Improving Digital Infrastructure to meet future challenges | Daily News


 

Improving Digital Infrastructure to meet future challenges

Dr. Gamini Padmaperuma, PhD Chartered Professional Engineer, Former Senior Lecturer and OUSL Honorary Fellow Member was interviewed by Ananda Kannangara on Proposals for improvement of Digital Infrastructure to meet the post-pandemic situation in the country effectively.

It was clearly observed how the existing digital infrastructure was over-stretched and overwhelmed during this difficult time, which led to computer system and website overloads or crashes. Also long queues were seen for securing necessary food provisions, medicines, etc.

All public and private educational institutions were closed which disrupted most of the educational programmes in the country.

It was also observed that the distribution of various government relief packages (such as provision of Rs. 5000 allowance) was met with some drawbacks due to issues relating to the identification of individuals who are really entitled. Provision of other government services such as issuance of curfew permits, etc. was also a phenomenal task that the Police Department had to face with.

Further, parents were concerned and anxious about the missed classes of their children while university students were worried about their missed lectures. Continuation of academic work of millions of pupils and students has become a concern of the whole nation.

The Information and Communication Technology Agency (ICTA), the apex ICT institution of the Government has done and is doing a great deal in building digital infrastructure for making Sri Lanka a knowledge-based society through digitally empowered citizens. It has undertaken many projects for fulfilling the above mandate given to them. Just as a response to Covid-19 Outbreak, ICTA has developed and launched many computer systems, databases, applications to facilitate emergency government services, communication and collaboration tools, platforms for digital education, etc.

The country is now faced with many more challenges based on the problems posed by the current pandemic which are different in intensity and nature to those encountered under normal conditions. These problems need long term solutions so that future emergency situations can be handled more readily and effectively.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has decided to implement all digital technology services and technology projects under the supervision and management of the ICTA and to bring the agency under the Ministry of Defence.

This is a clear indication of the level of priority given by the Government to build the necessary digital infrastructure and launch necessary projects to make Sri Lanka a digitally advanced country.

Strategies and actions

A well-established digital infrastructure by way of e-commerce, e-governance, e-health, e-learning, etc. could help face situations similar to the current one more effectively and safely.

It is very important to assess the current capacity of country’s digital infrastructure; e-commerce, e-health, e-governance, e-learning, etc. and expand and enhance them to a level that citizens in all corners of the country have access to a sufficiently reliable Internet facility.

The availability of such a facility would enable efficient handling of relevant transactions of citizens through e-commerce, e-health, e-governance, e-learning, etc. This will create opportunities for citizens to avail the services of businesses such as pharmacies and supermarkets through e-commerce, health services through e-health, government services through e-governance, online learning through, e-learning, etc. with minimal need to meet face-to-face. Avoidance of meetings and maintenance of social distance are primary concerns under situations such as current pandemic.

Development of Internet facilities and providing their access to the citizens countrywide is only half the battle and what is equally important is to prepare sound systems and applications to facilitate transactions between concerned parties such as business to consumer, business to business, government to citizens, educational institutions to students etc. Development of systems and applications need detailed analysis of existing systems and transactions, inter relationship between business/government processes and procedures, etc.

This effort should not be a mere computerization of existing transactions. For example, business processes, either in public sector or private sector need to be thoroughly analysed. Efforts need to be made to simplify the Proposal.

It is therefore important to look at the existing practices with an open mind and challenge each step in the processes for its relevance, necessity, timeliness, etc. This could entail reengineering of business processes and disruptive innovations involving radical changes to current business practises. It is also important to develop comprehensive databases consisting of biographical and other data such as income levels, professions or trade skills, etc. of all citizens.

This could help many activities of the government in planning development and aid programmes, distribution of relief packages, implementation of strategic development programmes, etc., as primary information of citizens are already available through Persons Registration Department, Elections Commission, etc., its expansion to include more details could be addressed with relative ease.

E-health could be used to maintain patient records such as prescribed medicines, diagnosed illnesses, residential addresses, phone numbers, etc. so that distribution of medicine could be handled with ease during a crisis situation such as the current one. Also, consultations with doctors at a remote location could be arranged through video links, etc. thus avoiding the need to travel to a hospital.

E-Learning also can be developed as an alternative or complementary medium to face-to-face teaching and learning. Here again, proper need analyses and instructional designs need to be made with proper academic input to make the teaching and learning effective. Audio and video clips, discussion forums, timely feedback, group work and presentations, continuous assessments, progress monitoring, online tutoring are some of the important features of e-learning. This medium could also be used to train and retrain people with relative ease and speed.

It is therefore proposed that a consultative body under the leadership of ICTA with representatives from relevant fields in both public and private sector be formed to look into the above issues in terms of strategy, direction, technology and infrastructure, systems development, change management, implementation, etc.

Use of digital technology can be looked at from both national and sectorial levels, which again are integrated to form the national economy. Experts from economic, health, education, business, agriculture, engineering and construction, public administration, etc. fields can be called upon to work along with IT experts from ICTA and other related agencies to identify, prioritise and analyse areas that need to be digitalized in keeping with national policies and programmes. What is very important is not to just computerize the existing manual processes, also referred to as paving the cow path, but to look at each process afresh and develop direct, simple and efficient processes that can be computerized and integrated with other similarly developed processes in the same sector or otherwise.


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The Sri Lanka Telecom, has yet to support users of their services while others have given incentives and concessions. To start with, the taxes and service charges have remained high and the free data package should be increased considering the government advising everyone to work from home. Compare the bills of other telecom companies for similar usage.

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