How do you use technology/ policy to improve citizen’s lives? Tell us about your role.
In my view, policy provides a direction to a mission or project, while technology acts as a tool to implement it. Technology is an enabler and it ensures that the benefits of a policy are delivered to all the concerned beneficiaries.
I have gotten the opportunity to deliver on various initiatives of the Government which have benefitted the industry, government, and citizens. These initiatives include Arogya Setu, messaging services, Single Sign On and National Knowledge Network, the largest network of its kind globally.
The eSampark project is a unique project of the government that leveraged technology to establish a platform for effective communication between government and citizens with a mandate to convey details pertaining to government schemes, policies, and initiatives to the citizens directly.
In a nutshell, I am very proud to be a part of such initiatives that act as a bridge between government and citizens and have been contributing to a very effective e-governance framework.
What was the most impactful project you worked on this year?
Being part of the Indian Government technology framework, I have been fortunate to get an opportunity to work on multiple projects which directly affect the government and the citizens of India.
One of the most impactful projects is “ArogyaSetu”. I have been heading the technical operations of the Aarogya Setu that we developed and rolled out for the nation in a record time of 3 weeks.
The project showcased the generosity of spirit of us humans and how we all came together as one. The people that came together included the volunteers from the industry, citizens, and the government who jointly developed a tool to fight against the pandemic. We did not waste a crisis and emerged stronger and leveraged technology overnight to contain the mayhem around us.
What is one unexpected learning from 2021?
I learnt not to take life and family for granted. I am a professional and hardcore operations person that operates 24x7x365. My life revolves around an agenda and “to-do” list of work related deliverables.
The hard times which the pandemic brought forced me to take a “pause”, even though brief, as we were soon sucked right back into the eye of the storm as we needed to roll out “ArogyaSetu”.
However, during this brief “pause” when death and pain surrounded all of us, I realised that family matters and technology cannot replace a warm hug from someone you love which you crave for when you are in isolation for a month with corona.
From a professional standpoint, although I always knew the strength of NIC, the pandemic brought this into absolute focus. I realised that I am very fortunate to represent an organization that did not allow a raging pandemic to stop it from delivering on its mandate to be the technical backbone for the government.
NIC as an organisation under the able leadership of my Director General delivered on the expectation of the government by enhancing and scaling out core services like email, e-office, SMS, VPN, video conferencing, etc.
We continued to ensure their 100 per cent uptime despite an ongoing and raging pandemic. NIC made “Work from Home” possible for the entire government of India, which was perceived as unimaginable.
What’s your favorite memory from the past year?
Being part of a team that delivered “ArogyaSetu” as it brought India into focus globally by endorsing India’s digital footprint across the world. We achieved what many developing countries could not.
We leveraged technology to roll out a contact tracing app in three weeks on the scale that India needed. It’s been a tremendous journey, and it is full of many moments that have left a lifelong imprint.
What’s a tool or technique you’re excited to explore in 2022?
Data analytics and big data. During our experience with Aarogya Setu, we realised the impact of data analytics, correlation, the tremendous potential it holds, and how to leverage it for the benefit of the citizens.
ArogyaSetu included a component of “Itihas” that predicted hotspots based on data captured. The correct interpretation and knowledge of these potential hotspots helped the local authorities to prepare and contain the spread.
My entire journey of the past year has been very fascinating, and I am excited about the use of advanced analytics and machine learning algorithms to derive meaningful insights from the data. I have started incorporating the learnings of the models and tools in my other projects and the whole framework will continue to evolve.
What are your priorities in 2022?
Transforming the ArogyaSetu app into the “health app” for India. Although the pandemic is subsiding, it’s not over yet. Covid-19 has brought to the forefront the thought of effectively leveraging technology for the health ecosystem, as only a healthy citizen can contribute to a healthy nation. Arogya Setu will now be transformed into a National Health App.
Who are the mentors and heroes that inspire you?
My mother is my inspiration and my real hero. She has been the sculpture of my character and has always been my guide, philosopher, and my moral compass. My technology guru and mentor is Mr RS Mani, the technical architect of brilliant initiatives like National Knowledge Network, ArogyaSetu, etc.
What gets you up in the morning?
I am self-motivated and march to my own drum beats. I rarely need an external stimulus to kickstart anything in my life. As I have said previously, the pandemic put a brief pause on everything and for everyone and made us value life but it also left a hanging question – why did God spare me and not someone else?
My faith in the superpower has evolved even more and my first thought in the morning is to thank the almighty for giving me another day to do something I believe in both at a personal level and professionally.
I come from an armed forces family and serving the nation is in my blood. I have been very honest to my upbringing and always try to make small differences through my hard work and perseverance. As they say, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” and I take that one single step every morning.
Screenshot of Dr Seema Khanna taken from elets TV’s YouTube video.