On Monday, Union IT secretary, R S Sharma, shared details of the Digitise India programme to be launched on July 1 by the Prime Minister. The aim through this initiative is to digitize land records, birth and death certificates, marksheets and other such utilities, according to Mr Sharma. He went on to add that a platform is being provided for all the agencies across the country for putting up their documents online in a form that will ensure accuracy and confidentiality.
What the vision does not recognize is that to just digitize will not be enough, it is also important to, XBRLize. Indeed, the smartest way of attaining the final objective, of getting clean data, would be to adopt XBRL, or eXtensible Business Reporting Language. XBRL is an open source royalty free XML based information reporting standard which is gaining rapid acceptance across the world. In India, MCA and RBI are leading the adoption of XBRL.
On its part, the government has rightly identified the problem with previous efforts though none of those attempts were ever on the scale being planned by the government this time around. In all those instances, the final output was found to be riddled with errors, making the output completely unusable.
In the plan envisioned by the government, a document put up by an agency would be first scanned and then the image would be shred electronically and the images sent to various people who would join in to validate the data. The government believes that once the document is broken into pieces and sent to different people for uploading and then matched at the back-end, there cannot be any error as the human factor gets reduced.
But consider this. Do you want the documents or do you want the information in the documents? Equally, is the digitization project about the documents or about the data in the documents? If the answer as one supposes, is that it is about the data, the way to achieve the objective is through the adoption of XBRL. With the advent of XBRL, the world is moving away from document management to information management.
Which is why the approach that the government is proposing to take falls well short of what needs to be done. The XBRL approach is modern and the way to go.
With XBRL, the data takes centre stage and not the document. The document would still be scanned and instead of images going back and forth, it is data that will get transported for verification. And since it is just data, such engagement can also be done using mobile devices. Above all else, the data can be shared across government departments seamlessly.
By separating the data from the presentation layer which is the scanned document in this case, the whole process becomes much more efficient. It also means that if one wishes to cross validate data across institutions, it becomes possible to achieve this electronically, making a manual check unnecessary. With such validation, one can aspire to achieve near 100 % accuracy.
That then would truly help realize the Prime Minister’s vision of a Digital India of which an important first step is a digitized India.