Introducing the database that can help governments develop reliable superapps
Suda Srinivasan, Vice President of Strategy and Marketing at Yugabyte, explains the database characteristics necessary to support the creation of superapps.
Government superapps can help citizens access government services more conveniently, but creating and maintaining them will require a scalable and secure database. Image: Canva
A popular superapp in Southeast Asia, Grab, initially started out as a ride-hailing service, but has since transformed to include food delivery services, payment transactions, and more. As the number of services it provided increased, so did its customer retention rate and app usage, an article by the Global VC highlighted.
“Superapps are all about making the lives of users easier,” says Suda Srinivasan, Vice President of Strategy and Marketing at database solution provider Yugabyte, the firm behind YugabyteDB. “They provide a one-stop shop for services users require, making it more convenient for users to access the functions they need,” he explains.
Superapps are valuable for the service providers as well, granting them a more holistic view of user data over time. “You have a 360 degree view of the things that the user is doing,” Srinivasan explains. This can help governments provide personalised services to citizens for example, as long as an identity validation function is in place.
For example, Taiwan’s TaipeiPASS records demographic user information, such as an individual’s age. This allows governments to provide discounted public transport fares as long as they pay via their mobile phones, eliminating the need for them to register and obtain a separate transport card.
But while superapps offer many benefits, creating these apps can be a challenge. Speaking with GovInsider, Srinivasan explains the numerous considerations behind building a superapp, and how Yugabyte’s database (YugabyteDB) can support the process.
“Consumers expect to be able to access [superapps] from anywhere in the world with zero disruptions,” says Srinivasan.
This is especially important for public services, which may be necessary for daily life. During the pandemic contract tracing applications were launched in numerous countries. In many places, individuals could be denied access to a location if they did not have the application up and running. In situations like these, it is vital that applications are operational 24/7, so that citizens can carry on with their day-to-day lives without interruption.
YugabyteDB relies on a distributed system to ensure resilience, according to Srinivasan. This means that the database is deployed on a cluster of nodes or servers. Any data written by the database is automatically broken up into smaller chunks and replicated across the cluster for redundancy, he explains. As a result, if any one of the individual servers or nodes fail, the database cluster will still be operational as there are copies of the data available.
This is different from traditional databases, which are typically deployed on a single server. “If everything is running on one server, and that server goes down, then your database goes down as well,” Srinivasan says, “this results in service downtime.” To get resilience with this architecture, customers need to deploy third party replication that makes the solution fragile and expensive.
Srinivasan shares a story of a major retailer in the United States that used YugabyteDB to duplicate their product catalogue data across three different regions. When a snowstorm in Texas took out the electricity in one region for four days, the retailer was able to access their data through centres located elsewhere, allowing them to continue serving customers during the peak holiday season.
Government superapps often draw data from different government agencies and departments, where data might be stored in silos. For superapps to work well, these systems need to be integrated so data can easily move from one database to another.
As a result, data often ends up sitting in different systems, with different data collection mechanisms, Srinivasan explains. He shares that in the private sector, many companies building superapps today have to account for new mergers and acquisitions. Indonesian holding company GoTo, for example, was a result of a merger between e-commerce platform Tokopedia and ride-hailing platform GoJek. Their resulting superapp needed to integrate data across pre-existing data systems and databases from both these platforms.
YugabyteDB makes this simple through data integrations with other databases and via features such as change data capture (CDC). This works by reflecting any changes made in one database into another database, as long as either database is YugabyteDB. For instance, if a change is made in the source database, the change will be detected and automatically replicated in the target database.
Additionally, Yugabyte’s databases are cloud-native and also compatible with private cloud or hybrid environments, Srinivasan says. Recognising that many governments run their services in hybrid environments, where more sensitive information is stored on-premise or on the private cloud, Srinivasan highlights that YugabyteDB can work across any combination of environments.
Given the numerous functions embedded within an app, it is not uncommon for superapps to be simultaneously accessed by millions of users. The Taipei government superapp, for instance, serves a population of about 11 million citizens.
This poses two challenges for superapps, Srinivasan says. The first involves the number of users accessing a service, the second is the amount of data a service provider is collecting.
YugabyteDB addresses the first challenge by its very nature of being a transactional database. Such databases are designed for “massive concurrent access”, Srinivasan explains, meaning that they prioritise response time and low latency to ensure large numbers of users can access a service at the same time. A distributed database is able to scale the number of concurrent transactions effortlessly.
Additionally, Srinivasan recognises that there are times of the day when more users may access a superapp.This is why YugabyteDB has a scale out architecture. Users can easily adjust the number of servers in their databases as needed, with the click of a button.
Users can also scale back down when the need of an organisation decreases. For instance, if less data is being collected at night, organisations can easily scale back their servers. “It’s a very elastic infrastructure,” Srinivasan says.
“We give our database customers the ability to see how the database is performing. And when they see that their resources are reaching a limit, they can easily just add servers without any downtime, those resources get assimilated into the cluster,” he explains.
“Data and security go hand in hand,” says Srinivasan. This is especially true for superapps, which store and collect data.
“We believe that security and data should be upfront considerations in your software,” he says. Yugabyte is exemplifying that through its numerous security features, such as the encryption of data at rest and in transit, as well as the ability to regularly change or manage encryption keys for greater assurance.
Yugabyte also validates its security practices through obtaining accreditation. For instance, the organisation is SOC 2 Type 2 certified, a standard set by the American Institute of Certified Professional Accountants. This certification signifies that Yugabyte has met security measures such as access control to prevent unauthorised access to data as well as having in place intrusion detections systems.
Additionally, Srinivasan shares that Yugabyte has recently obtained accreditation from Singapore’s Infocomm Media and Development Authority under its “Green lane” initiative. This verifies that Yugabyte has undergone and passed a security assessment, and is now in a “green lane” for government procurement in Singapore, allowing government agencies to more easily procure their services.
The considerations for building a superapp are many, but overcoming these hurdles can allow governments to develop applications that are more seamless and convenient for their citizens. YugabyteDB may be the first step in helping governments begin their superapp journey.