- April 17, 2023
Governments jumping on to the super-apps bandwagon
India is gearing up to launch an electric vehicle (EV) super-app that will offer EV users detailed information about public charging stations and enable reservations at those stations. The app aims to be a one-stop platform for EV users, making it more convenient for them to locate charging stations and reserve slots easily. This app will be integrated with the UMANG, a mobile app that brings together central, state and local government services on a single platform. The addition of the EV super app to the UMANG platform will enhance the range of services available to Indian citizens, demonstrating the government’s commitment to digital transformation.
Like a Swiss army knife
A super-app is an application that provides users with a core set of features, along with access to mini-apps that are independently created. It can be likened to a Swiss army knife, with a range of tools or mini-apps that users can add or remove as required. Super-apps are gaining popularity in Asia, with many companies such as Paytm, Tata Neu, WeChat and Grab developing their own platforms. Governments are interested in developing super-apps due to their potential benefits, which include improved efficiency, enhanced accessibility to government services, and data collection for policymaking purposes.
In Singapore, the LifeSG platform enables citizens to register their child’s birth, make end-of-life plans, pay parking fines and access a range of other government services. The platform is operated by the Government Technology Agency and has been downloaded by over 1.5 million people to date. In Istanbul, Turkey, the IstanbulKart public transportation card which was functioning as an e-wallet for public transport has evolved into a versatile payment system that enables users to pay for other services like public parking lots, museums, municipal restaurants and even grocery stores.
In the United Kingdom, citizens may soon be able to store their financial data on a single super-app, similar to the National Health Service app launched by the government in 2018. The UK Finance, a trade association, has announced that this platform will enable citizens to manage their finances and access a range of financial services easily. In the Philippines, the government plans to launch the eGov super-app, as a one-stop platform for citizens to access national and local government services instead of around 175 government websites.
Why super-apps for governance
Super-apps hold a promise for enhancing the convenience, efficiency, and personalisation of government services for citizens. With governments at the central, state and local levels offering a variety of services to a population of 1.4 billion, a super-app offers a solution to streamline all these services and make them easier to access. From the government’s perspective, it has the potential to reduce redundancies and complexities in the existing processes. Let’s say an entrepreneur wants to open a restaurant or cloud kitchen. In the existing process, she needs to apply for GST registration, an FSSAI license, and different central and state government licenses and clearances – all on separate websites or offices of their own. While the physical offices cannot be done away with completely, the journey of starting a restaurant can be efficiently replicated online, reducing miscommunication and confusion among aspiring entrepreneurs. This is but one example.
The super-app interface can be customised to show local services once a user selects her geolocation. Consider a citizen from a tier-2 or tier-3 town. She can apply for an Aadhaar, link it with their mobile number, submit an application for a bank account, access educational videos for her kids and also information on government schemes on starting a mushroom farming business.
There are cost savings from developing a super-app. A streamlined application will only incur maintenance and server costs but can overcome the problem of understaffing in government offices to deal with a growing population. An official app can be a great way to communicate with citizens and an excellent alternative to communicating through social media. It can not only showcase important announcements but also reduce the instances of fake news. Additionally, it can enable administrations to make decisions on the basis of polls, surveys and other feedback received from citizens via an official super-app. It can also be a single platform to post grievances and invoke emergency services like the police or fire station.
Challenges to building super-apps
Government agencies tend to work autonomously and adopt different data standards. So, it becomes important for all these agencies to cooperate. Consolidating government services across different agencies requires coordination not only on the digital front but also with retrofitting the ground-level operations into a digital space. For instance, making government services accessible through voice command in all Indian languages requires interoperability among different line ministries, maintaining security and privacy of user data, investing in infrastructure and partnerships with third-party providers and overcoming legal and regulatory hurdles such as compliance with data privacy laws and licensing requirements.
Secondly, having a stable government and strong leadership is a must for making a super-app. Cooperation between the Centre, state governments and local bodies is a prerequisite for the app’s value proposition. Finally, the app’s adoption requires a significant shift in user behaviour and preferences towards a new digital platform.
If these challenges could be navigated, a super-app will be an excellent tool in every citizen’s hand.
Written by Anurag Wasnik. Wasnik is Innovation Lead – Atal Innovation Mission at NITI Aayog.
Views are personal and do not represent the stand of this publication.