Role of Cloud in Services Delivery

Cloud can assume different roles and help deliver essential goods and services in varied disguises. The essence lies in modulating cloud to suit individual requirements of various departments and organisations while addressing security concerns, reports Team Inclusion

01 October, 2012 eGovernance, Research Reports
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Anand, a young student, is enthusiastically filling up his college admission form. He submits the form and is on the verge of completing everything when suddenly he realises he has forgotten his wallet at home. But he does not panic. He walks in to the nearest bank and gives his bank ID and Aadhaar number. His biometric details are checked and he is able to log into his account and withdraws the money. Does this sound unreal? Should not and yet it does!! It is not any paradox, only that, facts are still half-baked, people unclear, and to a large extent ignorant.

Over 200 million residents across the country have been enrolled in Phase – I of UID and more than 165 million Aadhaar numbers have been generated and delivered. Appreciable effort no doubt, but banks or similar financial institutions and government agencies are yet to link Aadhaar number to their customer database, rather more effectively put as, yet to even have technological provision to include UID within customer database at their backend centers.

Sumnesh Joshi, Assistant Director General, Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), laments, “as on date, we have had several rounds of meetings with public sector banks, but still no bank is coming forward to change their system.” “I don’t know what are they waiting for?” asks Joshi. Identification of these bottlenecks is essential to align the delivery and expectation.

Elaborating on technological trends in services delivery, D B Kiran, Microsoft Corporation (India) stresses on cloud computing as the key to manage national user interface. Client database is increasing by the day. Maintaining all data within a backend data centre has numerous limitations, not only physical but also restrictions arising due to lack of uniformity, cost, and easy accessibility. Technology offers a solution in the form of cloud, a virtual space to store databases in a ubiquitous environment with easy accessibility available through widely existing Internet and broadband network.

Cloud functions through a self-serviced architecture and hence anyone can access client information as per their requirements. Since all information remains stored onto a single platform, doubts concerning uniformity are nullified. Obviously infrastructure costs of storing data scale down extensively, which in other times normally account for 30 to 40 per cent of IT costs. Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs) stand to benefit largely from cloud as their database is eternally increasing and it is not possible to keep pace with available infrastructure and still maintain costs.

The high point of cloud service lies in its simplicity. As it is built within a proper business critical environment, questions about adaptability or any chance of mis-match do not arise. Further there are no elaborate procedures; it is too simple for even minute chance of error to occur. Also, the multi-layered security system offers complete encryption of all data. Cloud offers a 3-in-1 solution of software, infrastructure, and hosting services available on a single platform.

Nonetheless, Alok Saxena, Deputy Director General (Technology), Department of Posts, is vociferous in his reservations about cloud. Despite strong indications of cloud being the future trend, he admits, “as of now, in our regulations cloud does not figure right on top. So there are limitations that we have.” Certainly, these limitations hint majorly and singularly towards security concerns. On the other hand, Anil Lad, Systems Manager, Kalyan Dombiwali Municipal Corporation, brings out a completely different angle of cloud. Although cloud is already in use at Kalyan Dombiwali Municipal Corporation, doubts abound regarding security of personal information or more aptly described as privacy of information. While discrepancies or irregularities in monetary transactions can be tracked and resolved, there is no regulation to track and nail divulgence of personal information.

However, Deepak Maheshwari, Vice President-Public Policy, South Asia, MasterCard Worldwide, contradicts this fact altogether. The core essence of MasterCard functionality lies in absolute and total security of data with equal stress on privacy. MasterCard transactions are completed within few seconds and there are no security issues at all. He cites the example of recent two-factor authentication regulation of RBI for enhanced security and privacy of information. This establishes that cloud can assume different roles and deliver essential goods in varied disguises. The essence lies in modulating cloud to suit individual requirements of organisations.

Shying away from technology is not the solution. Instead, adapting to it can not only unravel and demystify services delivery as also prove to be extremely efficient. It saves on time, costs, documentation, and similar intricacies. Amongst all these, mobile technology available through phones, iPads, or tablets, is definitely one way to look forward. Mahendra Narayan Singh, District Informatics Officer, National Informatics Centre, says mobile technology has penetrated into every nook and corner of the country thereby offering extensive coverage and reach. Most villagers in remote corners use mobiles to maintain not only their land records but also certain financial dealings. He opines that identifying and classifying applications in tune with technology coupled with strict adherence to compliances and standards can erase security and privacy concerns.

Interestingly, UID is only an identity number; it is not a service or a solution in itself. UID should be incorporated within technological applications to deliver solutions and not talked about in isolation. It requires authentication agencies to collaborate and thereafter deliver services. Joshi stresses, “UID is a number that provides identity to its holder. For that everyone else has to develop their own applications, customise it….” Whether or not UID can cater to the growing population in terms of essential infrastructure and efficiency in delivering the end services is a question many are asking.

The need of the hour is to identify issues and develop applications to tackle these as and when they arise in future. While Aadhaar based financial inclusion has already started in Jharkhand, MGNREGA beneficiaries are being paid through biometric authentication and so are the scholarships but the challenge of scale still remains.

Silver Lining in a Cloud

  1. All user departments should chart out an anticipatory plan detailing preparations to include UID information or try cloud interface. They rather should implement it on a trial basis and have practical exposure of possible impediments.
  2. Interactive and healthy coordination between agencies, be it private or public, involved in different stages of services delivery should be made mandatory. Often, enthusiastic plans go awry due to irrelevant issues cropping up between such agencies and the end-consumer faces the brunt.
  3. As for security concerns and reservations arising out of these concerns, cloud does offer a back-up of all data albeit in a virtual environment. Concerned personnel across public and private agencies should be educated on such new technological aspects so as to be able to understand and inculcate them within their fold.
  4. The scale of disaster recovery in a cloud environment is incomparable to regular data centers. It can save high costs of firewalling redundant technologies.
  5. Government departments need to walk an extra mile and try newer technologies like cloud instead of remaining cocooned within existing systems and technologies. Trust develops only as an offshoot of exposure.

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