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Key ingredients of digital service delivery? Part 1

There is no denying the fact that digitization of services, whether public or private, creates huge efficiencies for not just the consumer but also for the provider. The consumer benefits from increased transparency and timeliness while the provider benefits from lowered costs and increased consumer satisfaction. So if you are in a leadership role whether as senior bureaucrat in the government or in a c-suite of a private enterprise, recently you must be under constant pressure to deliver digital services. Therefore even though you may not have deep digital expertise, you are still expected to make decisions that will shape the future of your organization. Today, through this blog, I would like to propose a vocabulary, set of capabilities and a reference model that any layman should be able to apply to evaluate suitability of digital solutions. My hope is that you will find this useful in developing an independent mental framework for critically analyzing digital proposals in front of you.

Let’s start with some vocabulary terms. The word “Digital” means information available in electronic form that is readable and can be manipulated by a computing device. Many computing devices such as computers, mobile phones, biometric devices, cable boxes, or refrigerators etc. exist in the real world. But we are mostly talking here about computers like desktops or laptops and mobile devices like phones or tablets. The word “Service” means a capability for exchanging information such as an order, a payment, or pay slip between your organization and other parties like customers, vendors and employees. Consequently “Digital Service” means a capability for exchanging information in electronic form using computing devices. Even though other words like application, solution or platform can be interchangeably used in place of “Service”, I prefer to use service because it keeps me true to the purpose for which digital assets are being created.

Not all digital services are created equal. Some digital services are simply to “inform” the user. Here content of your choosing is being broadcast through a digital service such as newspaper sites like times of india or collaboration sites like Facebook. The primary motive here is to inform the user, market products and services to users, for a fee collected from companies making these products and services, or both. While other digital services are created to “transact”. These services allow users to request transactions that are then received, processed and fulfilled. A good example of this is “Passport” service provided at http://passportindia.gov.in or “Driving License” services provided at http://parivahan.gov.in.
No matter what your goals are, inform or transact, your digital efforts will have increased viability and chances of success if you consult and use the following reference model to critically analyze and question important aspects involved.

 

Security

It is one of the most important capabilities that you should pay close attention to. Your digital service must follow your organization’s existing security policy. If such a policy does not exist then you should first create one. Following areas must be included in your security policy. 

  1. Domain Security : Make sure you have ownership of the domain you wish to use to deploy the digital service. Never deploy your digital assets in a domain controlled by a third party. 
  2. Infrastructure Security : The infrastructure must be deployed behind a firewall that locks down all communication except only the ones that are required. Furthermore, infrastructure that is directly accessible from the internet should be deployed in a demilitarized zone (DMZ) while the data layer should be situated behind DMZ. 
  3. Communication Security : The digital service must be configured to communicate in a secured manner using HTTPS protocol. 
  4. User Security – Authentication : In order to access protected information, a user must always authenticate itself to establish its identity. The organization must use a central user identity management system where every user’s identity and their security credentials i.e. user ids and passwords are stored and managed. Nowadays you can make use of one of the publicly available identity management systems provided by trusted organizations like Google, Facebook etc. All stored user credentials must never be stored in plain text and must always be encrypted. You should use a 2nd factor of authentication such as OTP via SMS, Email or both  before allowing sensitive operations. Finally, a CAPTCHA may be used to ensure access by humans only preventing automated computer based attacks. 
  5. User Security – Authorization : A user must never be directly authorized for protected resources. Instead organization roles, like finance controller or junior engineer, must be used instead. These roles then should be mapped to protected resources using “permissions”. For example : Role – “Junior Engineer” has permission to “create” (action) “EBill” (resource). Users should then be mapped to their assigned organization roles allowing them to perform actions authorized according to their organizational assignment. The organization must use a central authorization management system that defines roles, resources, permissions and maps user identities to these roles as per organizational assignments. Proper control must be exercised in this function to ensure only authorized access is being granted. Regular audits must be performed for all access grants on a regular basis.

Roles must be granted at two levels of authorization – (a) Functional Authorization : This authorization is based on what functions a role can perform. For example an Executive Engineer and Superintendent Engineer only can issue tenders while a Junior Engineer can record work completion measurements. (b) Data Authorization : Even though an Executive Engineer can issue tenders but it can only do that for the department that it is assigned to. An executive engineer assigned to the civil department can’t issue the tender for electrical supply. 

Data Provenance

Information’s current state is a cumulative result of all the changes made by  different users over time. Therefore it is critical to ensure that your digital service has a capability that keeps track of data provenance for audit and investigation purposes. This must include details on (a) Who changed information? (b) When was the information changed? And (c) What was changed – Before and After images?

Workflow

Business processes usually involve multiple users that are responsible for making, checking, verifying and approving the information being created, changed or in-activated. You must ensure that a workflow automation capability that allows for configuring workflows to manage information life cycle must be included in the digital service.

Data Integration

A digital service will invariably need to interact with other digital services to exchange information. For example –  All government institutions must use e-tendering service provided by the government. A digital service should always include a configurable component where various data integration needs can be configured.

Communication

Your digital service must include a communication management capability that can be configured for notifying users through (a) Work Queue : All pending items requiring user’s attention for actioning should be delivered in user specific queues for easy access and action. (b) Email : Any notice and notification intended for different users must be configurable to be delivered via emails as required. And (c) SMS : Any notice and notification intended for different users must be configurable to be delivered via SMS as required.

Portal

A digital service must include a portal capability that allows configuration of visibility and placement of suitable content by organizational role. As users authenticate to establish their identity, they are granted roles that they are currently assigned and the portal then presents content based on portal configuration for these roles. 

Analytics

The digital service must have capabilities for analysing information to present relevant intelligence, whether descriptive, predictive or prescriptive, as required for different roles. This analysis must be configurable and available in following formats – (a) Dashboard : Important metrics that must be monitored should be configurable to be delivered on dashboards targeted for different roles. (b) Reports : Any formatted output that needs to be printed should be configurable as reports.

We will continue this discussion in part 2 of the blog where I will describe the last but most important aspect of this reference model i.e. Accountability.

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Disclaimer

Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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