Walking the e-governance tightrope: balancing growth and security

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By Samir Shah

The world is experiencing an unprecedented digital transformation today and the good news is that India is poised to get a podium finish thanks to its government’s vision of a “Digitally empowered India”. Most businesses in India have either already digitally enabled themselves or are doing so at an accelerated pace. Government initiatives such as demonetization, invested adoption of digital transactions & payments are only acting as potent catalysts, expediting realization of the Digital India vision. The Indian government has been aggressively pushing for e-governance to ensure easy, timely and accountable delivery of government services to all its citizens. And while all these are positive indicators of success for an accelerated growth in an economy like India, what remains an area of considerable concern is that, is the edifice of India’s digital tomorrow insulated with a secure foundation to help it stand strong for a promising future.

The pace of adoption and success of e-governance initiatives will eventually rely on how the government walks the tight rope – balancing both accelerated growth and digital adoption, while ensuring safety and security of the systems. To achieve the overarching vision of making Digital Infrastructure a tangible reality for every citizen, governance & services on demand and digital empowerment of citizens will require a right blend of technology, security framework and robust resilient cyber security systems.

Cybersecurity – the shape shifter

Cybersecurity has been identified as one of the key areas of development by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to secure the integrity of critical national infrastructure. And for good reason too. The concept of security has undergone a massive change with the evolution of technology and digital transformation.

Securely managing access and identities may have ascertained that an organization is safely able to eliminate the threat of unauthorized access in the past. But today, that makes for just a part of the whole when it comes to having a secure infrastructure for any organization.

New path breaking technology that anticipates and proactively defends against emerging threat vectors will have to be given due consideration in the tryst of balancing benefits of technology against its inherent risks. It is encouraging to see the Government of India already working towards this through public-private partnerships that will help evolve a new ecosystem for cybersecurity and data protection, while providing comfort to citizens about their personal rights in cyberspace.

Thus, the goals for such citizen services programs should include:

1. Focusing on the experience: Keep the experience very intuitive and simple for citizens. Citizens who prefer phone interactions should be able to dial an easy-to-remember number, such as 100 for police, 108 for ambulance. Those who prefer the web should be able to launch a chat on the city website or have a call-back scheduled with the respective department by filing a e-request. Citizens preferring to interact face to face should be able to walk to a nearby facility where using an automated kiosk, they should be able to place a video call to see and talk face to face with a remote agent and have their problems solved. Citizens should not need to take any action to connect with the agent, not even pressing a button.

2. Leverage History and Experience: The governing body should build, compile and develop a knowledge repository for agents working to service citizens with accurate information. Citizens should be able to get the benefit of the same knowledge repository whether they interact with government by phone, web chat, or video call.

3. Build a citizen service mindedness in the culture across departments: Governing bodies within government departments delivering through e-governance should empower their service agents to have access to all levels of the departments they represent and thereby enable speedy resolution of issues. They should actively work to dissolve the red tape and build accountability by ensuring all channels leverage the power of digital to bring accountability to every level of the government edifice.

4. Confidentiality, Trust and Security are also equally important: While emphasis should be placed on the experience, ease of access, use and speed in servicing citizens, it is also equally important to keep interactions confidential, secure and follow best practices for physical and network security.

Understanding eGovernance in India
The concept of e-governance is made of two interfaces—the citizen interface and the back-end interface. Both of them have to be secured enough to deliver services without any hassle and ensure a seamless experience. In 2014, the UN placed India at the 118th slot globally (out of 182 countries) in the eGovernment rankings. With its ingrained transparency and openness, given the principles of Internet, eGovernance brings governments closer to their citizens. In a sense, eGovernance has a larger social angle, as it ensures a wider and representative democracy. India is embarking on an ambitious vision of converting 20 plus cities into smart cities. As communities adopt to new digital ways to engage, this note offers a possibility and view of how automated self-serving kiosks can be used to improve Citizen Services experience in such eGovernance initiatives.

Securing the future of eGovernance in India
Clearly, the need for compliance that ensures sound and secure transactions is felt more now, than ever. Having a sound eGovernance framework, which relies on the latest technology tools, ascertains the highest level of security. The advent of innumerable digital pathways may have enabled ubiquitous connectivity and interactions, but on the flip side it has also seen an unprecedented shift and evolution of the digital threat landscape. Making cybersecurity a fundamental pillar supporting sustained growth in this digital age. Therefore, information security is no longer a nice to have option, but an absolute imperative in order to ensure sustenance. It is no longer a matter of “If” you will be attacked but a matter of “When” and how prepared or resilient you are in the face of this eventuality, is what will make all the difference.

With the National eGovernance Plan (NeGP) plan well in place the right security polices, practices and procedures as well as utilization of security technology, will help to protect eGovernance systems against attack, detect abnormal activities and to have a proven contingency plan in place.

The threat to security of IT systems may be from many sources and in different forms. With over 81 percent of all malware coming in through the web browser, it becomes imperative to secure the IT perimeter and all endpoints of threats and hacks. Some of the internal sources of threat in eGovernance are the employees of private or public agencies, customers or end users of the eGovernance programs. The external sources of threat are the hackers, criminal/terrorist groups or organizations, intelligence and investigating agencies. In summary, the two top threat vectors to digital systems remains unauthorized access and internet borne malware. Fortunately, systems and new innovative technology exists that can now enable isolation of all web based malware outside the perimeter of the firewall thereby eliminating all potential threats even before they occur.

The Way Forward
For the leaders driving e-governance initiatives, future lies in successfully walking the tightrope between accelerated automation and sanctified security of systems, while transforming the citizen experience. Only on successfully balancing these three can one say that India’s Digital India vision is sustainable. There is a clear agreement and consensus that India is becoming a prime mover in eGovernance initiatives and is well poised to be a significant economic player and a nation that will finally exceed its potential. If the above balance is maintained it may achieve this despite the evolution of security threat actors, and remain at the forefront of innovation for the next decade too!

The author is the CEO of Aurionpro, a global company that works with central and state government organizations to provide technology based solutions for multiple e-governance projects.

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