When the COVID-19 had just started rearing its head, as a precautionary measure, number of officers including outsourced resources required to attend office daily was judiciously pruned, keeping in view the social distancing required to contain the spread. Much planning also went into enabling people to work remotely from their office environment. This enabled us to have a head start when the lockdown commenced on 25th March, 2020.
Thus we were prepared to meet the lockdown challenges head on and keep the wheel spinning and started the first day of the lockdown with hopes of able to spend adequate time with family. However, we were not prepared for the mayhem and madness which followed. It took quite some derring-do to get used to the onslaught of multiple channels of communication starting from the humble telephonic calls and emails to their more advanced counterparts such as SMS, instant messaging and an ever expanding list of video conferencing applications Vidyo, Webex, MS Teams, Google meetings, Zoom, JITSI, Skype, Whatsapp etc.
However, it was only a matter of time before we steadied out nerves and got used to the new paradigm of work – that is by now ubiquitous and much dreaded Work From Home. By the end of first week of lockdown, all VC applications were up and running on our systems. The day started around 9.30 AM and stretched well past midnight on most days. It was but a small contribution from NIC to supplement the efforts of frontline COIVD Warriors – NIC officers and its extended family of outsourced resources became the COVID Cyber Warriors – most from confines of their homes but many – notably the officers in districts combating the virus from the front, as NIC was declared as one of essential services.
The core teams viz. data centre, cloud, mail and messaging, video conferencing, networking, VPN, application and network security, switched to new paradigm seamlessly, used to this as they were even under normal circumstances, for providing 24×7 support. It was their tireless and relentless efforts which made the Work From Home a reality rather than just remaining a concept. Remarkably, the application teams at Headquarters, state units and the most important cog in the wheel i.e. our district centre teams toiled manfully, countered whatever was thrown at them and rose admirably to meet the mounting challenges defying all odds. Above all, it was the leadership provided by our Director General – nothing can exemplify the indomitable spirit of the organization better than the sight of our esteemed and respected Director General attending the office, every single day in person, holidays included. Through a judicious mix of fire and ice – the dual aspects of personality, ice when it came to dealing with demanding situations and fire when anyone dared to run roughshod over our efforts, she led from the front and showed the way to fellow NICians to give their best. Last but not the least, rock solid support from family members, motivated and enabled us to give our best.
The first and foremost challenge was to enable the Government machinery to work on eOffice remotely. The VPN team rose to the occasion by walking an extra mile and in a matter of few days, created more than a lakh VPN accounts for users in Ministries/Departments at Central as well as state level. The eOffice team with its centralised helpdesk was equally up to the task by troubleshooting reported issues by taking the remote of the user, if required. In fact, demand for eOffice has skyrocketed during this period.
Next came the ever increasing video conferencing sessions. It is a matter of pride to NIC that the services were used by Hon’ble Prime Minister, other members of the Union Cabinet as well as Chief Minister and other Ministers in States. It was a gargantuan task to manage such large number of critical VC sessions. However, NIC’s teams at Central, State and District level performed like a beautifully symphonised orchestra, without buckling down under the exponential growth. The large number of VC sessions handled by the VC Division, is a testimony to the resilience as much of the infrastructure as well as of the men behind it.
The COVID-19 crisis saw a large number of applications developed – some like ePass using Service Plus almost overnight. This was made possible by the never-say-die spirt of NICians. These applications covered a wide array of functions such as registration of migrant labour, COVID warriors, contact tracing, RT-PCR and RATI apps for testing, use of Artificial intelligence to analyse x-rays of COVID affected, use of chatbots for helpline, distribution of benefits through DBT platforms at Central as well as State level etc. The application teams displayed tremendous resolve in the face of stringent timelines to deliver the solutions.
The applications developed would have counted for nothing, if not for the support extended by mail and messaging, data centre, cloud support and application security teams. They burnt midnight oil uncomplainingly to supplement the efforts of the development teams to facilitate quick deployment of these applications. Their support during the crisis to all teams at central and state level have been phenomenal.
By the time, second lockdown commenced, we were well and truly conditioned to operate from Home. There were regular team meetings to review the progress of on-going and plan for new projects as well as enquire about well being of team members and their families. There were webinars galore to work assiduously towards upskilling. The period also helped us to hone our skills in emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and blockchain.
The virtual meetings though kept the things moving, were not a patch on their in-person counterparts. What we missed most was dressing up for the office, the bonhomie and interaction with colleagues in office and their smiling faces. There are so many important discussions – official, semi-official as well as personal, which take place over endless cups of tea/coffee and snacks in office which help in resolving numerous issues. Office is a melting pot of people coming from different cultures and a vital part of our lives. Interaction with colleagues enriches our lives. We look forward to attending office regularly, when things become normal and further nurture the close bonds shared with colleagues. Though it would be tough initially to stir out of comforts of our home, we hope to get into the groove quickly and work together to serve the nation with renewed zeal and vigour.