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What data analytics can do for a nation?


With the rise of big data and the increase in technology availability, it would not be an exaggeration to say that going forward a data-driven government would be the norm

In a recently concluded Government Analytics & Information Summit 2017 of data analytics firm SAS, one of the panelist asked “What data analytics can do for a nation?” Question seems to very broad, but real answer lies in how government is using technology including data analytics tools to improve the life of the citizens. With the rise of big data and the increase in technology availability, it would not be an exaggeration to say that going forward a data-driven government would be the norm rather than unusual.

Embracing new data age

In India, although both state and centre governments are embracing this new data age, but the speed at which it is being done is very slow. But how slow and how long is no longer a question, the fact is that government organizations are collecting massive amount of data every day and with Prime Minister Narendra Modi pushing for digital transactions and tech driven Goods & Service Tax (GST), data collection will further spur. Hence, use of data analytics tools to make sense of the mammoth amount of the data is an inevitable future. For example, GST alone is likely to create about 3 billion invoices per month. Can it survive without making sense of these invoices? Possibly not.

So, data analytics experts like Vishakha Dongre, who heads Public Sector Practice at SAS India believes that analytics will no longer be an after-thought, rather it will become an integral part of government service delivery. Because government organization needs to know about the effectiveness of their service delivery and hence, they would require the tools to measure efficiency and performance. They need to know how much work is being completed in order to determine how well it is operating. “Yet, if you carefully analyse there is hardly any credible analysis of e-governance project in this country,” she adds.

Part of the reason why this is the case, because several government agencies, particularly state governments, do not have automated work order systems, instead they heavily rely on manual procedure. The one who have work order systems are not utilising them properly. The result is that they do not have the information that is useful for reporting or to make the best policy decisions.

Lack of foundational data

Governments are also suffering from a lack of foundational data. “We need different data sets for different policy making in the government but unfortunately, many a times, we do not have right sets of data,” Pulak Ghosh, Senior Fellow, Niti Ayog says, adding that we need data to create an efficient policy to have larger impact on people’s life.

Ghosh gives example of credit rating system of banks which help them in understanding the credit worthiness of a person before offering loans but he says that there is no such rating for people who are not part of the formal banking system, limiting their ability for credit. “Can data analytics be used to develop credit score of underprivileged people who do not have access to formal banking,” asks Ghosh.

Agreeing with Gosh, Dongre of SAS says, “In government, there are different sets of challenges. Many a times, they don’t have right sets of data and in some cases if they have, they are not able to properly use it.” She says that data analytics tool can be used to create income distribution of a village. “One can use mobile recharge pattern or other expense to decide the credit worthiness of a person who is not formally attached to a banking system,” she adds.

Ex-Maharashtra IT secretary and now Joint Secretary in Ministry of Tribal Affairs of government of India, Rajesh Aggarwal agrees with the benefits enumerated by Ghosh and Dongre but he says “Underprivilege people need different level of attention. If you purely use algorithm to map their credit worthiness, there is a possibility that same could be used against poor people to deny credit. We need to have balance and use data for right perspective.”

Discovery is moving out of the IT shop

Good news is that data discovery is moving out of the IT shop and onto user’s desktops. Tools such as Tableau, Datameer, QlikView and Domo are enabling individuals to apply sophisticated visualization capabilities to vast amounts of existing data without writing code. With these new discovery tools, data access and analysis can now happen with higher speed.

India’s Passport Seva Project uses volumetric analysis to understand the seasonal fluctuation of the applicants across it passport seva kenra (PSK). Golok Kumar Simli, who heads the technology for Passport Seva Project at Ministry of External Affairs says, “We use data analytics tools to understand the need of the people who apply for the passport. It helps us understand different data points leading to better utilisation of our resources at PSK.”

Simli is of the view that improving data access and usage should be at the top of the list for the government organisations as easy access to data saves time, reduces cost and accelerates decision making. “Discovery tools are helping in quickly transforming raw data into meaningful information but government needs to further augment open-data initiatives like data.gov.in,” he adds.

In its report on use data of analytics for public sector, Accenture says that the challenges associated with the new normal” in government are not so new anymore, yet public sector leaders are still striving to adapt to the profound political, societal and economic changes that have radically changed the operating context. “Simple survival techniques are not enough to satisfy rising citizen demands and dwindling budgets. Achieving high performance in the public sector requires reinventing public service delivery with government analytics to reduce costs, improve the quality of services and unleash technology to drive new insights,” says report.

The report also highlights the fact that there is heightened expectations from citizens which are driving the need for differentiated and personalized public services but dwindling budgets are limiting the ability of administrators and policy makers to meet citizen’s needs in the conventional way. Ghosh of Niti Ayog says, “Through insight-driven government analytics government can reduce costs and improve the quality of services.”

Variety, velocity, volume and usability with security

V Ranganath, Regional P F Commissioner, Information services, Ministry of Labour & Employment agrees with Ghosh and says that different organization are collecting data at different places leading to silos. “We need to integrate everything and understand the variety, velocity, volume and usability of the data in order to reduce cost and ultimately serve the people.”

Reducing cost and raising revenue is the goal of any government. With the roll out GST, the number of commercial tax payers will substantially increase leading to better revenue and compliance but it will also increase the volume of the data and vector of cyber-attack.

“With GST roll out, the number of tax payers will increase. About three billion invoices will be generated in one months. The data will be very critical for the country. Therefore, privacy and security of the data has to be maintained,” says Pankaj Dikshit, Senior Vice President (Technology & Risk) at GST Network.

Other experts also agree with Dikshit that security will become a larger issue because there are more opportunities for compromise. “Rather than addressing the most common vulnerabilities through a secure central access point, government should look to protect data at various levels and entry points to ensure it is only accessible to users with the proper authorization,” says Ghosh.

Is data lake an answer?

One of the most pressing challenge with the government organization is that most of the department are collecting and storing data at different locations leading to lot of silos. And, there is less interoperability of the data. Ranganath is of the view that government can create a data lake where all types of data can be stored. He believes this will enable government having a single source of truth.

Agreeing with Ranganath, Dikshit says, “If any government organization needs a data for policy making they can access from data lake and this will address the problem of lack of foundation data in the government.”

However, Ghosh of Niti Ayog says data lake as concept is good but in case of cybersecurity breach all the data can be wiped out in one go. So it has a huge risk. “So, I would suggest let data be wherever it is but we should make it interoperable and flexible,” he adds.

Agreeing with Ghosh, Simli of Passport Seva Project says, “Rather having a data lake, we need to think about collaboration such as how police and Aadhar can collaborate for verification of passport, leading to faster delivery of passport to citizen. He adds that this collaboration will differ and depend from service to service.

“Government should use business intelligence (BI) and artificial intelligence (AI) for harnessing the data and aim should be to use government data to understand what is working for the people,” concludes Dr. A Santhosh Mathew, who in his previous role at Ministry of Rural Affairs took care of IT, now Chairperson of National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE).

If you have an interesting article / experience / case study to share, please get in touch with us at [email protected]

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