrastructural constraints that limit citizens’ ability to access data, limited coordination between the central and state government agencies, and low digital literacy.

Exploring opportunities in AI and blockchain

Enterprises in the government and utilities domain have also started exploring opportunities presented by next-generation technologies like AI and blockchain. The government’s policy think tank NITI Aayog is spearheading a national programme on AI. Recently, NITI Aayog announced that it has drawn up a plan for creating an institutional framework for AI in the country. To this end, it has circulated a cabinet note seeking Rs 75 billion funding over a three-year period from the new government for the implementation of AI. Under the plan, NITI Aayog plans to set up five research centres and 20 AI adoption centres. As per NITI Aayog, AI could be leveraged in key sectors such as education, health, agriculture, urbanisation and mobility. Further, the note proposes to set up a high-level task force to oversee the roll-out and implementation of AI. According to NITI Aayog, AI has the potential to add $957 billion to India’s GDP by 2035 and increase India’s annual growth rate by 1.3 percentage points.

Recognising the potential of AI-based applications, some state governments have already started using the technology for applications such as citizen engagement. For example, the Andhra Pradesh government has announced a partnership with Microsoft to develop the Kaizala application, which is being used to collect citizen feedback from social media platforms and the government’s previously existing web portals. The customer feedback is automatically sorted and routed to the appropriate department for consideration.

Blockchain is another technology that is slowly gaining ground in the country. Public enterprises in the banking and financial technology sectors were the first ones to leverage blockchain in 2016. Later, government bodies also started exploring opportunities in this space. NITI Aayog is working on building the country’s largest blockchain, network, IndiaChain, in a bid to reduce frauds, speed up enforcement of contracts, and increase transparency in transactions. Further, the Securities and Exchange Board of India has established an advisory committee for conducting research on blockchain and other emerging technologies. The central and state governments have also started showing interest in the technology for multiple use cases such as asset registry, customs duty payments and property transfer to prevent data tampering, remove duplicates and reduce counterfeits. For instance, the Andhra Pradesh government is piloting blockchain in two departments – land registry and transport. The land registry pilot will track land-ownership while the transport pilot will be used to streamline titles of vehicles in the transport department. Through this initiative, the state aims to reduce tampering of land records, which have been digitalised and uploaded online. The state has also set up a repository of use cases for global start-ups to test their solutions. Following suit, Telangana has started a pilot run of blockchain technology in parts of Hyderabad for land registration, while Maharashtra and Gujarat are holding discussions with start-ups in the blockchain space to set up a fintech hub.

The way ahead

Net, net, the government and utilities have made significant headway in digitalising operations by leveraging cutting-edge technologies such as IoT, AI and blockchain. While the deployment of these technologies is still at a nascent stage, the recognition of their enormous potential will go a long way in driving uptake among enterprises. It is essential that government organisations and utilities stay ahead of the technology learning curve to serve citizens better.

By Kuhu Singh Abbhi