View from India: Software as a living organism

Co-WIN, an acronym for Covid Vaccine Intelligence Network, has illustrated how digital inclusion can happen through the platform.

Co-WIN is a vaccine registration platform that has been operational since January 2021. The platform has created a digital ecosystem of national significance, becoming a trendsetter as it has illustrated that software can be scalable and inexpensive.

“The scalable digital system happens through an open API (application programming interface). It’s the openness combined with a minimalist system that has made it work. A monolithic approach would never have worked here,” said Dr RS Sharma, CEO, National Health Authority, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (Government of India). He was speaking to an online audience at the Nasscom Cloud Summit 2021.

The vaccine registration itself is a digital exercise, which documents the registration and details the type of vaccine along with the dose (whether it is the first dose or second one). The digital interface has been conceptualised in an easy, downloadable format, with the Covid vaccine certificate (hard and soft copies) as well as mobile SMS confirmation, also available. Travel tickets (regardless of the means of transport) can be availed somewhat peacefully if the passenger has been inoculated. People have begun to travel again and while many procedures are contactless, travel companies feel reassured if the passenger produces a vaccine certificate. Besides, the certificate can be linked to the owner's passport, too.

As India is a land of diversity, the Co-WIN platform is available in 12 vernaculars. Still, location can be a challenge. Generally speaking, a location disadvantage has resulted in a digital divide in terms of demographics. The situation is similar in the case of the vaccine, too. Many of the remotely located people are yet to be vaccinated.

Consequently, multiple pathways have recently opened up to encourage citizens to be vaccinated. As per media announcements, citizens can do a Google Search, check out the nearest vaccine centre through Google Maps and tap Google Assistant to find out the availability of vaccines along with appointments. This service can be accessed across 13,000 locations nationally. Hopefully the community of those vaccinated will increase as Google could be another option.

Co-WIN could be seen as a test in scalability, setting an example for bringing healthcare records under one platform. It would be nice if it becomes a health scale platform, built for a heterogeneous population of over 1.3 billion people. “The software should be scalable and speedy, agile and affordable. An open API would be preferable to add-on to the tech layers. The API strategy is a critical component of digital transformation,” added Dr Sharma.

The architecture should be robust and reliable and able to connect to mobile networks throughout the country. It should be able to take the load if operations fluctuate.

The government, medical practitioners, researchers and stakeholders may all come together to create a service for everyone. It’s not just the medical professionals or people undergoing treatment, but should include everyone in the chain, such as pharmacists and distributors.

Likewise, agriculture could perhaps look at congregating all stakeholders under one umbrella. E-commerce platforms could probably be the channel between farmers and buyers. Whether it is healthcare or agriculture, it can work if the data of citizens is made available. It needs to be secure and could be interrogated for better outcomes. Above all, the software needs to be flexible.

“Software should be viewed as a living organism that the government can tap to develop new services or accelerate the existing ones,” concluded Dr Sharma.

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