The idea of Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI) and Digital Public Goods (DPG) is gaining momentum to expedite a country’s inclusive economic growth, as exemplified by India’s emphasis on DPIs within the G20 framework. DPIs can be enabled in largely two ways — either through DPGs or through proprietary solutions. Digital technologies employed by governments have largely been provided by the private sector that offer a host of advantages, ranging from solutions offered by trusted brands, short term savings, and outsourced development and maintenance — enabling quick fix and returns.

However, increasingly challenges such as vendor lock-in, external dependency, lack of flexibility coupled with risks of discontinuation or unilateral modifiability have been leading to rising concerns. In low- and middle-income economies, digitisation efforts are driven by the government in collaboration with different organisations, and it is these collaborations that result in siloed systems with an underemphasis on interoperability, leading to duplication or fragmentation — ultimately escalating the costs in delivering public services.

Robust alternative

DPGs, on the other hand, offer a robust alternative to these proprietary solutions. DPGs, by definition, are digital resources that are made freely available to all, are non-rivalrous, non-excludable and allow unrestricted access with an aim to provide benefits across sectors and promote inclusive development. DPGs encompass a wide range of assets, including software, data, and standards, among others. Consequently, they can be used by countries to operationalise DPI (example, identity, payments, data exchange systems, etc.).

Being open source, DPGs enable further building, modifying and sharing, thus fostering trust. They leave space for iteration and accommodation for future needs thus bringing down costs in the long term. As per a report by the European Union, many municipalities in Brazil switched to open-source software in the early 2000s because “estimates at the time concluded that across the country, nearly $200 million per year was spent on licensing fees to a single vendor alone and, by switching, $120 million could be saved.”

DPGs are adaptable allowing for seamless integration into diverse environments, providing efficient and customised solutions. For instance, Digital Infrastructure for Vaccination Open Credentialing (DIVOC), a DPG, was used to issue millions of verifiable QR code-enabled vaccination certificates in India. It was later implemented in Sri Lanka, followed by the Philippines. Remittances from more than two million Filipino workers account for almost 10 per cent of Philippines’s GDP.

Philippines’s Department of Health and ICT quickly developed a system VaxCertPH5 on DIVOC in less than three months, enabling all overseas workers to quickly onboard themselves.

In India, the rise of DPGs driven DPIs has exponentially increased market driven innovation. Offline service providers can now seamlessly transition online, reaching a wider audience without the burden of marketing expenses to reach a larger audience. Open Network for Digital Commerce and Open Network for Education & Skilling Transactions are just a few examples of this transformative trend.

While the government bears the responsibility of delivering public services, ensuring sustainable development demands a collaborative effort that brings together the private and public sector. This collaboration is essential for the successful implementation of DPGs at a massive scale, reaching millions of individuals. This is precisely where the private sector can play a crucial role in supporting and driving user-centric innovation, thereby encouraging a broader adoption of digital solutions.

Murty is Partner and Government & Public Services Consulting Leader, and Sharma is Senior Consultant, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu India LLP