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Odisha experiments with blockchain in Paddy Procurement Automation System and uses predictive analytics in Covid-19: Manoj Mishra, E&IT Secretary

In a much awaited detailed interaction, Manoj Mishra, Secretary, Department of Electronics & IT, Government of Odisha talks about how emerging technologies are changing the digital landscape in Odisha and how the state is investing big in IT R&D. He informs that Odisha will have a separate and focused policy document on ESDM, BPO and data centre/parks in Odisha in 2021. The government is dishing out fiscal and non-fiscal incentives to new investors that are linked to both employment and investments.

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Among many states which are harnessing modern technology for better governance, Odisha has come a long way in exploiting advanced tech tools not only to monitor the ongoing Covid-19 crisis but also to simplify people’s lives by rendering digital services.

The state is betting big on emerging technologies to handle the pandemic, roll out citizen services under the 5T programme, invest in research and development, improve governance and build digital infrastructure.

Odisha is among a handful of states which has experimented with blockchain technology in Paddy Procurement Automation System (PPAS) and used predictive analytics in Covid-19 and the state Dashboard. Blockchain technology can be tapped for keeping the records safe and encrypted, Mishra says.

Around 250 services of various departments under the 5T framework have been made online and work is underway to bring another 150 more services online. A unified citizen portal called ‘Odisha One’ has also been unveiled by the government, offering a wide bouquet of services. The department has developed a massive network of over 3,000 Mo Seva‘Kendras’ and are planning to set up 7,000 such centres across Odisha with at least one in each Gram Panchayat.

The state’s Covid-19 dashboard has offered advanced visualisation of Covid related Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) such as transmission of infection, demographic and geographic profiling, infrastructure availability and population dynamics like existing population density and the count of inbound migrant workers. 

In collaboration with private tech giants, Odisha has developed predictive models for prognosis of the population vulnerable to the Covid pandemic and deciding on how to enforce curbs to ensure there is least disruption in the economic activity and thorough public safety.

Odisha has also partnered with Software Technology Park of India, Ministry of Electronics & IT, Government of India to set up a Centre of Excellence in Bhubaneswar on emerging technologies like Industry 4.0, AI, ML, Analytics and Cyber Security. The state government has also helped develop a Virtual and Augmented Reality Centre of Excellence (VARCoE) at IIT, Bhubaneswar to foster research and innovation.

Even though the state’s ICT Policy, which was valid till 2020, is being revised, the government plans to support expansion of existing IT industries, enable new investments in IT and Electronics System Design and Manufacturing (ESDM) domains via its new futuristic ICT Policy. The state will have separate and focused policy documents on ESDM, BPO and Data Centre/Parks this year. Besides, the government will dish out fiscal and non-fiscal incentives for the new investors that are linked to both employment and investments. 

Here are the excerpts of Express Computer’s exclusive interaction with Odisha’s Electronics & IT Secretary:-

What has been the role of the Department of Electronics & IT in aiding the ‘Vision 5T’ programme of the Government of Odisha ever since the programme was rolled out by the Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik?

The Department of Electronics & IT has been spearheading sweeping interventions in digital governance to cement the government’s 5T vision. Ever since the 5T charter of governance was unveiled by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik on October 2, 2019, we have been making incessant efforts to make available all citizen services in a transparent and time bound manner by leveraging technology. To illustrate, we have the State Dashboard that leverages the power of Big Data, Advanced Analytics and Visualisation for driving key administrative decisions. The Odisha State Dashboard has been piloted with five flagship interventions- Covid, National Food Security Act (NFSA)/State Food Security Scheme (SFSS), Odisha School Education Programme Authority (OSEPA), KALIA and 5T. The dashboard is equipped with features for all these interventions:- 

COVID Analytics: It facilitates identification of infection spread across state, intra/inter-state benchmarking, insights into testing and infrastructure requirement for infected patients.

NFSA/SFSS dashboard: It provides one-stop status of stock, allocation and consumption of rice and wheat at various godowns, Fair Price Shops (FPS) at district and Block level and facilitates appropriate decision making.

OSEPA: The performance analysis of schools at district and block levels on the dashboard offers insights into drop-out rates, lack of infrastructure, coverage of schools and availability of teachers statewide.

KALIA: The dashboard is a ready reckoner to the agriculture department on the performance of KALIA scheme on parameters like coverage and actual benefits disbursed.

5T Dashboard: It facilitates the monitoring of the performance of all departments to take stock of their progress in complying with the 5T charter and its components. 

Through efficient data mining and the confluence of technologies, this dashboard marks a new epoch in people-centric, engaging and responsive administration. The Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) mapped to various granular operational metrics and high-end data processing capabilities enable actionable insights for the users. Going forward, the state dashboard envisages on-boarding of over 25 flagship schemes of the state government. Around 250 services of various departments under the 5T framework have been made online and work is underway to bring another 150+ more services online. The state has also unveiled a unified citizen portal called ‘Odisha One’, offering a wide bouquet of services. We have developed a massive network of more than 3,000 Mo Seva‘Kendras’ and are planning to set up more than 7,000 such centres across the state with at least one in each Gram Panchayat. People can visit these kendras for payment of electricity and water bills, receiving necessary certificates, payment of taxes and availing various other public services. That apart, the state government has rolled out ‘Mo Sarkar’ (My Government) initiative for strengthening our objective of responsive and people centric administration. Around 240 services of 27 government departments have already been covered under Mo Sarkar. Every month, on an average, more than one lakh calls are handled by the outbound call centres and over 8,000 calls are made directly to the citizens by senior government officials and ministers.

Could you please brief us about the ICT policy of the Government of Odisha in detail? How exactly is the government trying to create employment through a revised ICT Policy?

The state government had formulated an ICT policy in 2014-15 which was valid till 2020. We have now revamped this ICT policy keeping in view the changing landscape and ecosystem of IT & ITeS industries as well as electronics manufacturing. The final policy document is under approval of the government. Our new and futuristic ICT policy will support expansion of existing IT industries, enable new investments in IT and ESDM domains. Interestingly, we will have separate and focused policy documents on ESDM, BPO and Data Centre/Parks in Odisha this year. We are dishing out fiscal and non-fiscal incentives for the new investors that are linked to both employment and investments. Apart from the thrust on employment generation, our focus is on expanding BPO capacity and leveraging emerging technologies. These policies will strive to position Odisha as a favoured destination for IT investments. 

What measures are being taken to make Odisha an electronics manufacturing hub in near future? What is the current status of electronics manufacturing in the state?

We have developed an Electronics Manufacturing Cluster straddling 207 acres on the periphery of Bhubaneswar which offers plug and play space for investors in the ESDM sector. Some of the approved units have already commenced operations within the cluster. We have got many other proposals that are in various stages of approval. To attract other investors to the cluster, we are working out a sector specific ESDM policy. We believe that with the right blend of policy, quality infrastructure, uninterrupted power and water supplies and a stable political ambience, Odisha will turn into the preferred destination for electronics investments. With abundance of land, water, electricity, talent at every level of manpower and stable and progressive government, we see the ESDM sector to take off in a big way in the coming 2 to 3 years.

What is the biggest achievement of the Department of Electronics & IT in introducing modern technologies and assisting key departments of the Odisha Government during various stages of the Covid-19 lockdowns in the last one year? 

One of the striking achievements was the development of the state-of-the-art Covid dashboard that enabled decision makers at all levels to take stock of the performance of the pandemic related interventions statewide. The dashboard offered advanced visualisation of Covid related KPIs such as transmission of infection, demographic and geographic profiling, infrastructure availability and population dynamics like existing population density and the count of inbound migrant workers. In partnership with SAS we have developed predictive models for prognosis of the population vulnerable to the Covid pandemic and deciding on how to enforce curbs lockdown to strike the balance between public safety and economic activity, simulating risk profiles of districts and checking infrastructure preparedness for combating infection surge. Based on these model output (available up to block level), the state has undertaken distribution of testing kits and augmentation of medical care capacity.

That apart, we tapped mobile based location via Facebook enabled by partnership with IIT, Tirupati to detect unauthorised movement of people in containment or restricted zones. Interactive bots on WhatsApp helped in dissemination of quick and easy information. The government started a Covid call centre to reach out to all people in home quarantine. Plus, there was a system generated e-pass for migrant registration, border check gate verification as well as their skill mapping. 

Could you share information on partnerships with private tech players to create a robust ICT infrastructure in Odisha and strengthen citizen services? Kindly explain in detail about such partnerships from March 2020 to April 2021.

The colossal Covid pandemic was an unforeseen experience for most of us. To ensure that the government is ready for any exigent situation, we adopted a two-pronged strategy. The first was to strengthen the infrastructure to handle the worst that might befall. Second, we tried to understand the prevailing situation across the globe and study the best practices to contain the spread of the virus. The government partnered many private tech consulting and development firms like E&Y, Facebook, Deloitte, SAS, and Diagnostic Robotics who provided the appropriate solutions. Besides, in order to connect with citizens and provide them useful medical advisories during the pandemic, the electronics & IT department set up a 100-seater call centre with technical support from global technology leader Avaya. And, to enable all government officials to work seamlessly from anywhere, the department created a secure environment within government offices equipped with a video conferencing facility on Microsoft Team.

To strengthen the IT ecosystem, we have been offering support to the IT industry through subsidies and reimbursements under the provisions of the ICT policy. IT and ICT companies in government facilities and designated IT Parks are getting the benefit of lease rental reimbursement as per the policy. During the peak pandemic, the government waived off rent and other charges from March to June 2020. Now as we speak, we are undergoing the challenges of Covid 2.0 and collaborative efforts are underway to bring technology to aid administration as well as people in general.

What is the one major challenge with respect to adoption of emerging technologies in Odisha?

Any new transformative journey has its share of challenges. Be it policy or technology, we need consensus and prepare the ground for its smooth implementation. But we are not overwhelmed by challenges. Rather, we view onboarding of emerging technologies as a huge enabler in enhancing the quality of citizen centric administration and aligning better with our 5T governance framework. The first challenge we need to navigate for adoption of emerging technologies is skilling our workforce. Without knowledge of the applications of such technology, our resources would not be at ease in using them. The other challenges rest on data authenticity and ensuring security in use of such niche technologies to check data breaches. We also need to intensify efforts on digital inclusion as technology cannot give us the full benefits if digital divide prevails. 

Which is the most promising emerging technology which you find should be adopted across all the departments of the Odisha Government for the people’s welfare?

We see immense opportunities in leveraging emerging technologies to leapfrog in our journey of e-governance and digital democracy. I don’t believe any single ground breaking technology in isolation can help us unravel the transformation. A confluence of emerging technologies like Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence/VR, Blockchain, Internet of Things (IoT) and Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is needed for a more collaborative, participatory, inclusive and outcome driven engagement of the government with citizens and other  stakeholders. Among emerging technologies, AI when used in concert with IoT can help establish a predictive governance model wherein the government can mine legacy data, citizen responses and data on a host of macro and micro factors to preempt problems rather than only reacting to them. We believe blockchain technology can be tapped for keeping our records safe and encrypted. On the other hand, RPA promises to substitute human intervention in many government tasks and processes that are error prone, mundane and repetitive. Our government has always been the pioneer in leveraging emerging technologies for the benefit of stakeholders. We have experimented blockchain in Paddy Procurement Automation System (PPAS) and used predictive analytics in Covid and the State Dashboard. 

The Odisha government has partnered STPI for setting up a Centre of Excellence in Bhubaneswar on Emerging Technologies like Industry 4.0, AI, ML, Analytics and Cyber Security. The state government has also helped develop a Virtual and Augmented Reality Centre of Excellence (VARCoE) at IIT, Bhubaneswar to foster research and innovation. That apart, the state electronics & IT department is also establishing a state-of-the-art Security Operation Centre (SOC) to combat the threat posed by cyber security and cyber terrorism. This project will keep government websites and web applications immune from cyber-attacks. 

I believe, going ahead, our bets are huge on such ground breaking technologies to accelerate digital transformation with digital inclusion. 

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