Cloud computing for e-governance

Published: November 9, 2015 12:13:58 AM

The Internet has changed our lives in terms of the way we work, learn and interact. These changes are also influencing the very organisation of the government, its relationship with its citizens...

The Internet has changed our lives in terms of the way we work, learn and interact. These changes are also influencing the very organisation of the government, its relationship with its citizens, institutions and businesses and cooperation with other governments. Increased access to technology brings expectations and demands on government from its citizens and organisations. At the same time, we can notice that the governments are also proactive and are planning new ways of interacting, improving services, optimising processes and revitalising democracy by increasing the IT spend. It aims to deliver more interactive services to citizens and businesses through e-governance.

For this, cloud computing may lead to significant cost savings. It entails use of computing hardware and software infrastructure and apps that are remotely hosted. However, governments have been slower in realising the potential benefits of IT and the cloud to provide its services to the citizens. Cloud computing provides a new service consumption and delivery model inspired by consumer internet services.

Cloud based e-governance

E-governance with cloud computing offers integration management with automated problem resolution, manages security end-to-end, and helps budget based on actual usage of data. At a global level, cloud architectures can benefit government to reduce duplicate efforts and increase utilisation of resources. This helps the government going green, reducing pollution and effective waste management.

Enterprises and SMBs are already reaping the benefits of cloud by using the “pay-as-you-use” service model, its massive scalability and readily availability. Since government requires a massive infrastructure it is important for government to use cloud computing on long-term basis.

No one should be deluded by the complexity and scale of services and hurdles to overcome to implement such a large-scale programme for a country like India because of its size and distribution. With proper planning, execution, training and good management could reduce overall costs to a great extent and help in more efficient utilisations of taxpayers’ money. Though there are initiatives already being planned but it is time for e-governance to take a giant leap.

E-governance is a process of reform in the way governments work, share information, engage citizens and deliver services to external and internal clients for the benefit of both government and the clients that they serve. Government has innumerable applications that can be automated. Spending on IT would increase the productivity  of the govrnment and help in decision-making and policy enforcement.

Key challenges

There are several challenges we need to address on our way to build e-governance systems that are successfully
deployed and actually end up benefiting its users. E-governance databases should be scalable, to deal with large
data over the years for a range of applications. Cloud databases available for deployment offer unprecedented level of scaling without compromising on the performance. Cloud databases, therefore, must be considered if the foremost concern is on-demand, high-end scalability—that is, large scale, distributed scalability, the kind that can’t be achieved simply by scaling up.

Corruption in government organisations can be controlled by using IT services, by keeping the providers of the services accountable. Process audits, security audits must be done periodically to ensure the security of the system. Cloud can help in analysing huge volumes of data and detecting any fraud.

Natural disasters like floods, earthquakes, wars and internal disturbances could cause the e-governance applications not only loose data, but also make services unavailable. Multiple installations in geographically separated locations with complete backup and recovery solutions must exist. Cloud virtualisation technologies allow backups and restoring. It offers application migration seamlessly compared to traditional data centre.

Cloud vision for e-governance

Information system faces too many risks—viruses, hackers, fire, terrorist attacks. Distributed data centres provide fault tolerance against such disasters. These centres facilitate robust communication support, self-supervision capability and real-time visible platform, which will help e-governance application to use and mange.

A typical solution would involve setting up data centres that are distributed across the country and have a combination of public clouds and private clouds serving infrastructural needs of the applications. There is an important development in the recent past, which is influencing the choice of cloud deployment model. Earlier, there was a lot of skepticism about using public clouds for data-sensitive applications in the field of e-governance because of security, legal and control concerns. However, many of these concerns are turned out to be either myths or non-issues because public cloud vendors are able to successfully address them.

While there are certainly some advantages of setting up private clouds like enhancing the organisational trust boundaries and lower security and privacy risks, considering public clouds for various e-governance needs is important. Public clouds now offer several benefits, including lower cost, scalability and flexibility.

Now that setting up local data centres has become a reality, based on the usage density, governments can
demand the local data centers and insist on obeying the laws of the land as the public cloud vendors are expanding their operations. This takes care of issues associated with data sovereignty and geo redundancy.

Since, all data is not critical, it would be wiser and practical to consider a combination of public and private clouds (what we call as hybrid clouds) and leveraging the competitive landscape of public clouds. In fact, keeping a smaller private cloud and larger public cloud makes best sense. Many governments across the world have already adopted the public clouds and other cloud technologies.

Moving to the cloud is no longer a question of if, but of when. Cloud provides a solid foundation for the introduction of widespread provision of services to various stakeholders. Applications designed using cloud architectures will benefit the government in reducing operating costs and increasing the governance. Cloud architectures when properly applied to developing e-governance applications transform the nation into an information society. Service level agreements are keys for the government to measure how well the services are being performed and provided by the government.

Cloud helps enabling e-governing services faster and cheaper there by accelerating the adoption and use of IT for e-services. Public clouds are offering best value for the money addressing many concerns organisations had about security and privacy. Cloud architectures with a combination of smaller private cloud and a larger public cloud will be the best way to go forward for building large scale e-governance applications.

By Vasudeva Varma

The writer is Dean (Research) and Professor, IIIT Hyderabad

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