Last month, the unprecedented announcement of a national lockdown mandated millions from India’s workforce to sign in from home. Many of us working in private organisations have done this at some point in time. But for those who work in the government though, it was perhaps the first time they were working outside of their office premises. And while working from home, government departments had to maintain essential services, manage operations of their departments while not compromising on the wellbeing of the employees.

This massive shift has one interesting element to it. Governments do not have a nationwide mobility model to follow; hence, it is not easy to have a process or a safety net protocol to ensure a seamless transition. Despite massive investments in technology for citizen services under the Digital India initiative—government information technology (IT) infrastructure is not geared for mobility. Most of these IT investments have been on centralised systems, architected around an office and physical presence of employees in those offices. This is obviously not an ideal scenario to enable work from home. Government data is often sensitive, therefore requiring strict security when being accessed from a remote location. So, while there are challenges, it is high time we realise that a flexible, mobile, and yet secure infrastructure might be the need of the hour now—and also required for any future crisis.

Bringing agility through mobility

The Digital India initiative is high on the government’s priorities. Perhaps it is time to incorporate learnings from this crisis into the initiative to ensure a similar situation in the future does not impact this massive exercise of bringing efficiency into government functioning and accessible citizen services. The key to achieving this is mobility—which will require a change in the government’s IT infrastructure strategy. It will require investing in the right smart devices, adopting the right solutions to enable collaboration, and prioritising security features for the safety of sensitive data/information.

An easy way to achieve this is through achieving a balance in fixed and mobile assets. Equipping a portion of the workforce with portable computing devices like notebooks, and ancillary devices like a microphone-enabled headset, Wi-Fi connectivity, along with productivity and collaboration tools can assist in continuity of services even if government employees are unable to reach office.

Prioritising security

Given the sensitivity of government and citizen data, security must remain the top priority for IT administrators across the government ecosystem. This is especially critical for a country like India, which ranks among the top 5 nations in the world targeted by cyber attackers through malicious attempts such as hacking and ransomware. In a remote access scenario, security must be accorded top priority. As the universe of connected devices continues to grow, cyber-attacks and data breaches increase in tandem.

While IT infrastructure in government offices is capable of safeguarding against such threats, a typical home may not have the right level of security solution along with the device ecosystem. Therefore, choosing devices that come with advanced security features like in-built LTE connectivity, webcam kill switches, and BIOS security is important. This needs to be coupled with securing home Wi-Fi systems through simple steps like WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) standard routers and passwords, MAC authentication or hiding the network name.

Going forward, we will see an increasing need for remote collaboration across sectors, especially in the healthcare, public utilities, and security space. The authorities and government bodies need to work together with IT solution providers to make government staff mobile and productive along with the assurance of data security.

Learnings for the future

During an event of such magnitude, citizens look at governments for guidance and assurance that their lives are disrupted to the least degree possible. Hence governments have the dual role of a leader and an enabler. Citizens and corporate organisations will take a cue from the effective management and implement best practices introduced by the authorities to address similar future challenges.

India has shown great resilience in fighting an unfamiliar battle and we do see some silver linings now. When normality resumes in a few weeks, we need to recalibrate for a better response to any such eventuality that the pandemic extends for long or if it resurfaces. The elephant needs to learn new tricks to adapt to this environment, and for that, governments and policymakers need to go beyond automation and technology upgrades. The need of the hour is a holistic strategy focussed on device mobility, enhanced security, and training the government machinery for a swifter and more impactful response to any such situation in the times to come. Corporates live with BCP (business continuity planning) and enable them using technology—it is high time we develop these plans for each and every government department in the country.

Views are personal. The author is managing director, HP Inc., India, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka.

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