Realizing the promise of digital public goods
Digital Public Goods (DPGs) are accelerating the digitalization of public services and delivering positive outcomes. Is it time for DPG certification?
1 May 2023

Digital public goods offer a fast-track, lower-cost route to delivering essential government services to citizens, but the scale and speed of digital transformation demands high standards from those implementing these new systems.

Digital government is transforming our lives in many ways, expanding access to education, improving health and social care, and driving economic growth. Digital Public Goods (DPGs) are an exciting development accelerating the digitalization of public services. Because they’re built on open-source software, DPGs are freely available for governments everywhere to customize for their own digital public infrastructure.

The Digital Public Goods Alliance (DPGA) is a multi-stakeholder initiative to accelerate the attainment of SDGs in low- and middle-income countries through the greater use of and investment in DPGs.

In 2022 alone, the number of DPGs in use more than doubled, and this growth is set to continue. With their underlying principle of collaboration and knowledge sharing, DPGs are an important vehicle for helping develop the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Among the many successes is India’s Digital Infrastructure for Knowledge Sharing (DIKSHA), a national platform for school education connecting hundreds of thousands of teachers and millions of students. Another example is Digital Infrastructure for Verifiable Open Credentialing (DIVOC), which has enabled governments around the world to generate over 1 billion secure and verifiable vaccination certificates. In Ukraine, Diia (which means ‘action’) allows citizens to access vital government services online, offering a lifeline in tragic times.

Unlocking faster growth of DPGs

As demand for DPGs continues to increase,the number of organizations involved in creating and integrating DPGs will also grow. Each DPG needs to be adapted to its local market, which calls for significant system integrator capabilities to implement, maintain and sustain the service.

DPG implementation – mostly led by systems integrators – involves the supply of hardware, hosting of services, customizing AI models, content, data, software and specifications, training and change management, and rollout across geographies. This complex task can only be performed by trained, experienced professionals.

How can governments be comfortable that those delivering vital digital infrastructure have the right capabilities? And how can they ensure the appropriate level of organizational governance and processes to oversee these massive projects?

DPG certification can set new standards in reliability and speed up implementation

I believe certification can make a big difference to the adoption of DPGs, similar to the approach used in other areas of business and technology. Individuals would be able to acquire qualifications along the lines of “Certified Scrum Master” (for agile team development) or “Microsoft Certified Azure Data Engineer.”

Systems integrator organizations, on the other hand, could certify themselves via awards and standards like CMMI (Capability Maturity Model Integration – process improvement training and appraisal programs for software development) or ISO (International Organization for Standardization), which sets standards across multiple sectors.

As with other coding standards and practices, DPGs require guidelines for their creation, implementation and sustenance, with appropriate training and certification for individuals building the DPG components, including the ethical use of AI and data.

Certification is best provided through an independent agency, such as an accreditation body, that assesses the competency of anyone applying to work on DPG implementation, giving customers greater confidence in their suppliers.

Organizational certification brings another level of quality assurance for those providing DPGs to evaluate their governance. This calls for the creation of DPG guidelines, maturity levels and assessment and audit frameworks, with agencies certified as auditors, to ensure that providers are adhering to guidelines. Given the scale of government infrastructure, and the subsequent size and complexity of DPG projects, certification is a must.

With an estimated annual value of US$100 billion by 2030, the global DPG market is going to absorb huge amounts of government IT expenditure on critical digital infrastructure. Trust in systems providers, along with rigorous oversight, can help governments in both advanced and developing countries scale up vital citizen services with confidence and make a positive impact on hundreds of millions, if not billions, of lives.

An agreed set of certification and standards can help bring that promise one step closer. 

* Sivakumar Moorthy is a Partner at Ernst & Young LLP, India.
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