Platforms for government? Platforms for society?

Richard Pope
Oct 30, 2018 · 3 min read

The digital payment platforms the UK and India are developing are so different as to be nearly incomparable.

UPI, the Indian system, is a society-wide payments system aiming to change how anyone pays for anything. GOV.UK Pay is a platform for central government (and increasingly local government¹), to take payments from the public for specific public services.

That is not to say that one is better than the other.

The choice about who gets to use a platform is a design, and to some extent, a political decision, and this is the reason it is useful to compare otherwise very different platforms. It helps us understand what choices are different countries making about their digital platforms.

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Broadly speaking, government platforms can have one of three usage footprints:

  • Single tier of government - for example a used by a single state in a federal system, or by central government only
  • Government-wide - used across central, municipal and regional government
  • Society-wide infrastructure - for example, in addition to use in government, a platform is also used in banking, or by 3rd sector organizations

UPI and GOV.UK Pay sit towards opposite ends of that spectrum:

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The government cloud hosting platforms in the USA and UK – Cloud.gov and GOV.UK PaaS respectivly - are both limited to a single tier of government. Cloud.gov can be used by federal agencies, and GOV.UK PaaS takes requests from central government departments.

In India NIC Cloud/MeghRaj, the ‘private cloud’ product operated by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, allows users from central government, states and districts.

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We can see different approaches in identity platforms too.

Login.gov provides a way for US federal agencies to add single-signon to their digital services.

GOV.UK Verify provides a similar service (albeit with additional levels of identity verification and multiple identity providers) for central government in the UK. In 2017, the team behind Verify experimented with opening the service up to local government too².

Aadhaar in India is being used well beyond government services for people to open bank account (and not without controversy)³.

Where this three layer model breaks down is with e-identity in Estonia. Through its e-residents scheme, Estonia offers use of the identity platform to people well beyond its borders ⁴.

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It is important not to take away from this that ‘the broader the usage the better the platform'. There may be very good reasons for focusing on a subset of institutions early on. There may also be circumstances where a single society-wide platform has too many significant risks associated with it. (Identity is indeed one area where a single, centralised system might be undesirable).

The main take away should be that this is a decision that can be actively made.

Footnotes:

1. GOV.UK Notify and GOV.UK Pay are now available to all local authorities — Government as a Platform. (2018) https://governmentasaplatform.blog.gov.uk/2018/07/05/notify-pay-local-authorities/

2. #VerifyLocal pilots moving from discovery to alpha – GOV.UK Verify. (n.d.). Retrieved October 30, 2018, from https://identityassurance.blog.gov.uk/2017/03/02/verifylocal-pilots-moving-from-discovery-to-alpha/

3. Banks may use Aadhaar QR code for paperless KYC — Times of India. (n.d.). Retrieved October 30, 2018, from https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/business/india-business/banks-may-use-aadhaar-qr-code-for-paperless-kyc/articleshow/66370303.cms

4. e-Residency Benefits | Digital Nomad, Freelancer, Startup Company. Retrieved October 30, 2018, from https://e-resident.gov.ee/become-an-e-resident/

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