Multi City Web Platform

When we developed belgauminfo.com, we realized that such a platform if available for other cities, would be beneficial for them as well.

The Government of India has identified 100 cities to be developed under the Smart City program. While some cities have more dedicated resources focused on the city development, there are smaller cities in the list(Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities) that need additional help.

We have generated a software that simply automates the process of replicating the city web platform for multiple cities. The advantage of this is drastic reduction in time, effort and cost. In addition, the web platform provides automatic hosting, support for multilingual content as well as chatbot support.

Take a look at the demo here:

City Events Calendar

One of the inspirations behind coming up with a city web portal was visiting an event in the city with poor footfall. So, covering city events on the city portal was a no brainer. Most people aren’t aware about what is happening in the city. Not everybody reads the newspaper daily, there are visitors from out of town, all newspapers may not even cover every event in the city. There are a few websites purely dedicated for events, but most often they focus only on tier-1 cities. There are Facebook events and whatsapp groups, but again that is limited to a certain minuscule set of people in the group.  To overcome all these limitations, we set aside one page for events.

Now, the next challenge was that the events on most websites aren’t displayed in a user friendly manner. Most events are displayed with date and venue in big paragraphs. Such bulky content isn’t convenient to read or remember. I asked myself, “Would it be more convenient to see events marked on a calendar?” Afterall, calendars help us plan better and show events summary at one glance.

So here is how we cover City Events.

The events page calendar as seen on a big screen – desktop/ laptop

events1

The events page calendar as seen on a mobile.

events2.png

Clicking on the date on the city events calendar, displays the event posters for that day on a scrolling page – one after another, as shown below:

events3

The response to the City Events Calendar has been great so far, with a few event organizers submitting their city events for inclusion and other users finding it very easy to navigate.

Check out the city events calendar here:

https://belgauminfo.com/events

If you have any suggestions/ ideas for us or would like to submit your city event for inclusion on the city calendar, please reach out to us at dpatil@moraisolutions.com.

Smart City Website

After living in 9 different cities in 4 different countries, I returned back to India last year. To the city of Belgaum in Karnataka, the city where I was born. The Government of India had chosen 20 cities initially under the Smart City development proposal and Belgaum was one among them. There are 100 cities in India now identified for development as Smart Cities. After spending the past 10 years in US, a lot of people often ask me the question “How do you find it here in Belgaum?” That answer will take one whole post. But my one line answer usually is, “I like it here, after all I live in a Smart City”. On hearing the two words – Smart City, most of them start complaining about the different city issues. When I faced my own challenges finding information about the city online, I decided to do something about it. That was when the idea of building a website dedicated to the city came about.

After researching the top 10 Smart Cities all over the world, I realized that every city had one website dedicated to the city information and another one with government information.

SmartCitiesTop10

In India, certain cities have websites but the coverage was minimal, had broken links or in certain cases, was completely absent.

A Single Pane of Glass
The need for a city based website that catered to all information within the city was a no brainer and I decided that it would be the foundation to build more value added services.

The following basic best practices have gone into the design of the website:

Easy Navigation
Information that can be easily found is a key to any successful site. Hence a lot of thought has gone into the design of the navigation and arrangement of content. Aim is to keep the website clean, simple and organized.

Accuracy
Keeping the information up to date, checking for broken links via validators. Ensuring that there are no spelling and grammatical mistakes by rigorous editing.

Simplification
Instead of using unrelated images, gifs, animation or gimmicks, the focus has been only on content that caters to the need of the user. While everyone likes pretty websites, the focus of this website is information driven.

Website Design Priorities

The data from the survey by Hubspot, as shown in the image above shows that visitors value easy to find information more than beautiful design or fancy UX.
Reference: https://blog.hubspot.com/blog/tabid/6307/bid/14953/what-do-76-of-consumers-want-from-your-website-new-data.aspx

Call to action
When we provide a user some information, we also try to provide them means to take action with that information as well. For example, booking a hotel, a movie ticket or a travel ticket etc

Performance
We have tried to make page load times more effective by optimizing, minifying and compressing assets, styles and javascript libraries.

Mobile Friendly
We have designed a website with Responsive layout that will be available for multiple screen sizes like Mobiles, Tablets etc

Challenges with Online Citizen Services

It is definitely a boon to see so many services to citizens available online now. One appreciates it all the more when one has spent significant number of hours waiting patiently in queues just to pay bills or submit forms. We sure have made progress, yet we have miles to go in making the process and experience of online citizen services smoother.

Here is a review of the current citizen online services available in the city I live – Belgaum.

No single source of truth
There are two corporation websites

serving similar needs, leads to ambiguity. There should always be a single source of truth to avoid confusion.

Security issues of using http
Using http for any website that accepts user inputs poses security issues, as data is sent over the internet as clear text making it easy for interception. Most of the web links in these websites accept user input over http. Not only does payment information require security, but so does information pertaining to a user’s Aadhar, Mobile No, Address etc. A website that uses https, builds confidence and trust among it’s users.

Clumsy language access:
Language access needs to be clean. Trying to accommodate both English and Kannada in the same form reduces the readability of both. Instead, there should be a button to switch completely between both languages. A Kannada language user doesn’t need to see the English option and an English language user, doesn’t need to see the Kannada options at the same time.

Issues with http://www.belgaumcity.mrc.gov.in

1. Citizen Online Services – All available options are not visible. When one tries to fit in icons in a small space, the navigation links itself get hidden and are not accessible, as shown below.

bgm1.png
* eSweekruthi
a. There needs to be more clarity on what this payment site(eSweekruthi) is used for. There is already another link for payments pertaining to Property tax etc.
b. This website accepts Aadhar, PAN No, Mobile, Bank payment on http.
c. Security concerns exist regarding the data stored on this website.

* Nirman2
a. Procedures can be explained in a more user friendly manner.
b. Broken links exist.
c. Security concerns exist regarding the data stored on this website.

* Property Tax Online Payment 
a. No direct link to property payment, but a redirection to another website. User needs to search for the property payment link again on the redirected website.
b. Doesn’t validate mobile data.
c. Security concerns exist regarding the data stored on this website.
d. Form 2 Link doesn’t show up for some entries
e. Distinction between this and eSweekruthi payment is not clear

* Lodge your Grievance – Janahitha
a. Social Media links aren’t actively maintained. Twitter link has only 2 tweets since inception and Facebook is not updated for 2 years.
b. The complaints form is not usable

  • There should be provision to auto fill Name, Address, Phone, Email etc based on the user that has logged in
  • The form should load Kannada or English separately and not both at once.
  • Entering Ward No and Street No(Block) – There should be provision to auto load this either from address or mobile GPS location.
  • Grievance Category/ Sub category can be hidden from the end user and handled automatically behind the scenes.
  • Some errors observed here:
    – Engineering has UGD water leaking/ choked listed under it,
    – Booking Park/ Community Hall -> needs better classification of data
  • No validation for fields like mobile no etc. Many people have used invalid number, so if that is allowed, then why is this a mandatory item?

c. This grievance site is an ideal candidate for replacement with a chatbot user interface

* Apply for Trade License -Vyapar 
a. Help link – Does not show any details, but downloads a file instead.
b. Service Delivery Procedure can be explained in a more user friendly manner

* Apply for Building License -Nirmana
a. The difference between Nirmana and Nirman 2 is not clear.
b. http://www.mrc.gov.in/BPA/buildinglicapply.htm – ULB doesn’t have Belgaum listed for new application
c. Service Delivery Procedure and Documents needed can be explained in a more user friendly manner.
d. Help link downloads files instead of displaying content.
e. Too many icons – Difficult to understand what each icon is
e. Site is too slow

* Apply for Water Connection – Jalanidhi
a. In case of error, cannot revert
b. Too many icons – Difficult to understand what each icon is
c. Site is too slow

* Property Tax Calculator
a. Broken Link – Shows ward details

* Birth & Death Registration 
a. Broken Link – Shows ward details
b. Security concerns exist regarding the data stored on this website.

* E-Aasthi
a. The following links under this service are not working – Property Tax, Online Services, Subregistrar Offices, Login
b. Citizen Services –
Search Properties service is available in Kannada
Loaded values -> shown on Map -> link broken, rest 2 Form 3/2 links broken
c. Reports – Only Dashboard link works, rest all 4 links -> link broken

Other Online Services available at http://www.belgaumcity.mrc.gov.in/node/243

a. How is this link different from Citizen Online Services? Seems redundant. Multiple places showing Online services leads to confusion
b. The names have no help link or tooltip
c. Links are incorrect

City Statistics
a. Wrong heading -> Other online applications
b. Broken Links -> Civic Services, 2 FAQs, Civic Amenities

Other Issues
a. Broken Links -> ENewsletter, PDL, Elected Representatives, Council Members, Comittee Members, Acts & Rules, Citizen Charter, Master Plan
b. All social media links are broken
c. Half the links under “Department” dropdown are broken

Karnataka Government Corporation websites

A quick review of the state level government citizen online services options revealed similar issues as observed at the city level.

Four different access points to Citizen Online Services from different government websites as shown below:

karOnlineService1.png  karOnlineService2

karOnlineService4

karOnlineService3

This is not only redundant, but even a change in one online service will break links at 4 different sources, leading to a maintenance nightmare.

For eg, the last link from the sakala website, has a few links broken:

transportBroken1.png

This is the latest website from the Ministry of Road Transport

transportNew1.png

transportNew2.png

These are some of the issues I face currently while accessing online services for citizens. The focus of this blog was about the pain points and the fixes needed for the same. The next blog will focus on best practices in designing websites with a solid foundation.

Citizens Needs First

Imagine going to a restaurant and being served a dish from the chef’s choice. The dish might turn out to be the most delicious dish you have ever eaten. But, it could also go completely wrong. You may be a vegetarian or a vegan or allergic to certain items or perhaps simply detest a certain vegetable or oil. The possibilities are of course endless. And that’s why we have menus. We know what we want, we have a choice. And while we do exercise this choice when it comes to food, clothing, houses, why don’t we exercise the same choice when it comes to our cities? After all cities are a superset of where we live. While most people do not have visibility or means to make a difference into global issues that impact our planet, but we can sure make changes that impact our immediate community, neighborhood and city.

Hence, it is important for citizens to participate and make choices regarding city projects as well. Most cities have a very small percentage of folks involved in city proposals. Two major hurdles hindering city project success are lack of awareness of existing schemes and lack of participation from residents for planning newer schemes. Only when we overcome these challenges, will the city actually build solutions that are inline with the expectations of the citizens. Governing bodies need to ensure that their proposals are prioritized based on the actual needs of the citizens and it is equally important for us responsible citizens to bring issues of importance to the attention of the governing bodies.

According to this excellent article “Smart Cities must place citizen needs first, earn trust” , the success of a city depends on many more stakeholder. It says, “Cities, governments, companies, academia, economists, policy makers, scientists, technological and ethical experts and most importantly, citizens, should all form part of this critical alliance”.

This talk by Francesca Bria, CTIO at Barcelona City Council, provides great insights: