Sitting on piles of data

The definition of data is being interpreted and reinterpreted by analysts and businesses all over the world as India’s Data Protection Bill got tabled in Parliament and soon after sent to a select panel for review. Data, referred to as distinct pieces of information usually formatted in a special way, has been an area of interest for this government, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi endorsing the idea of data being the new oil and new gold at Houston’s “Howdy Modi” event.


Even as data has been a casualty because of the prolonged internet shutdown in Jammu and Kashmir and now in the northeast, many of the government schemes and initiatives have made good use of technology to keep data alive. While some ministries and departments have turned shy about sharing data that seemed rather mundane till recently, there are others aspiring to mine data and make a difference.


The government’s flagship healthcare scheme — Ayushman Bharat or PM-JAY (Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana) — is believed to be sitting on as much as 100 terabyte of data (one terabyte equals a trillion bytes) and soon the National Informatics Centre that hosts Ayushman may run out of space. Indu Bhushan, the man spearheading it all, is in demand as academics from engineering to medical institutes, business schools to policy think tanks would want a piece of the data pool available on a single platform. Big data being the backbone of all analytics, policy research on anything from healthcare to environment is possible with the data that Ayushman has accumulated in a little over one year after it was born. With more than 18,000 hospitals on board and over five million beneficiaries already, the scale is big and complicating matters.


Whether it’s the Ayushman app, which tells you about your eligibility, gives you the hospital options and also lets you lodge complaints, or the call centres employing more than 600, it’s data and more data. The app saw a million downloads within the first fortnight of its launch earlier this year. And, the dial 14,555 multi-lingual call centres across Delhi, Kolkata, Bengaluru and Hyderabad handle up to 50,000 calls a day.


The information technology spend on Ayushman so far has been estimated at less than Rs 10 crore. As the data pool and the scale of the project go up, so will the spend. A pet project of the PM, Ayushman is readying for 2.0 where technology will be the centrepiece to carry the data story forward.


An internal slideshow demonstrates how the key technology blocks are being used, for the PM-JAY dashboard, for instance. It allows for an aggregated and drill-down view on various datasets integrated into the project’s data warehouse, and is used for real-time reporting of transactions, evaluating performance and understanding utilisation trends. The tech blocks are also used for hospital empanelment system, beneficiary identification system, and hospital transaction management system. The beneficiary identification system, for example, allows for searching beneficiaries through SECC or additional datasets through Application Program Interface and supports Aadhaar eKYC and non-Aadhaar based KYC for authentication. Imagine the data pool. The tech blocks are also used for putting in perspective the information security and data privacy policies, besides allowing national portability, grievance management system and checking frauds.


In fact, the level of fraud has been significant in Ayushman and arresting it has been a challenge. So what’s the gameplan now? As part of the IT landscape, a “Man-Machine” model has been planned to counter fraudulent transactions and entities. The model would generate triggers for suspicious transactions and entities, and will also allow for closure of investigations of such transactions. The road to future, or IT2.0 as Ayushman executives call it, will have a common digital health system, which will be a platform working as a common layer across all stakeholders. This will finally act as a backbone to the Universal Health ID in India. Before that, there are hurdles to cross as many states including Delhi, West Bengal and Odisha have stayed out of the Ayushman family.


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