Cloud is not just a lever for controlling costs, but also a huge catalyst or transformational agent for being the foundation for enabling quick adoption of emerging technologies such as AI and Blockchain.
India is an aspiring and incomparable nation when it comes to digital ambitions and scale. Landmark projects like Aadhaar, the Aarogya Setu app, or DigiLocker, are just some of the examples of India’s digital prowess.
Given the scale at which government departments operate, cloud is the perfect platform for accelerating e-governance initiatives. From a policy point of view, already a series of initiatives have been taken to ensure that India has a strategic advantage concerning the cloud.
The Government of India has announced GI Cloud (now called ‘Meghraj’) – an initiative to ensure optimum usage of IT spending by the government while simultaneously giving the impetus to improve the adoption of e-governance initiatives using the cloud. The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) has created a reference architecture to guide government departments to build their cloud deployment architecture with recommended components and activities.
The National Digital Communications Policy 2018 envisions establishing India as a global hub for cloud computing, content hosting and delivery, and data communication systems and services. It aims to do this by enabling regulatory frameworks and incentives for promoting the establishment of international data centers, content delivery networks, and interconnect exchanges in India.
Similarly, the National Data Center Policy, which aims at making India a Global Data Center hub, promotes investment in the sector, propels digital economy growth, and enables provisioning of trusted hosting infrastructure to fulfil the growing demand.
The potential of the cloud
In India, cloud computing has ensured the success of national initiatives and schemes such as Swachh Bharat Mission, e-Hospital, National Scholarship, My-Gov and e-Transport. One of India’s most landmark initiatives, the Government e-Marketplace (GeM) uses a multi-cloud architecture to ensure scalability. Today, the GeM serves over 50,000 buyer organisations and has a listing of over 19 lakh products and more than 80,000 services.
NIC’s SaaS-based service, S3WaaS, has empowered district administrators to create, configure and deploy scalable and accessible websites without much effort and technical knowledge. Another successful example is DigiLocker, a cloud-based platform for the issuance, sharing, and verification of critical lifelong documents or certificates. With more than 57.13 million users and 4.27 billion issued documents, DigiLocker has proved to be one of the biggest success stories of cloud in the government.
Last year, understanding the critical importance of the cloud in providing the foundation for enabling the growth of emerging technologies such as AI, India’s national policy think-tank organisation, NITI Aayog, suggested the creation of an AI-based cloud computing platform called AIRAWAT (AI Research, Analytics and Knowledge Assimilation).
Similarly, the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI), announced last year that it had gone fully digital with the launch of a unique cloud-based and AI-powered big analytics platform. All project documents and correspondences related to NHAI will be stored in a cloud-based data lake, which is linked with GIS tagging and a unique project ID, so that project data can be retrieved easily from any location.
The Indian Railways has given the responsibility of deploying open source Hospital Management Information System (HMIS), an integrated clinical information system, for its 125 health facilities and 650 polyclinics across the country for improved hospital administration and patient healthcare, using a cloud platform.
Emerging use cases of cloud
With the cost of providing compute and storage capabilities coming down drastically, it makes much more sense for government departments to leverage the cloud. The other big reason is the quick pace of adoption for emerging technologies such as AI, ML, Big Data Analytics, or IoT.
In India, many states have proactively taken several pro-cloud initiatives. For example, the Government of Maharashtra in 2018, became the first state to unveil a public cloud policy. Looking at the benefits of cloud-based storage, the Government of Maharashtra mandated its departments to shift their data storage requirements to the cloud.
Similarly, in October 2020, the Government of Telangana announced that it was making it mandatory for all its departments to deploy their existingor new applications on the cloud except for those applications that contained sensitive or confidential data.
Another classic example is Smart Cities, wherein various state governments are leveraging cloud and other digital technologies to provide next generation services to citizens. Madhya Pradesh was the first state to launch India’s first cloud-based Common Integrated Data Centre, Disaster Recovery Centre and Integrated Control and Command Centre (ICCC).
The ICCC is enabling the Madhya Pradesh state administration to monitor and administer multiple city civic utilities and citizen services across seven cities in the state through a central cloud. Now, other states like Gujarat, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Telanagana, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Uttar Pradesh are following the suit.
These examples highlight why the move to the cloud is now essential or critical for government departments. Due to the capacity constraints, there are instances where the state data center has faced challenges in scaling up and meeting the requirements in a time-bound manner, which has led to poor application downtime and poor user experience.
Key trends that government departments should look out for
Today, the Covid-19 pandemic has made it imperative for accelerating digital delivery of public services. This has put immense pressure on government departments to quickly roll out new platforms or initiatives. With support for emerging technologies such as AI, ML or Blockchain, the cloud is the perfect platform for testing out new innovations.
The cloud is also a proven platform for automation – a critical need in government departments today, as they grapple with challenges related to skilled manpower and scaling up to meet public demand for services. For example, AI-powered chatbots can answer common queries easily, while RPA can be used to automate routine tasks.
The pandemic has also made remote working a reality now. This is applicable to the government sector too, as it also needs to give government employees the same flexibility as given to employees from the private sector. The cloud is perfect for giving employees secure and reliable access to government applications and data.
The cloud allows government departments to acquire resources based on actual requirements, with the capability to increase or decrease computing resources as per demand. Globally, and in India too, government departments are increasingly feeling challenged in containing costs and providing the required infrastructure.
For instance, the state-owned Bank of Baroda has become the first public sector bank to consider Work from Home policy for a section of its employees. For Bank of Baroda to leverage staff resources better, the cloud will prove to be an excellent platform for creating flexibility without significant corresponding investments.
This flexibility opens up several possibilities – one can think of organisations such as Income Tax which receives huge load for filing returns in the last few days of the deadline given by the government. There are many such examples of departments across the government, which receive seasonal demand spikes. Another notable example is the dedicated web portal called Co-WIN (COVID -19 Vaccine Intelligence Network) which has been launched recently.
This is a complete cloud-based IT solution for planning, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of the Covid-19 vaccination program in the country. While we keep hearing about technical glitches in the Co-WIN platform or the portal getting crashed (when millions of people recently rushed to register for the COVID vaccination), one cannot deny the fact that without the cloud, an initiative of this scale and size would be unimaginable.
As the above examples show, the cloud today is not just a lever for controlling costs, but also a huge catalyst or transformational agent for being the foundation for enabling quick adoption of emerging technologies such as AI and Blockchain. Today, the question for government departments is not why you should adopt the cloud, but when and how fast you can use the cloud to your advantage.