January 2011

The three G2C delivery essentials

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New-generation networks, smart devices and rich apps promise to make e-Gov a reality for non-creamy layers of society too

By Navin Agarwal

It has been observed that in India, individuals in the lower income groups often do not have unhindered access to government services and schemes. With vast population being one of the challenges in effective provisioning of government services, the level of interaction between citizens at large and the government has been minimal. While the financially equipped and well informed citizens are able to reap substantial benefits, the weaker and less informed sections of society are left out even in today’s digital age.

With the rapid developments in information and communication technologies, it now appears possible for the government to interact with citizens in a more uniform manner. Today, there are networks having universal footprints and there are applications that can be accessed from next generation smart devices, which are getting more and more affordable. With innovative and effective use of these three pillars of ICT—the networks, the smart devices and the  applications—even the less empowered citizens can be included in the overall  e-Governance framework and can have easier access to government welfare schemes and services.

Each of these pillars carries the potential to bring about changes that are likely  to take place in the near future with respect to service delivery by the government.

Ubiquitous networks

With the growth and spread of new networking technologies, the ground is  being readied to deliver services at citizens’ door steps. Service providers are  today using Multi-Protocol Label Service (MPLS) in the network backbone as it  is protocol agnostic and offers a highly scalable data transmission mechanism.  It enables transmission of data from one node to other, both for circuit- switched and packet-switched scenarios. It can be used to carry many different kinds of traffic, including IP packets, native ATM, SONET and Ethernet frames.  It has higher fault tolerance and lesser transmission overhead, making it a  preferred mode of data transmission in the next generation networks.

The reach of State Wide Area Networks (SWANs) can be extended to remote  villages with 3G and Broadband Wireless Access (BWA) technologies providing  the last-mile connectivity in areas where deployment of wired networks is not  feasible.

Further, the newer paradigms of communication and networking will  change the way data transmission and data access takes place. Cloud computing  is coming in a big way, and it can be implemented as a public,  private or hybrid model. As defined by NIST, “Cloud computing is a model for  enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of  configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage,  applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with  minimal management effort or service provider interaction.”

With acceptance  of cloud computing, the complete financial model at service providers’ end can  be overhauled leading to lower capital expenditure (CAPEX). Operating  expenses can be based either on a utility billing model or a subscription model.

Riding a cloud computing infrastructure, applications may be delivered as  softwareas- a-service (SaaS). A good example of SaaS is Web-based  conferencing service WebEx, which is being used by many organisations on a  subscription basis. Here, while the user organisation saves on CAPEX, the  third-party provider is able to maximise the utilisation of the underlying infrastructure.

Smart handheld devices

The evolution and adoption of handheld devices has been phenomenal over the  past years. The availability and affordability of these handheld access devices  implies that there will be a compounding effect on the networks and applications being used by such devices. Mobile penetration in India has  crossed the 60 percent mark and the demand of smart  hones and handheld computing devices like notebooks and netbooks is ever increasing.

The processing speed of these devices is also increasing and so is the demand  for various features and applications running on these devices. Next-generation  features like GPSbased navigation, GIS, inbuilt scanner and advanced wireless accessories promise to kick in far reaching changes. Their  usage will eventually force developers to change the way applications are  developed for these smart devices. Introduction and acceptance of next  generation devices has increased in the urban centres as well as in remote  areas. The entire IT infrastructure and application ecosystem is on the verge of  a major overhaul and the expectation from the consumer is ever increasing to bring about this change.

The demand for government services by citizens will increase through  availability of mobile handheld devices and with increased ease of access,  enhanced tracking and monitoring. The new devices that will be available in the enterprise-grade category, like wireless printers, scanners and high-end  portable biometric devices, can be used in government offices for faster verification processes as well as faster service delivery to citizens.

Applications for all

Next-generation applications are being designed keeping in mind the demands  from mobile devices and the cloud computing paradigm. The key aspects that  need to be addressed  y developers while designing applications for next-generation devices and networks include interfaces between disparate  technologies, device configuration, software deployment and upgrades, user  interface, performance, memory management and security.

In order to effectively address these, developers need to follow a standard for  development  based on following principles: thematic consistency, exploiting  device capabilities, testing, resource URLs, balanced structure, target  identification of links, image maps, externally linked resources, page content, layout and definition.

Another major concern for mobile applications would be the secure  transmission of private data over open wireless networks. With advancement in  the regulation regime and availability of mobile banking services, the  concerns for developers as well as users are further raised. The proportion of  mobile devices providing open platform functionality is expected to increase  with time, as these platforms offer significant opportunities for a complete mobile-based application ecosystem. These also provide the ability for flexible  programs and service delivery options that may be installed, removed or  refreshed multiple times as per users’ needs.

Openness of these ecosystems may be exploited by the APIs from non-trusted  sources that may access the mobile resources and damage the device or the  network. This issue has to be managed through better security architecture and  pre-emptive monitoring of the networks.

The application deployment model  will also change as the traditional model  will not really work on mobile handheld devices. Similarly, the database  structure has to change for future applications. The applications developed need to be lighter, faster and more secure for encrypting private and sensitive  data. Most of the data processing will be carried out on the server end to  minimise the requirement of bandwidth and the processing power on mobile devices.

With new applications being developed and  accessed through mobile devices,  the service provisioning by government channels would change and lead to  more transparent, time effi- cient and effective service delivery models.

The  overall penetration of e-Governance services would be enhanced by such  transformation. It will not only help in better service delivery but will also bring  digital equality among masses and will particularly bring better infrastructure  to rural areas.

Indeed, an e-Governance service delivery transformation can be  achieved through successful implementation of these three key pillars of ICT  across the government.

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