A problem with UIDAI project – no clear directions after launch (integration with MAJOR systems)

I am not sure about this, but seeing this video about the Unique ID project headed by Nandan Nilekani – raised few questions in my mind.

First watch the video-
Note – there was the funny part at the end where seemingly there was some technical glitch from news channel and we had some “doordarshan moment” when the anchor was totally unaware that he is live… but I am not talking about that. :)
In the first part of this brief interview, Nandan clearly mentions the deadlines of project:-
* 12-18 months for Pilot (that is around end of 2010)
* Around 5 years (2014-2015) will be when the project be “implemented” which means around 600 million Indians will get UID (that will be roughly 50% of India’s population at that time). I am sure the project will go beyond that to cover 100% of India’s population, although Nandan did not define that timeframe … but I am ok with it, because it is difficult to predict that schedule at this time.
Note the tone of professionalism and clear vision coming from a “Minister” – that is the reason we need more technocrats/educated people at these critical positions. It is definitely a soother and great change from the traditional – totally opposed to the vague answers we get from our minister sahibs. Even if the usual Indian minister gives you a deadline – you will have to ignore that – because it will have no base or substance to back that deadline. (example – Pranab Mukherjee saying in 2009-10 Budget that VAT will be implemented by April 2010 – which everyone knew is not going to happen because of the coordinations involved between various state governments and central government. I believe his motive was not to misguide us – but he just wanted to put a date so that everyone at least have a vision about the horizon.)
Anyways, let us not diverge and come back to Nandan – in the later part of the interview he was asked “what kind of applications is he looking at – where UID could be used?” – once again Nandan very clearly explained it – UID is just a unifier, not the real application. He defined the scope of UID project and said that other systems (like Passport, Ration card, NREGA) will have to come forward to use this number.
So far so good – but I think what lacked here (and all other publications/news I have read so far about UIDAI) is how/when/what will be those integrations with other systems be done?
Important- without those integrations, UID project has no significance. See this video-
Note – UID will become just a “status symbol” without those integrations, I mean it will be of no real use to have UID. (I also do not agree with one woman’s complaint when she lost her voter ID card and demaned UID should be accepted. I dont agree to that. UID is just a supporting system, not a replacement for Voter ID, per my understanding.)
Also, I do agree it is not in Nandan’s project scope to talk about those integrations. But from Nandan’s tone, it sounded like those projects will need to be totally “owned” and “driven” by those respective system owners.
I dont agree with that.
In my opinion, UID has two distinct customers –
1. Indian Citizens (who will use the card)
2. Various Governance Systems (who will also use the number, they are real UID clients)
From my limited IT experience, I know that an integration project is successful only when both the parties become the owners, that is when both the parties see the benefit coming out of the project. In our IT projects, it is usually vendor-client relation. The client benefits from the functionality, while the Vendor benefits from the revenues of the implementation.
So if only one of the party owns the integration, that integration project will have lots of problem. The final solution will be delayed, it will be defective and it will be full of issues.
So I think their are serious questions that need to be answered here-
* What other MAJOR systems will be integrated with UID?
I said MAJOR – because the list is endless. Potentially all government systems could and will be integrated to UID.
* Who will own and drive those MAJOR integrations?
Will it be UIDAI? Will it be respective system owner? or will it be joint ownership as I explained above?
* When would those other systems be integrated with UID?
In my opinion, just like UID launch project .. those MAJOR implementation project also should clearly define plans and deadlines. Say – year 2020 as deadline for passport-UID integration, 2025 for Ration Card-UID integration … I am just cooking up numbers to explain my point.
* How will other systems be integrated with UID?
The approach will also need to be well thought of to avoid duplication in effort, and saving time and money. It will be better if that approach is thought of now.
Say – what will be the implication of those integrations from a common man’s perspective – Would a common man need to go out and get UID in 2014, then go out and get PAN card updated with UID in 2016, then get passport updated in 2017, then get ration card updated in 2017 (assuming that is when those integration projects will be implemented)
Imagine coordinating with 1 Billion people on these implementations on year to year basis … that is a food for a big mess. It will be a BIG wastage of time and resources if 1 Billion people has to come out every year to get one of their cards updated. Think about logistics to manage that!!
So – why not plan it now?
One possible solution – launch UID to general public in two phases – first the UID creation and second UID integration with Major systems.
So those 1 Billion people will need to come out TWO TIMES –
* First to get UID – government will do biometrics required for UID.
* Second time they will furnish to government every information related to them – passport #, PAN#, ration card# etc – or better if government can himself pull out that information (which could be messy actually) – but everything will be done at one shot.
This is just one idea, I am sure if Nandan’s team gives 10 minutes to those integration projects now, they will find 10 better solutions.
Maybe these things have already been decided at government level but not made public yet, and will come in due time. So I guess we will have to wait and watch for now.
Updated Later
I read this writeup later, which I think was released by UIDAI themselves (probably leaked?)
Anyways, it does answer few of my questions vaguely.
Read this-
The Registrars that the Authority plans to partner with in its first phase – the NREGA, RSBY, and PDS – will help bring large numbers of the poor and underprivileged into the UID system.
So, the first phase itself will include integration with few systems! Good news!
Jut like I mentioned in my post that there are two distinct clients of UID, this document also says similar thing (they said three – third one being government as a whole)
For residents : The UID will become the single source of identity verification. Once residents enrol, they can use the number multiple times – they would be spared the hassle of repeatedly providing supporting identity documents each time they wish to access services such as obtaining a bank account, passport, driving license, and so on. By providing a clear proof of identity, the UID will also facilitate entry for poor and underprivileged residents into the formal banking system, and the opportunity to avail services provided by the government and the private sector. The UID will also give migrants mobility of identity.
For Registrars and enrollers: The UIDAI will only enrol residents after de-duplicating records. This will help Registrars clean out duplicates from their databases, enabling significant efficiencies and cost savings. For Registrars focused on cost, the UIDAI’s verification processes will ensure lower KYR costs. For Registrars focused on social goals, a reliable identification number will enable them to broaden their reach into groups that till now, have been difficult to authenticate. The strong authentication that the UID number offers will improve services, leading to better resident satisfaction.
For Governments: Eliminating duplication under various schemes is expected to save the government exchequer upwards of Rs. 20,000 crores a year. It will also provide governments with accurate data on residents, enable direct benefit programs, and allow government departments to coordinate investments and share information.
The other thing which I remember I read/saw somewhere else also that this is being developed as revenue generating / service oriented model.
Revenue model
By providing identity authentication, the UIDAI will be taking on a process that costs agencies and service providers hundreds of crores every year. The Authority will charge a fee for its authentication services, which will offset its long -term costs. Registrars and service providers will also be able to charge for the cards they issue residents with the UID number. Such pricing will be within UIDAI guidelines.
There are still questions to be answered – like when it will be integrated to the systems that affect me – the middle class of India – like passport, ration card, voter id card etc.
But I am sure people are already thinking. So we need not be worried. (let’s hope for the best!!)

One thought on “A problem with UIDAI project – no clear directions after launch (integration with MAJOR systems)

  1. As per my understanding, I want to clarify about who will drive the integration. If you see Nandan's recent visits and UIDAI arrangements, there is a pattern that he is pursuing different registrars. Registrars are entities who have their own business or program to interact with Indians. Best examples are Telecom Companies, banks, State and central governments. Indians go to these registrars for different needs. UIDAI is going to have arrangement with the registrars to enroll their customers into UIDAI. Motivation for registrars for enrolling their customers is they can ensure de-duplication based on UID and better KYI (Know your customer) for private companies. UID will be a tool for governement agencies to find Ghost beneficiaries. This is because a person has no chance to get a duplicate UID, which is guaranteed by UIDAI.

    So soon, UID enrollment will be mandated for bank accounts, telephone connections, subsidized LPG, subsidized food, Provident fund accounts, Passport, driver licenses, vehicle registrations, the list goes on..

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