Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI) is emerging as a transformative force, set to redefine the functioning, communication, and advancement of societies worldwide. DPI, the bedrock of technological systems and networks, meticulously crafted and sustained by governments or public entities, serves as the linchpin in furnishing essential services and fostering seamless connectivity, access, and data interchange among citizens, businesses, and institutions.
At the heart of DPI lies an unparalleled capability to democratize access to indispensable services and information. By provisioning robust digital platforms and networks, governments pave the way to bridge the gaping digital divide, ensuring individuals across all socio-economic strata enjoy equitable access to education, healthcare, government services, and economic opportunities.
What is Digital Public Infrastructure?
Digital public infrastructure (DPI) refers to platforms such as identification (ID), payment systems, and data exchange systems, enabling countries to deliver essential services to their populations. Digital public goods (DPGs) include open-source software, AI models, open data, standards, and content, which collectively contribute to making DPI a functional reality.
The open format of DPGs allows for free adoption and adaptation, providing countries with cost savings and digital sovereignty—control over technology and data—as they build their DPI. This digital sovereignty preserves a nation’s flexibility in decision-making and supports its pursuit of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), fundamentally reshaping traditional models for development cooperation.
While proprietary solutions currently dominate the landscape of digital public infrastructure, concerns about contractual lock-ins and interoperability issues have prompted countries to explore open-source alternatives.
Governments have the opportunity to embrace digital public goods with both technical and financial support from development cooperation partners, and they can seek assistance from the private sector as needed. Development partners can contribute significantly by addressing core challenges such as coordinating multilateral efforts, enhancing public procurement processes, ensuring financial and project continuity, and dismantling silos to facilitate collaborative development.
The Applications of DPI and the Technology that Enables It
Digital public infrastructure encompasses a vast number of areas where the application of this technology has influenced advancements:
Digital Identity Systems
The National ID System streamlines identification processes by utilizing unique biometric data such as fingerprints or facial features. This enhances security and accuracy in identity verification for various public services, from voting to accessing government benefits. Citizens benefit from a more efficient and secure means of proving their identity. Biometrics enhances security by providing a reliable method of authentication. Encryption is employed to safeguard the stored personal information, ensuring that unauthorized entities cannot access or tamper with sensitive data. 3G/4G/5G networks enable real-time verification, and standardization ensures interoperability across systems.
Digital payment systems, facilitated by digital wallets and secure encryption, revolutionize financial transactions. Citizens can conveniently and securely make payments, transfer funds, and conduct transactions online, promoting financial inclusion and reducing the reliance on traditional, paper-based methods.
Digital payment systems rely on digital wallets, which securely store payment information and facilitate transactions. Digital wallets use encryption to protect financial data during transmission, ensuring that sensitive information is not intercepted by malicious actors. This technology combination enhances the convenience and security of financial transactions. 3G/4G/5G networks provide connectivity for mobile payments. AI/ML analytics algorithms detect and prevent fraudulent activities.
The modernization of land records systems involves digitizing land records, conducting surveys for accurate updates, and integrating these records seamlessly with registration processes. Technologies like GIS, cloud computing, and mobile applications are employed to manage data efficiently. GIS utilizes spatial data for efficient mapping, security features protect land data and open data initiatives enhance transparency by making land records accessible. The transition from paper-based to digital systems simplifies property transactions.
Equipped with digital infrastructure, modern record rooms serve as centralized repositories, ensuring easy verification and reference for stakeholders. The overarching impact includes a decrease in property disputes, heightened efficiency in government administration, and an improved business environment.
A digital tax network enhances the efficiency of tax-related processes. Cloud computing ensures scalable infrastructure, while APIs facilitate seamless communication between different tax systems. Citizens experience streamlined tax filing, quicker refunds, and improved accessibility to tax-related information. Data encryption ensures the confidentiality of sensitive taxpayer data, instilling trust in the tax system. Open data initiatives can provide public access to certain tax-related information.
Digital Document Storage:
Digital document storage eliminates the need for physical paperwork, offering a more efficient and environmentally friendly solution. Cloud storage enables easy access to documents, promoting collaboration and reducing administrative burdens. Citizens can securely store and retrieve important documents, contributing to a paperless and accessible document management system. Encryption ensures the security of stored documents, protecting them from unauthorized access and maintaining the confidentiality and integrity of the information. Standardization ensures compatibility across systems.
Citizen’s portals or applications serve as centralized hubs for citizens to interact with government services. It provides a user-friendly interface for accessing information, submitting applications, and conducting transactions. With robust user authentication methods, such as two-factor authentication, citizens can trust the security of their interactions, making government services more accessible and citizen-centric. APIs enable seamless integration with various government services, allowing citizens to access information and perform transactions from a single interface. Mobile networks (3G/4G/5G) enable access through applications and cybersecurity features protect user data. AI/ML algorithms can personalize user experiences based on preferences.
Ensures confidentiality, integrity, and availability of data in all applications. Integral in protecting personal information in the National ID System, financial data in Digital Payment, land records, tax-related data, documents in storage, and user data in citizen portals/apps.
2. 3G/4G/5G GSM Networks:
Provides connectivity, facilitating real-time data exchange. Used for real-time verification in the National ID System, enabling mobile payments, accessing land records or tax information, and ensuring seamless connectivity for citizen portals/apps.
Establishes uniformity and interoperability across diverse systems. Ensures compatibility between systems in the National ID System, financial transactions, land record databases, tax networks, document storage, and citizen portals, promoting seamless data exchange.
4. Open Data Initiatives:
Enhances transparency by making certain datasets publicly accessible. Provides public access to non-sensitive tax-related information, and land records, and contributes to transparency in various government activities.
5. AI/ML Analytics:
Analyzes data patterns, detects anomalies, and provides insights. Used for fraud detection in financial transactions, personalized experiences in citizen portals/apps, and data analytics for efficient governance in tax networks and land administration.
Examples of Digital Public Infrastructure
There are a variety of systems that are a part of the digital public infrastructure, aiming to solve socio-economic problems at scale. Let us look at some of these systems implemented in India:
Aadhaar is India’s biometric-based digital identity system, providing a unique 12-digit identification number to residents. It aims to streamline service delivery, reduce identity fraud, and enhance the efficiency of public programs. With features like biometric authentication and centralized identity database, Aadhaar facilitates direct benefit transfers, simplifies access to government services, and enhances the integrity of welfare programs.
DigiLocker serves as a digital document storage service in India, allowing citizens to store and share official documents and certificates electronically. This cloud-based platform promotes paperless transactions, reduces the need for physical documents, and enhances the accessibility of important records.
GSTN, or the Goods and Services Tax Network, manages India’s GST regime digitally, facilitating online tax filing, payment, and compliance for businesses. With features such as online GST registration and real-time invoice matching, GSTN simplifies tax processes, reduces paperwork, and promotes transparency in the taxation system.
MOSIP, or the Modular Open Source Identity Platform, was designed to provide a foundational and interoperable identity solution. Its purpose is to enable governments and organizations to implement secure, inclusive, and scalable identity systems. MOSIP’s key features include modularity, open-source architecture, and adherence to international standards, fostering flexibility and transparency. The platform offers benefits such as enhanced privacy, reduced duplication, and increased efficiency in identity management, ultimately contributing to the development of robust and citizen-centric digital ecosystems.
BHIM (Bharat Interface for Money) is a government-backed digital payment platform that enables secure and instant transactions using the Unified Payments Interface (UPI). With UPI-based transactions and QR code payments, BHIM encourages digital transactions, enhances financial inclusion, and contributes to the government’s push for a cashless economy.
UMANG, or the Unified Mobile Application for New-Age Governance, provides a unified platform for accessing various government services and applications through a mobile app. Offering a personalized dashboard and mobile-based authentication, UMANG improves citizen convenience, promotes digital service adoption, and enhances the accessibility of government information.
e-NAM (National Agriculture Market) is an online trading platform for agricultural commodities in India, connecting farmers, traders, and markets. Through online auction and bidding, real-time market information, and electronic payment, e-NAM strengthens agricultural supply chains, reduces intermediaries, and empowers farmers with fair market access.
The Digital India Land Records Modernization Program (DILRMP) aims to digitize land records, improve land governance, and facilitate transparent land transactions across the country. With features like computerization of land records and online mutation, DILRMP enhances land administration efficiency, reduces land disputes, and supports economic development through improved property transactions.
The existence of open data repositories and Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) within DPI frameworks acts as catalysts for innovation, propelling the development of cutting-edge applications and services. The implementation of Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) stands as a robust fortress, fortifying security and transparency in government transactions, thereby bolstering public trust. Furthermore, the standardization and automation of business workflows significantly enhance the efficiency of resource allocation and service delivery, streamlining interfaces between systems to expedite the creation of pioneering applications and services, enriching the government-to-citizen interaction manifold.
However, amid the promises of DPI, significant challenges and concerns loom large. Foremost among these are privacy and data security concerns during the development and implementation of digital infrastructure. The protection of sensitive information and the assurance of ethical and responsible data usage necessitate meticulous vigilance. The importance of user consent and stringent regulations governing access to Personally Identifiable Information (PII) stand as linchpins for the success and widespread acceptance of DPI.