๐Ÿ“˜Inputs for designing a DPI informed digital transformation strategy

1 minute read: +1s to transform your digital strategy into a DPI strategy:

Existing infra

+1, light touch intervention

Transforms into a DPI

Value unlocked for individuals and institutions

General recommendation

ID: Physical ID card

Add a digitally signed QR code

Now capable of supporting e-auth, e-kyc and single-sign on

Private and public institutions are now able to verify the legitimacy of the card with high trust and low cost

Allow for multiple IDs that can be digitally verified for different types of proof (such as individual ID, business ID, tax ID etc) instead of trying to build one ID that would hold all that data

Payments: Individual wallet applications

Set out a common spec for QR codes

Makes all the wallets interoperable

Digital payments can now be made from any store of value to any store of value in secure formats

Keep the actual movement of money with the banks, with the fintechs only creating the user experience layer

Data Sharing: Any paper based certificate

Add a digitally signed QR code

Makes the paper-based doc into a digitally verifiable credential

Private and public institutions are now able to verify the legitimacy of the doc with high trust and low cost

Allow for synchronous and asynchronous data sharing mechanisms for public and private data with regulatory oversight

General: Social benefit scheme

Include a G2P mapper to help route money

Now allows sending money to any ID number!

Allows for choice in destination bank account and prevents leakages through misrepresentation

Introduce the design of digital signatures and PKIs for future DPI builds

Include an Open API policy to allow any department to leverage third party interfaces to deliver better user experiences

Publish a volunteer policy to leverage the capabilities of eager individuals to close capacity gaps.

Countries all around the world understand the need to digitise their economies. The arguments for speed, efficiency, access to remote areas, and enhanced transparency are well-documented. As the penetration of data, mobile devices and internet connectivity increase, digitisation has rapidly evolved from being a โ€˜good-to-haveโ€™ feature to a โ€˜must-haveโ€™ necessity, in order to keep up with the developing world.

As a result, many governments are drafting digital economy or digital transformation strategies to keep pace with this evolution. However, concerns around privacy, security and inclusive access still remain, with many countries in the global south facing a higher risk of systemic exclusion of their last mile populations in case a whole-of-government digital transformation effort is undertaken. Fears of loss of privacy and security through misuse, mismanagement or leakages of data are being voiced by countries across the globe, placing governments at the centre of a precarious situation. Should they digitise (investing heavily in the process) and risk the aforementioned outcomes, or should they continue to operate as per current norms and risk the opportunity cost of non-digitisation?

Thankfully, as many countries such as India, Singapore, Brazil and others have shown, the balance between an individualโ€™s privacy and institutional digitisation can be achieved through well-designed Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI) approaches that also guarantee access and inclusion for last mile populations. The principles of DPI include

  1. Interoperability - ensuring the same rails can be accessed in a variety of ways and are not built in silos, such as by setting out a QR code specification that can allow for seamless digital payments from any store of value to any store of value

  2. Minimalism - focusing on light touch interventions with high impact, such as by designing an ID project that contains only 4 basic data fields similar to Aadhaar in India, and doesnโ€™t try to capture โ€˜as much data as possibleโ€™ which would make the infrastructure bulky and unsustainable

  3. Inclusive innovation - allowing for private market players to build on top of the DPI in a regulated ecosystem. This will allow for diversity and quality in user experience such as accessing the same payment rails through a smartphone, feature phone, assisted modes etc.

  4. Federation - the key to secure systems is through federation and not centralisation of data, such as by introducing an Open API policy that can allow for async and synchronous data sharing without needing to store it in one place

  5. Security and Privacy - keeping individuals at the centre of systems and ensuring that systems can proceed only upon receiving explicit revocable granular consent by the individuals.

The expansion from a digitisation strategy to a DPI strategy consists of light-touch +1 steps that can be in-built into any pre-existing or newly built digital transformation blueprint. The main purpose of DPI is to ensure that:

  1. The government can work towards asynchronous quick wins leveraging existing infrastructure with minimal cost / time / effort investments that unlock rapid benefits for individuals

  2. All individuals (irrespective of diversity in financial, social, educational or accessibility backgrounds) can equitably access the digital rails built through their existing capabilities

  3. Private market participation is incentivised to allow innovation over the government sanctioned DPI rails to simultaneously support overall economic growth and prosperity

These outcomes can be easily achieved through any well-designed DPI. Three tips to help convert a digitisation strategy into a DPI strategy are:

  1. Focus on quick-wins alongside the larger digital transformation strategy: Often, the digital transformation strategy is a robust document requiring institutional establishment, policy changes, procurements, mandates, teams and more. This is a necessary though time consuming process. In parallel to this, the government could focus on executing smaller DPI pilots (such as verifiable credentials) that do not require new policy mandates, multi-department alignment or large procurement cycles. This will help demonstrate proof of success of the digital transformation mission by delivering benefits to individuals in the country and receive institutional support for the larger mission as well, once everyone has had a chance to see results on the ground.

  1. Asynchronous adoption, instead of multi-department coordination, through proof of value: Sometimes a significant blocker faced by countries during executing a digital transformation strategy is resistance from various government departments to align and coordinate on a single approach. This can usually be difficult to resolve. It can be powerful to start rolling out DPI with the first-mover departments who have forward-looking individuals that are aligned with the approach and larger mission. Focusing on the DPI blocks that align with the mandates and budgets of those departments can help speed up the process of approvals and execution. Once a pilot or building block is live, other departments and institutions should be free to asynchronously join the rails as and when they see the proof of value it is offering the first-mover and its beneficiaries. One example would be to roll-out a government to person payment rails (through a G2P mapper) for the social benefit delivery that is aligned with the DPI approach as perhaps the agricultural ministry for subsidies to farmers for fertilisers. When the G2P rails are able to bring significant reduction in the amount of leakages, thus saving the overall department budget, other ministries or programs such as perhaps the food-subsidy program would also want to join the rails and so forth. Asynchronous adoption may seem more time consuming at the start, but it actually helps speed up the process of execution, and results in more sustainable and scalable infrastructure models.

  2. Build on existing infrastructure as far as possible and not from scratch: It may seem that to build something in line with DPI principles of privacy and security, federation, inclusion or innovation, one has to build the infrastructure from scratch since current systems may not cater to some or all of the aforementioned principles. However, this is usually not the case. DPI by nature consists of minimalist, light-touch interventions that can rapidly increase inclusion and innovation at scale. It typically never advocates for long-procurement cycles or uphauling whole-of-government systems. It is more economical or effective to simply add a feature to existing systems to trigger inclusive scale. For example, if there is a physical ID card with 30% coverage of population, simply adding a digitally signed QR code to it would make it possible to include features like e-authentication, e-kyc, or single-sign as well. These three value-added features would immediately deliver value to individuals and institutions and increase the voluntary adoption of the national ID card.

Countries should avoid blind duplication of another countryโ€™s efforts. While it is always useful and important to understand the best principles other countries have adopted while designing their own infrastructure, and even having conversations with them to learn from their mistakes, all this knowledge must be adapted to each countryโ€™s unique socio-economic-political context before deployment. Another countryโ€™s hosting choices (both technical and institutional) might not show the same results when deployed in another country without proper contextualisation.

The balance between the elements which can be standardised (and must be, in order to save time, cost, effort and adopt global practices) and the surrounding program architecture that must be contextualised (to show success in the deploying country) must be achieved. One method of achieving this balance is through the DaaS Program that productises and packages the standardised elements while allowing for consultations with CDPI (and other advisory partners) to adapt those elements to solve unique societal scale challenges.

In fact, all these +1 steps can be live in as little as 90 days through the DaaS Program though they can also be built independently. The Centre for DPI stands ready to help advise on converting any digitisation blueprint into a sustainable, scalable, inclusive DPI strategy.

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