Passport Seva: A Story of Citizen Services Transformation

Passport Seva Programme (PSP) Division of the Ministry of External Affairs has undergone complete digital transformation in recent years and is today helping in the delivery of seamless passport services to all citizens of India at their doorsteps

Among the various initiatives that the Indian government has introduced to provide better citizen services, one significant achievement has been the issuance of passports that have now become a wholly digitised and seamless process. The Passport Seva Programme (PSP) Division of the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, provides passport services through the Central Passport Organisation (CPO) and its network of Passport Offices, Passport Seva Kendras (PSKs); and Post Office Passport Seva Kendras (POPSKs).

Talking about their digital transformation journey, Golok Kumar Simli, Chief of Technology, Passport Seva Programme, Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, shares, “While we are witnessing a new normal, the adoption of digital transformation requires a re-look and rethink. The first and foremost thing was that the pandemic was very sudden and as nobody had planned for this new normal, the public sector at large had to completely rethink and realign their service delivery strategy to the COVID-19 scenario. The entire workforce had to be completely re-skilled and retrained, and we had to change their mindset to working from home. The second challenge was about measuring your workload. We had to ensure that we segregate between our critical and non-critical kind of functions, critical and non-critical data, sovereign and non-sovereign data and accordingly, devise our strategy. The last thing was that when you come across this kind of sudden disruption, your entire digital strategy has to be realigned in terms of processes, technologies, workforce and the ecosystem as a whole.”

Having a digital-first strategy

There are certain key areas that the public sectors must focus on for their “Digital First Strategy” and the industry will play a vital role in that. According to Simli, there are four key focus areas for the public sector when it comes to devising a ‘digital-first strategy’. “The first thing is, how do you plan your digital foundation and platform. The digital foundations that we are creating or planning for must support any application, any device and from anywhere. The second focus area should be developing a microservices architecture preferably containersbased application modernisation and automatic resource allocation, where the infrastructure layer that we are creating, must be decoupled from the devops, the front end should be decoupled from the backend, development should be decoupled from operations and maintenance, and different teams should be decoupled from each other. They should not impact each other’s arena or service. The third thing is the workforce – how do you prepare and skill your workforce to work in a hybrid environment that will consist of physical as well as digital, and different kinds of cultural shifts within the setup. The business model is the fourth most important thing, and it should provide the best-in-class people, processes, systems and ensure sustainability. It should take care of any technology replacements, upgradations and workforce augmentation. The last thing is the grievance and feedback mechanism. You need to ensure that as a government department or ministry, your grievance handling mechanism and feedback mechanism is working well, is responsive and proactive,” he opines.

Delivering a superior digital experience

The leadership in the Ministry has played a critical role in timely and concise decision making right from conceptualisation to operationalisation of the programme and towards continuous delivery of services, thereby resulting in the ‘next level of digital experience’ to the citizens, and the results are there for all to see. Shedding some light on how they worked towards achieving this goal, Simli shares, “When we were planning for the complete overhaul of the passport issuing system, we had four to five things in mind. The first and foremost thing was how do we create a reasonable reach for the citizens by providing passport services at their doorsteps. Before the start of the Passport Seva Programme, we had 37 Passport Offices across the country, and the demand was increasing like anything. We realised that we needed a complete revamp, and therefore, we thought of innovating a new kind of a business model with an industry partner. Because of that, apart from the said passport offices, today we have 93 Passport Seva Kendras and 424 Post Office Passport Seva Kendras.”

It is also important to note that any digital transformation or digital strategy in the public sector must be supported by a good governance model to deal with intrinsic data, information security and privacy. Another important thing for Passport Seva Programme was that they wanted to create a digital foundation and infrastructure not only for themselves but for all the stakeholders, which was end-to-end digital, paperless, cashless and that had kept the citizens at the centre. The third principle was that whenever you create this kind of a digital foundation and infrastructure, you must ensure that the 4 S of speed, scale, security and sustainability are being addressed. “One needs to also ensure that when you create such a massive digital foundation and infrastructure, it must have capacity to scale further and is adaptive enough in terms of gelling in with new and futuristic technologies. The essence is that whatever you do to create such an ecosystem, it must be responsive and proactive when it comes to dealing with citizens,” adds Simli.

Looking at the digital road ahead

It is evident that the future of digital governance will be backed by new and emerging technologies, where the citizens and consumers on one side and businesses, corporates and service providers on the other side would harness and leverage these technologies to their maximum. The publicsector organisations are already being cognizant to this fact and should plan their next technology adoption in terms of improving the service delivery experience of the citizens at large and in the creation of new opportunities and jobs as part of their digital initiatives. It is time to look beyond the (i) Creation of System to Ecosystem (ii) Project to Programme to Continuous Delivery and Sustainability (iii) Department to Enterprise to Global (iv) Silos to Consolidation to Automation to Digital Indian Service Standards and (v) Data Centre to Hybrid Cloud to Maximising ROI. For Passport Seva Programme, while they are planning for the next leap of technology adoption and emerging technologies, there are a few emerging scenarios that they believe will completely disrupt the market, the public sectors and citizens at large. “The first one is the cloud, and I believe it will be a hybrid cloud approach consisting of on-premises and off-premises based on their sovereignty and non-sovereignty. It is something which we have also done. Today, if you have a smartphone, you can have a passport right from application submission to tracking of passport delivery at your home. The second wave will be that of AI and analytics, where a lot of AI and analytics engines working within your data sets and processes would define your current decision and future vision. It will dictate terms in terms of value addition and will also help you in dealing with your resource capacity. Mobility and NLP based on AI would also help reaching the masses in their languages. Similarly, online interaction and collaboration will also increase. And finally, while we are progressing leaps and bounds with adopting and leveraging emerging technologies, we must ensure that data security and privacy is taken care of,” concludes Simli.