In recent years, digital technologies have increasingly contributed to economic growth and citizen empowerment. These technologies have become ubiquitous in everyday life and enable people to access various services from the comfort of their homes. Government has established web presence through multiple websites, web portals, web applications and mobile apps that offer information and services to the public. However, inconsistency in conventions, layout standards, navigation strategies and technologies adopted can reduce the effectiveness of websites/apps.
In this context, the National Informatics Centre (NIC) formulated the Guidelines for Indian Government Websites (GIGW) in the year 2009. GIGW aims to ensure quality and accessibility of government guidelines, by offering guidance on desirable practices covering the entire lifecycle of websites, web portals and web applications, right from conceptualisation and design to their development, maintenance and management. The Department of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances made the same a part of the Central Secretariat Manual of Office Procedure.
The second version of GIGW (GIGW 2.0) was developed in 2019, taking into account feedback from and consultations with industry, society and government organisations. GIGW 2.0 took note of the standards evolved by international bodies like the world-wide web consortium (W3C) and advancements in technology. It also included guidance on mobile apps.
This version is the third version of GIGW (GIGW 3.0). While the earlier versions were formulated in-house with external inputs, GIGW 3.0 has been formulated jointly with Standardisation Testing and Quality Certification (STQC) Directorate of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology and Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In), so that the experience of conformity with GIGW gathered by the STQC Directorate auditors and the cybersecurity experience and knowledge of CERT-In also inform the GIGW. As in earlier versions, GIGW 3.0 too has also been formulated in association with industry and experts.
The key thrust of GIGW 3.0 is on offering specific guidance to government organisations on how to improve the user interface and user experience (UI and UX), by incorporating features such as intuitive page loading (using AI and analytics) based on user journey and user profile, using state-of-the-art content management system (CMS), user-centric information architecture (IA), centralised monitoring dashboard to identify and provide alerts on non-conformity and technical enablement of all content creators and publishers.
GIGW 3.0 also significantly enhances the guidance on the accessibility and usability of mobile apps, especially by offering specific guidance to government organisations on how to leverage public digital infrastructure devised for whole-of-government delivery of services, benefits and information. These cover aspects such as API level integration for use of integration with social media, India Portal, DigiLocker, Aadhaar-based identity, single sign-on, data sharing in open formats on the government’s data platform, government’s scheme discovery platform, government’s citizen engagement platform MyGov, AI-based Indian language translation tools, seamless content/data access across web-based solutions of government organisations. GIGW 3.0 offers upgraded guidelines on accessibility of websites and apps, with a view to make access to cyberspace more inclusive. In view of incorporation of comprehensive guidance in this version on apps as well (in addition to websites), this version is titled “Guidelines for Indian Government Websites and Apps”. However, since the acronym GIGW gained wide currency, the acronym has been retained, with the letter “W” being signifying “Websites and Apps”.
A chapter on cybersecurity, formulated by CERT-In, has also been incorporated so that GIGW can serve as a single point of reference on all the relevant aspects — quality, accessibility and security — relating to websites, web portals, web applications and mobile apps. Since cybersecurity requirements undergo continuous evolution in light of emerging threat scenarios, threat vectors and technologies, CERT-In continuously issues updated guidance and advisories to address the same. Such guidance and advisories issued by CERT-In from time to time should be treated as updates to the guidance contained in the chapter on cybersecurity and any assessments or audit carried out with reference to GIGW 3.0 should also be cognizant of the same. Further, while government organisations may continue to establish conformity with GIGW 3.0 by obtaining Certified Quality Website (CQW) certification from the STQC Directorate, the certification of cybersecurity aspects by STQC may be done on the basis of the “safe to host” certificate issued by the cybersecurity auditors empanelled by CERT-In/STQC or the auditors of STQC or NIC.
To make the guidelines more readily usable, which entity/person has a role in implementing a particular guideline has been identified in every guideline. Thus, each guideline specifies whether the same is to be acted upon by the government organisation concerned or the developer or the evaluators.
The effectiveness of GIGW 3.0 in enhancing ease of living through various web-based initiatives of the government would depend on their effective implementation in letter and spirit by all government organisations and their implementation and evaluation partners. Government organisations are expected to carefully assess their existing websites, web portals, web applications and mobile apps against GIGW 3.0, identify areas requiring improvement, draw up time bound implementation plans to achieve conformity with GIGW 3.0 and obtain CQW certification from the STQC Directorate. Similarly, websites, web portals, web applications and mobile apps that are at the design or implementation stage may also be reviewed to ensure that their design, architecture, development and scope of audit conform to GIGW 3.0 and requisite approvals, resources etc. are tied up to ensure this.
While GIGW embodies general guidance for government websites, web portals, web applications and mobile apps, particular website/app use cases may require adoption of higher norms and specific technologies. Government organisations may keep this in mind while formulating their design, architecture and scope and may consult NIC in case they desire technical advice in the matter.