NSDL e-Governance Infrastructure is betting big on using proven open-source platforms to enhance its services in areas like healthcare, education and agriculture.
The company, which is also mulling an initial public offering (IPO) on the Indian exchanges, has helped lay down the basic infrastructure for e-governance in the country which includes the Tax Information Network, PAN Card-issuance service, record keeping for Central Pension System, and Aadhar authentication and e-KYC services.
While NSDL e-Governance Infrastructure will continue with its government focus, it wants to replicate these open-source platforms in other sectors. "Until now we have been an infrastructure player and have been largely laying out the rails. We want to now extend that proposition to also become a product provider or product designer, and provide platform-as-a-service," Suresh Sethi, MD and CEO of the company said in an interview. He, however, declined to comment on the IPO plans.
"If you look at the ecosystem, today, it is all about open technologies, open software, open APIs (application programming interfaces). And since we've so well leveraged the India stack, even as we've built our own business lines on ID and authentication, we want to now build more into this," Sethi said.
In the healthcare sector, for instance, NSDL e-Governance is already running a pilot at the Mumbai-based Indian Academy of Pediatrics "to create a 360-degree holistic model, with our focus at the level of clinics". The idea is to introduce a clinical diagnostic management system that will help doctors digitize their entire clinic practice with the help of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML).
NSDL e-Governance uses the same standard protocols that the National Health Stack architecture uses, according to Sethi. "We have reached out to around 500 clinics so far. These clinics will now use tele-consultation systems to link and hook-up into specialized services." NSDL e-Governance has currently launched three specialized services in the area of cancer, immunodeficiency and nutrition, and plans to add more.
For education, NSDL e-Governance uses an open source platform called Sunbird that provides modular building blocks for learning and human development and is open sourced under an MIT license. "The entire government of India's K12 system that Diksha uses today runs on Sunbird. It's a federated architecture in which multiple players can come and host their content. It has a phygital (physical combined with online) model and various ways of consuming information. It also has a telemetric variable to it where you can look at the impact of you know, how people are consuming it," Sethi said.
According to Sethi, NSDL e-Governance is working "very closely with the Ekstep Foundation--founded by Nandan Nilekani, Rohini Nilekani and Shankar Maruwada--which runs this platform". The company is "working on a blueprint with the Foundation" to build a business model which can provide 'Skilling-as-a-platform', and "host third-party partners who can provide their own content; have people who can consume information; and run a complete lifecycle around trainees". The platform will include digital certification.
Sethi, who is also a member of the Open Network for Digital Commerce (ONDC) Advisory Council formed in July, pointed out that NSDL e-Governance's pilot of running an open-source enabled cab-hailing network in Kochi was successful, and "has now gone live as a full-scale project. We provided the infrastructure services of the gateway and registry". With ONDC, noted Sethi, NSDL e-Governance is attempting to play a similar role in digitizing the kirana (neighbourhood grocery) or the e-commerce segment by providing the gateway services over there as an infrastructure player and also become an ecosystem enabler to get market participants to join these open networks.
When asked about the protests from big e-commerce companies against this move, Sethi said, "ONDC is all about inclusivity. Ultimately, we as consumers are the ones who will benefit. ONDC is not a platform; it is a protocol and anyone who adopts it will have the ability to converse for enablement of digital commerce. Anyone can get on this platform, even the large players (referring to the big e-commerce companies).”
As part of its diversification, NSDL e-Governance is in the process of setting up for-profit cybersecurity advisory units for corporates, start-ups.
"Some of our internal cybersecurity practices are probably on par with what a lot of companies desire as their cybersecurity framework", said Sethi, explaining the reason why his company wants to provide these as an advisory service to third-party clients. "This is a big area we are focusing on,” he added.
NSDL e-Governance is exploring setting up an agri-advisory unit on similar lines. "We have some conversations running on how we can use Sunbird as a platform to provide advisory services in a federated structure where there can be multiple providers of information. And then, how do we reach out to the last mile whether it is the FPOs (Farmer Producer Organisations) or the farmers themselves in terms of consumption of information," Sethi noted.