Mobile Governance Initiative In India: A Step In The Right Direction, But With Caveats

The Department of Information Technology (DIT) of India recently launched a paper on “Framework for Mobile Governance” that aims at providing fast and easy access of public services to citizens through mobile devices. In view of the limited success of the e-governance initiative in India (low Internet and PC penetration coupled with implementation-related issues), the shift in the government’s approach to using mobile as an alternative delivery medium for public services is a step in the right direction. According to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), there were roughly 894 million wireless subscribers in India as of December 31, 2011, and it is encouraging to see that the government is finally realizing the importance of mobile in achieving its e-governance initiative. I have taken key highlights from the mobile framework published by DIT:

  • Creation of a cloud-based Mobile Services Delivery Gateway (MSDG) based on open standards, which will be shared with all central and state government departments and agencies at nominal cost to facilitate e-governance services delivery on mobile devices.
  • Incorporation of various channels such as voice, text (email and SMS), GPRS, USSD, SIM Toolkit (STK), cell broadcast (CBC), and multimedia (MMS) for mobile-based services.
  • Development of mobile-complaint sites for all government departments and agencies based on open standards.
  • Creation of a government mobile app store which will be integrated with MSDG.
  • Development of an integrated payment gateway for citizens to pay taxes and bills for other public services through mobile.
  • Integration of mobile infrastructure with the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) platform.
  • Creation of a Mobile Governance Innovation Fund to support the development of mobile applications from government departments, agencies, and also by third-party developers, including startups.

Wow! The list looks amazing. While I appreciate the government’s efforts in this direction, I take a pragmatic view on the initiative. It will not be easy for the Indian government to achieve its ambitious mobile governance goal in view of the key challenges highlighted below:

  • No legal enablement to ensure the delivery of government services over mobiles.
  • Not mandatory for government departments and agencies to subscribe to the central mobile platform.
  • Over 50% of the country’s population does not have a bank account (source: Reserve Bank of India, 2011) and mobile payment is still an unknown concept in rural areas where the majority of the Indian population lives.
  • No clarity on connecting various government departments and agencies to the central mobile gateway, integrating MSDG with e-governance infrastructure, and further integrating the infrastructure with the UIDAI platform.
  • Absence of channel ecosystem and business model around mobile government app store concept.

So what does it mean for vendors? In spite of all the challenges, there will be key opportunities for all types of vendors as it becomes imperative for the Indian government to use mobile to connect with the country’s billion-plus population. The opportunities for vendors lie in:

  • Building centralized ICT infrastructure for mobile governance initiative.
  • Providing SMS-type and connectivity-related services.
  • Hosting and managing a large pool of applications for the government app store; providing sales, marketing, and distribution services for the app store.
  • Developing applications in local languages for basic mobiles to smart phones.
  • Providing security, identification management, and other related software for the mobile payment gateway.
  • Providing integration and app testing services.

The government should learn from its e-governance experience, as just creating a framework and building infrastructure does not guarantee success if the implementation is weak. The days of only investing in the system are over for India. Integrated efforts across different government bodies and a strategic implementation of the initiative will be critical to the government’s success in providing public services, even in remote areas. Also, the integration of the mobile infrastructure with the UIDAI platform will be crucial, as it can provide a new and smarter face for the Indian government. We will witness new and innovative public-private partnership models emerge for the design and delivery of governance services in India. Nevertheless, vendors should view the mobile governance initiative in the form of an “opportunity challenge” matrix, as each opportunity will come with a challenge.

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