(This blog marks the celebration of the World Telecommunication and Information Society Day, an annual event celebrated since 1969 to mark the founding of the International Telecommunication Union and the signing of the first International Telegraph Convention in 1865.)
In early 2020, when the COVID-19 lockdown began, Sri Lanka’s food supply chain was significantly disrupted leaving farmers and consumers to face the adverse effects of the pandemic. Wholesale and retail markets were closed and traders were encouraged to deliver food items directly to doorsteps following strict health guidelines.
However, to sell and deliver food items and agricultural products, small traders were required to register at the Divisional Secretariets (DS), local level administrative units which serve as the primary citizen delivery points.
But government office closures significantly affected this process. Meanwhile, there were no means to submit and process permit requests electronically.
Now, the Government of Sri Lanka, led by the Information and Communication Technology Agency (ICTA) in collaboration with various stakeholders, has embarked on a highly anticipated digital transformation journey to address such issues.
With support from the World Bank’s Contingency Emergency Response Component (CERC), ICTA is planning to bring services online to 10 selected Divisional Secretariats through piloting the ‘form.gov.lk’ initiative, a cloud-based Software-as-a-Service (SAAS) platform.
The platform will leverage existing infrastructure such as the Lanka Government Cloud (LGC 2.0), the government’s cloud computing infrastructure and the Lanka Government Network, the government’s private network which connects 860 government offices across the country.
The proposed solution will offer the general public and businesses the capability to fill and submit relevant information and documents digitally without having to visit government offices.
These pilot services will range from civil registrations (births/deaths) and small business registrations to allowing farmers to process police permits for transporting crops.
Once the system is successfully piloted in selected DS offices, the platform can be scaled to other government organizations, reducing travel and building efficiency in service delivery including in areas outside of urban centers and contributing to Sri Lanka’s green recovery.
“Our biggest objective is to build the digital foundation for the government to continue serving all Sri Lankans during a crisis like this. This is just the beginning of our digital transformation journey” says Mehinda Herath, Chief Executive officer of ICTA.
The CERC will also build resilience in public service delivery by enabling government officials to work remotely.
This will be done through the implementation of a government wide email and collaboration solution and video conferencing facilities; and by enhancing the capacity of the government cloud infrastructure (LGC 2.0) to support more services.
A disaster recovery site will also be established for LGC 2.0 so that critical data is not lost in times of exogenous shocks, including natural disasters such as flooding and cyclones.
“The vision of ICTA is to improve living conditions and livelihoods across Sri Lanka irrespective of geographical locations and other disparities. This will be done through effectively adopting digital technologies and developing the required enabling environment, including the legal framework, basic infrastructure such as unique digital ID and government wide digital connectivity as well as various other aspects that are required to develop the digital economy,” says Prof. Lilith Gamage, Chairman of ICTA.
Transforming Sri Lanka into a technology-based society is one of the key national policy objectives of the country, as highlighted in the President’s manifesto, Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour. This includes the implementation of a “whole-of-government approach” to digital government to improve delivery of public services to all Sri Lankans; developing the technology industry for jobs and growth; and supporting digital entrepreneurship and growth of a digitally savvy workforce and population.
The government is developing a foundational digital ID system which is backed by biometrics. ICTA together with the Ministry of Justice has also commenced an initiative to establish a country wide court management system with the aim of improving efficiency and effectiveness of the judiciary system.
The Government of Sri Lanka has demonstrated its commitment to accelerate digital transformation. In order to reap the benefits of digital technologies, the country now needs to ensure that access to high speed and affordable Internet is available to all citizens including in remote areas of the country and across income groups and gender. It also needs to ensure that the right policies, laws and regulatory frameworks are in place to protect the security, data and rights of all especially the vulnerable.