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EXCLUSIVE - Generation, capture, transmission, storage, security, analytics - Getting every link in the data chain right

Part 1 of a two-part interview (Read part 2 here)

OpenGov sat down with Mr. Randeep Sudan, Adviser on Digital Strategy and Government Analytics with the World Bank for a wide-ranging discussion on data analytics and cybersecurity. Mr.  Sudan also spoke about leveraging Singapore’s expertise in digital government and strategy for World Bank projects. He shared with us numerous examples of best practices from around the world and challenges and opportunities for developing nations.

Mr. Sudan has a wealth of knowledge and experience in public sector digital transformation and leveraging digital strategies and analytics for better developmental outcomes.  

He spent 24 years with the Indian Administrative Services (IAS), where he was part of the leadership team that helped the state of Andhra Pradesh in India to make significant progress in digital government, and become a hub for IT-based services. Subsequently, he joined the World Bank and has since occupied several ICT related positions, including Practice Manager for the ICT Sector, in the World Bank's Global Practice on Transport and ICT in Washington DC. 

Mr. Sudan advises governments and World Bank teams on digital strategies and more recently, on government analytics. He works closely with Bank teams that are engaged with country governments, especially when those projects involve digital technologies or have anything to do with ICT. He also works with governments directly in terms of advising them.

He is working on multiple projects at the moment. These range from development of ICT platforms to optimise logistics supply chains in China to digital economy projects in Russia and Malaysia. Mr. Sudan is involved in the digital economy aspect of a flagship study for China on new growth drivers for the country.

He is also working on 300 million USD digital government project in Bangladesh, helping the government in scoping out the project and developing the strategy around it.

Leveraging the Singapore experience and expertise

In addition to all of the above, Mr. Sudan looks at how the World Bank can leverage Singapore for their projects globally. He has been closely working with the Singapore government for establishing a model where the Bank can have the benefit and advantage of the Singapore government’s cutting edge expertise in certain areas, so that it can then be scaled up as part of World Bank projects. Mr. Sudan said that good progress has been made on this front.

The immediate question which we asked was that how much of the work being done in Singapore is translatable to larger developing nations.

Mr. Sudan replied, “Many years ago when I was in the IAS, I was Special Secretary to the IT savvy Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, Mr.Chandrababu Naidu. Andhra Pradesh then was a unified state combining the present states of Telengana and Andhra Pradesh. With a population of 83 million if unified Andhra Pradesh were to be a country, it would be the 12th most populous country in the world. When Mr. Naidu became chief minister our journey of e-government in Andhra Pradesh started with a partnership with Singapore. Singapore helped us develop the one-stop, always on type of service which came to be known as E-Seva. Many bureaucrats said that Singapore was just a city and Andhra Pradesh was a big state. It was far easier to implement things in a city, as compared to a large state. The Chief Minister’s reply to this was let’s start with Hyderabad, the capital city, and then have a city to city comparison with Singapore.

Mr. Sudan added that Singapore’s expertise, and experience is very relevant in a developing country context. It was because of Andhra Pradesh’s partnership with Singapore that it became a leader in e-government in India at the time.

Singapore also established an IT park in Cyberabad (Cyber City) which was then just starting. Cyberabad has since emerged as one of the key regional technology hubs with something like 350,000 engineers working in IT and the IT sector contributing 9.7% of unified AP’s GDP.

Mr. Sudan added, “Having seen at close quarters what the Singapore experience could do in a developing country context, I am absolutely convinced that the Singapore model has much to offer to developing countries.”

The World Bank is trying to take advantage of its presence in Singapore to leverage Singapore’s expertise and replicate it in other countries. But he cautioned that while replicating the Singapore model, it has to be adapted and customised to local circumstances.

How the World Bank works with governments on data analytics

One of the areas Mr. Sudan has been focusing on is data analytics. The World Bank typically conducts a systematic country diagnostic for each country in order to identify gaps in policy or investments including for ICT infrastructure. Data analytics will increasingly become a part of such diagnostics.

He provided a few examples of the kind of work being currently done with developing countries. The World Bank is working with the government of Bangladesh, helping them with a number of initiatives on digital government, including one on data analytics.

China as a country tries to reach out to a number of leading international think tanks, consulting firms and organizations like the World Bank to access the best thinking to identify new ideas. The World Bank as part of its work on New Growth Drivers in China thinks that development of an overarching data strategy including setting of data standards, sharing data across the public and private sector and across borders, securing data and cognifying data hold much potential for contributing to future growth in China. The development of unified trade platforms similar to the National Trading Platform in Singapore for integrating trade and logistics is as relevant to China. New opportunities e.g. leveraging Blockchain technologies in logistics also hold immense potential for future growth.

Challenges faced by developing countries in collection, processing and use of data

Mr. Sudan explained the importance of focusing on each element of the data continuum. Before talking of data analytics, you first need to have data. You have to start with data generation and the data standards that need to be complied with.

The next stage is systematically capturing data. For example, Singapore is setting up the Smart Nation Platform for capturing data in a seamless way. The next stage is transmission of data. China is proceeding aggressively for example on 5G networks and IoT platforms.

Once you are able to transmit data, then how do you store data. Presently there is a lot of attention on cloud computing, as a means of cloud storage. However, with the growth of the internet of things, fog computing, mist computing, or edge computing will become important as a means of storing data locally.

Next after data is stored, how should it be secured. Cybersecurity comes into play. Once you have stored and secured data and you have access to it, then how do you share data. Open data is a very important element at this stage. Moreover, creating an environment where private sector data can also be shared is important.

When all these earlier stages have been addressed, then how do you run the analytics on the data. And once a country has developed its capability in data analytics then how should it go to the next level of cognitive computing and start embedding this into artificial intelligence.

“There’s a whole data chain and countries need to look at this holistically to extract the maximum value from data, addressing each link in this chain. There are a lot of challenges to be addressed along the data continuum. Some countries have got some part of the links right but other links are very weak. There are very few countries which have thought through the data continuum in a holistic and comprehensive way. I think Singapore is one of the few countries which has done so,” Mr. Sudan elaborated.

There are very few countries which have institutional structures to support analytics and its use in government and to support SMEs or new enterprises which are coming up.

He highlighted the Singapore model as one which addresses this issue. The  Business Analytics Translational Centre (BATC) has been set up under A*STAR, Singapore's lead public sector agency that spearheads economic oriented research.  BATC supports not only the government but also the private sector. Singapore has also developed analytics capabilities within its Government Technology Office.

Mr. Sudan said that Singapore’s public-private model, with entities that work both for the private sector and government is a unique model. Countries in the ASEAN region need to consider this institutional structure to be able to leverage data for supporting the whole ecosystem spanning both the public and private sectors and derive value from analytics.

Environment required for the private sector to share data

For a true data economy, both public and private sectors need to share data. When asked as to how can the private sector be made to share data, Mr. Sudan responded that different countries are trying to crack this problem in different ways.

For example, New Zealand has established a Data Futures Partnership, which brings in the private sector, and government to try and see if they can create data pools and share data. This is on a voluntary basis. The partnership is trying to play the role of convener.

Dubai has the Dubai Data Establishment, which was formed to see how they can have data opened up, which can be free, which can be paid, and which can be available for highly secure government applications. That’s another approach.

The UK has put in place an Information Commissioner to look after data privacy and protection and try to encourage sharing and opening up of databases.

Many other countries, including the US, have started appointing Chief Data Officers in different parts of government. The USA had appointed a Chief Data Scientist at the Federal level. We also find CDOs for example there is one in the Department of Transportation. One of the jobs of CDOs is to standardise data, and figure out how to share and open up data and how to work with the private sector in doing all this. In the case of transportation, the government has a partnership with Google to use data from WAZE .

No single model has been established yet. Because the context varies widely from country to country.

Mr. Sudan said, “I think the most important thing might be putting in place the enablers for better sharing of data from both the private and public sectors. If you look at Korea’s Master Plan in Preparation for the Intelligent Information Society, the core of the plan is data. The Korean government is looking at how to set up data exchanges, support data brokers, how to open up data and make it available, how to help companies monetise data, so that data becomes a tradable product. And how to ensure neutrality of platforms which collect data. There are a whole lot of interesting things which need to be considered.”

“There is an opportunity for developing countries here to learn from all this, and try to leapfrog and make a difference by leveraging data.”

How to give citizens control of their data

The question we asked was, “Most governments say that data is owned by the citizens. But how can that be implemented in practice? We don’t see the controls yet where citizens have a view of what data of theirs lies with the government, what is it being used for, with whom it is being shared. Which in turn leads to trust issues.”

More than 10 years ago, Ireland was trying to create citizen data vaults, where the data of citizens is kept in a vault and citizens have the ability to release it. More recently, there is India Stack for example. India Stack allows selective release of data by the citizen, with the data being in a repository for the citizens. Mr. Sudan said, “I am told that India Stack is a good example of success. Or at least is showing initial signs of success.” The General Data Protection Regulation of the European Commission also provides for a transfer of the ownership of data on citizens to the citizens themselves.

If these experiences succeed, then they will open the way for other governments to start considering similar approaches. Blockchain technologies might make it easier to transfer control of citizen data to citizens.

People voluntarily opt to share their data on platforms like Google, Facebook in the hope and promise of better services being delivered as a result of sharing that data. Different regimes have to be brought in place, to ensure that data ownership is switched from platform companies to citizens.

Regulating digital platforms requires a careful balancing act. Regulations which are too restrictive would kill innovation. Too liberal regulations might encroach upon the privacy of the citizen. There are no easy answers to that. Germany’s recent whitepaper on Digital Platforms tries to address such issues.

In the second part of the interview, Mr. Sudan discusses cybersecurity challenges and potential mitigants and delivering government services through corporate platforms. 

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