Improving the digitization of government services and connecting them meaningfully with the people who use them is critical to making the sustainable development goals a reality. From cash transfers, to digital IDs, to even the basic development of automated emails from governments to citizens, there has been a recent surge in digitization of government services made more urgent by COVID-19.
Digital public infrastructure (DPI) refers to the digital solutions and systems that enable the effective provision of essential society-wide functions and services in the public and private sectors. For a country, the deployment and implementation of DPI is integral to building a strong digital foundation for other solutions to be built on top. The use of open source digital public goods is increasingly identified as a way to build such DPI in a quick and cost-efficient manner that also strengthens national digital sovereignty.
Countries all over the world are already leveraging open source to build foundational DPI. As digital transformation is increasingly becoming a part of the development agenda, international organisations, governments, and funders can learn a lot from successful projects. UNDP, a DPGA member, has been exploring with its partner governments how they are already using open source for development, to surface good practices and inform their approach to digital programming.
This case study, developed by the DPGA Secretariat with support from UNDP Uganda, highlights the efforts of the Government of Uganda and specifically showcases their use of open source technology to build UGHub, a data integration platform that has facilitated the improvement of services government wide.
What is UGHub?
The Government of Uganda, together with the National Information Technology Authority (NITA) Uganda, has created ‘UGHub’, allowing government services to act as a single unified system, easing access to e-services for citizens. UGHub is an open-source application and data integration platform serving to integrate government services, break down silos, and ease the administrative burden on Ugandan citizens.
UGHub’s development has been swift: what started with a feasibility study in 2015, was bolstered by Uganda’s 2019 data protection and privacy act. By 2021, UGHub was fully functioning and in 2022 has already expanded to cover more entities across government and the private sector.
UGHub has changed the way the government is able to integrate and deliver services for citizens resulting in shorter wait times, enhanced efficiency and collaborations across government departments, and ultimately has broadened the reach of services to citizens. Mr. Tonny Bbosa, Project Manager: Data Integration Platform, shared that it used to take several months in the previous point-to-point integration model to complete a government function like vehicle registration. Now, with the enterprise service model, the service time in many cases is just a few hours.
Take, for example, a passport application which was previously done by a manual process which was cumbersome not only for citizens but for government ministries as well. An application with printed documents required authentication at each step in the process and, if at the same time as your passport, you needed to register a vehicle, for example, you’d be required to apply at a different ministry with many of the same physical documents. Now, information is stored digitally and shared across ministries via automatic integration, so you only need to give information once. As Mr. Bbosa said, now you just apply and the government does the rest.
This not only improves service levels, but removes bottle necks, reduced person-to-person contact during COVID-19, and removes opportunities for corruption by reducing contact between private sector and government. UGHub has reduced the turnaround time to achieve integration with government entities from one month to just a few hours, and shortened the work permit application period from four weeks to three days.
UGHub was built to address the need to share data across government services, but it didn’t stop there. It has integrated private sector and international organisations onto the platform as well to help streamline data sharing including across universities, banks, and more.
UGHub’s success is a result of many factors, including the enabling regulatory environment in Uganda which allows the sharing of data and many other pieces of enabling infrastructure. Uganda has made strides in connectivity across the country, which is a prerequisite for ministries to be able to share data. The Government has also created a data centre – the GOU Cloud Data Centre – and created a cyber security unit that monitors the platform for data breaches, since they are in some cases dealing with personally identifiable and sensitive data. Finally, the Government has placed an ICT officer in every government ministry who supports digitization efforts, not just for UGHub, but for ICT generally.
A replicable model: why using open source was an important design consideration
Avoiding Vendor Lock-In
UGHub is built on robust, open source, WSO2 technology. The UGHub team shared that previous projects have failed because of overhead licensing. Their decision to make UGHub open source allows them to sustain it, build on it, and adapt it for their unique needs. Mr. Bbosa said that, “[t]o make our projects really sustainable they cannot be vendor-locked, so we’ve gone open source”.
Understanding other successful models and digital cooperation
This is particularly important because Uganda isn’t the first or the only country tackling this challenge. Pioneers like Estonia’s X-Roads, a digital public good found on the DPG Registry, led the way, but Kenya’s Huduma, Bahrain’s National Enterprise Architecture, and Moldova’s MConnect are other examples of countries using data integration in government services in one form or another. Using open-source technologies or digital public goods can help inform other countries looking to make similar changes. As digital transformation becomes increasingly in-demand, countries will look to Uganda as a replicable model.
The open source decision was informed by a desire to develop and deploy something that can be easily adapted and provide flexibility. Going open source allows for the Government to be able to sustain UGHub locally, leveraging their digital ecosystem partners in the private and public sector and for others to model it and learn from it, as Uganda did in their implementation. This has ultimately allowed for the Government to build a better, future-proofed platform that has less limitations.
What’s next for UGHub?
Looking ahead, there are plans for the platform to continue to evolve. On top of the platform itself, UGHub will soon have a citizen facing portal – UGPass – which will centralise government services into a single entry point for citizens. This means through a single URL, or mobile app, Ugandans can apply for any government service. Once you pass authentication with UGPass, a person can access all of their government data in one platform (cars registered, phone numbers listed, taxes paid etc). The first phase of UGPass will be ready by the end of June, with 5-6 services ready to launch within it. UGHub is also hoping to create accessible service centres where Ugandans could access UGPass via mobile or desktop to help further tackle connectivity issues.
These plans are happening alongside explorations that will better integrate private services into UGHub. Today, seven banks and financial institutions are integrated within UGHub, allowing for enhanced financial services to citizens, though there are hopes to continue to expand to other sectors.
Through their work developing and deploying UGHub, the Government of Uganda is showcasing not only the importance of developing digital public infrastructure, but the value of utilising open-source technologies in the process.