Facebook’s monthly users grew from a million in 2004 to over a billion by 2012, all while adding new features to engage users better. Imagine if digital public services had the same ability to cope with this level of growth.

Karthik Ranganathan sought to make that a reality. He took the lessons from his six years at Facebook, when he helped to scale and build new features for the social site, and started Yugabyte.

Karthik shares how governments can build new tech tools quickly, and how they can adapt to new ways of data storage and management to improve their digital services.

How to build like big tech

There are four things governments should keep in mind when building digital services, says Karthik.

First, governments need to prepare for growth right from the start. If services are not designed to grow, they will fail as more users come on board.

“Nobody is going to give you six months to fix your app and bring it back to the way it should be working,” he explains. This is especially crucial when considering how urgent government services can be – no country can wait six months to roll out vaccine appointment systems or distribute relief funds.

Next, services should always be accessible. Governments cannot afford to shut down services even temporarily for maintenance.

They should also be easy to use, such that users “shouldn’t have to read a manual to understand it”, he continues.

Finally, services need to be “responsive and snappy”, he emphasises.

People should not feel like it’s difficult to access data, and that the service is slow, he explains. If a citizen is trying to apply for a grant and the platform takes minutes to load each page, they may get frustrated and give up on the site.

Gaps in government

The way governments organise their databases today do not allow them to provide digital services quickly and effectively, highlights Karthik.

For instance, most critical data is maintained in on-premise databases that are difficult to expand, he says.

Governments need to either compromise on the quality of the new service to work within their database’s physical limits, or choose not to expand on its features to continue serving the users, says Karthik.

Regardless, users will eventually lose trust in the service if it doesn’t continually improve, he adds.

Efficiency is also important as users expect digital services to be quick, notes Karthik. However, keeping data in physical facilities means data is processed much slower than if it were on the cloud. This is because the physical data centres will be further away from users.

How to plug the gaps

Governments can turn to the cloud instead of storing data on physical servers so that they can easily scale, suggests Karthik. The cloud database YugabyteDB allows developers to build apps and expand or downsize them as required.

YugabyteDB can also speed up data processing by distributing data through the cloud, ensuring that users experience less lag when using the digital service, adds Karthik. This ability to move data and place them near to users to deliver better user experience is becoming a critical area in the age of multi-cloud.

While traditional on-premise databases are seen as more secure, the cloud can be equally safe, highlights Karthik.

Tips on how to start

When transitioning from traditional on-premise databases to the cloud, governments should start small, says Karthik. They can first focus on building one or two new services before upgrading the rest over time, he adds.

Getting tools that support building lots of new services quickly can help. Developers can tend to each tool when there are only a few.

But as governments increase their digital services in both volume and scale, developers will need help in testing and maintaining them quickly. Yugabyte ensures new tools are built and tested in the same environment they will be rolled out in.

Yugabyte also functions similarly to databases that governments are already familiar with, says Karthik. This “minimises the cultural shock” and helps ease the transition from old to new, he explains.

Building the ecosystem

Yugabyte works with various technology partners to unlock the full potential for their agencies. This includes hyperscalers like AWS, Azure and Google as well as hybrid and multi-cloud support from IBM and VMWare. Yugabyte also partners with data solution integrators such as Transcend Solutions in Singapore to power and scale data services in government, banking and e-commerce.

For the partnership with IBM, Yugabyte works with IBM data management solutions to help government agencies reduce hybrid cloud complexities. Agencies can use a single management tool to support operations such as cloud DevOps, data migration across hybrid and multi-cloud with Yugabyte with IBM Spectrum storage management software.

To help agencies protect their data, IBM’s Safeguarded Copy can be used to automatically create “immutable snapshots” copies of Yugabyte Database. These are securely isolated and cannot be accessed or altered by unauthorised users.

In the event of data loss, a data breach, malicious activity or any other event that compromises data or disrupts operations, users can recover data from the snapshots based on known points-in-time prior to the breach. This allows the agencies to better plan for and recover quickly when cyber attacks occur.

Facebook, now Meta, changed the way it built tech so users could share photos, connect with friends and read the news. The same approach could be used to help governments communicate with citizens, distribute pensions, schedule vaccine appointments more effectively.