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Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock

Why e-governance apps for citizens need improvement

  • Social media is replete  with complaints about  inconsistent performance, inept customer support
  • UMANG is just one of the apps launched under the government’s Digital India initiative that aims at making government services accessible to citizens on their fingertips

Every year, thousands of senior citizens have to submit a life certificate to prove that they are alive, so that they can continue getting their pension. It can be a very cumbersome process but there are several digital services today like the government’s own UMANG app, where a life certificate can be generated without involving paperwork.

UMANG is just one of the apps launched under the government’s Digital India initiative that aims at making government services accessible to citizens on their fingertips.

For instance, the Khoya-Paya app by the ministry of women and child development has helped in tracing around 200,000 children who were missing since 2012, according to news reports.

DigiLocker is another platform that has made life easier for citizens by allowing them to download and access important documents like Aadhaar, driving licence and birth certificate on their smartphone.

But while these apps have huge potential they remain a work in progress. Social media is replete with users who struggle with these apps. Inconsistent performance, users getting locked out of their accounts, difficulty in signing in, inability to process requests like uploading or downloading documents and above all unintelligent user interface (UI) are common issues that have been widely raised.

Take the example of Manoj B.S., who works at a public sector bank, and uses the UMANG app to submit pension life certificates for senior citizens. He wrote on the comments section of UMANG’s landing page on Play Store, “We have the RD service (converts public device into a registered biometric device) and everything installed. I am able to do only two life certificates in a day whereas there are hundreds of elderly pensioners who come in every day. The customer support on the app is completely inept."

While issues like failure to process documents or waiting forever for OTPs (one time passwords) to sign-in have been attributed to heavy traffic and congestion caused by it, the lack of intuitive, simple and quick UI are some bottlenecks to a hassle-free user experience.

“Digitization of services has taken off in a big way, but not necessarily by way of direct consumption by citizens. Goods and services tax (GST) is an example. Due to poor UX (user experience), people pay professionals. Similarly, in case of income tax, because of complex interfaces and requirements, people either still use accountants or they use private services like ClearTax, which have stepped in to fill the void, by simplifying things," says Prasanto K. Roy, a technology policy consultant.

Speaking on the user interface of DigiLocker, Debabrata Nayak, project director and chief technical architect of DigiLocker, said that the current interface doesn’t give a complete picture of what DigiLocker is about, adding, “We are coming with new dashboard for the app that will show all important documents of users on the front page. We have already introduced it in the web version." Nayak and his team are also working on improving their API (application programming interface) ecosystem connected to various government agencies within DigiLocker by building a back end system to speed up processing of user requests."

Lack of standardization is another issue as every agency is building its own app. Roy notes that instead of every police force in every city developing its own police app, it’s better to let the ministry of home affairs or a department like National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) take it up centrally, design the basic app with a clean simple UX, and allow local police forces to label or brand the app.

“Focusing on building in-house capabilities is helping them (government agencies) take greater control over application development and delivery process. As a result, some are adopting cloud-native application architectures, such as microservices, which allow them to evolve and patch their applications quickly to meet ever changing citizen requirements," says Apeksha Kaushik, associate principal analyst of government and education, at Gartner.

Roy feels BHIM and DigiLocker are very useful, but finds most other apps intrusive and seeking a lot of data with no privacy policy. Regional language support is another problem as many of the migrant users have to transact for government services in a second or third language.

According to Kaushik, the government should efficiently leverage data at their disposal and anticipate citizen needs using predictive analytics to provide better user experience. While a lot can be learned by studying apps by Facebook and Google or roping-in seasoned UX designers in the development process, government agencies also need to track user behaviour to identify pain points. Roy believes that if government officials start using their own products instead of relying on their personal assistants for everything, services will automatically improve.

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