by June 3, 2005 0 comments



The Best IT implementation awards are now two years old, and over the last year, we have been able to clearly lay out the procedure for determining the winners.

This year, we had a four-tier process, starting with the public nominations and ending with the jury deliberations. The whole process took two and a half months.
For those who are not aware of the process, here is a brief overview.

Nominations open in the month of February and any one can nominate a project. There are two conditions for a project to be nominated. First, the project should have become operational during the financial year in which the nomination opens. Second, the benefits of the project should be available in India. Though the physical infrastructure could be anywhere. 

Our definition of project completion is kept fairly loose to give the projects the benefit. The project has to have started functioning and delivering. You could have done a soft launch, or could be in the midst of a launch process.

Nominations are accepted both at the project website and on paper. (This year, all nominations, barring one, were received at the project website.) Any one can nominate any project. It is not necessary that you nominate your own project; though you could nominate your own.

Awards

Overall
Best  

IRCTC,
Cell/Landline Rail Reservation Services 

Most
Innovative 

Wockhardt Hospital,
Plasma Display 

Maximum
Social Impact  

Govt Of Andhra Pradesh,
e-procurement 

Maximum
Business Impact  

ICICI Lombard,
Risk Mgmt – GIS

Most
Technologically Challenging  

NSE India,
Parallel Risk Management System

The opening of nomination is publicized through e-mail and print announcements sent to more than 5000 people, including senior management in IT user companies, Senior Government officials, IT industries and so on. The nominations are open for about a month (though we do try and include good projects even if they are a bit late). At the end of this time period, we go through all the nominations and try to complete incomplete nominations as well as remove redundant ones. We also remove projects that are as yet incomplete or the ones that have been completed before the time window. 

Once this is done, we get into the serious task of short listing projects for collecting follow-up data. The follow-up questionnaire is a 15-page document that collects detailed information on background, concept, business case, people involved, project architecture, technologies involved, consultants involved, timelines, milestones and financials. Some of the information we collect is marked as confidential and is not disclosed. The PCQuest team gets involved in getting the documentation complied.

This year, we had a total of 47 projects for which the detailed documentation was sought. Some projects dropped out at this stage because of confidentiality issues, and some sadly, because the project heads were simply too busy during that time. 

Once the documentation is completed, we start analyzing the projects and short-listing the finalists. We use a five-point criteria for this short-listing. This year, 16 projects made it to the finals. after the
shortlisting.

At this stage, we start talking to the project heads, and even visiting the implementations to get an in depth understanding about the projects.

PCQuest appoints an internal champion for each project. It is that champion’s responsibility to understand the project in detail and to present its case to the jury. 

Finally, the jury meets to decide the final winners. The jury has representation from past winners, IT users and the IT industry. The jury decides the final winners of each of the awards. It is also free to recommend additional awards, if they feel the need. This year, the jury did not recommend any changes to the awards structure, over the last year.

Anil Chopra, Anoop Mangla, Krishna Kumar, Sujay V Sarma

Overall Best Telephonic train ticket booking IRCTC 


Project Head: Amitabh Pandey, Group GM- IT Services, J. Vinayan, Joint GM-Operations

Location:
All India

This project claims to be the first mobile commerce project in the country and is available over both the cellphones and land lines. Our jury was unanimous in its opinion that the future impact of this project would be tremendous, cutting across geographies, languages and classes.

IRCTC’s Internet ticketing project won the award last time for having the maximum social impact. This year, when they reentered the fray, to be frank, we were skeptical on whether they could have achieved something new of similar scale yet again. However our audit of the project proved that they had, and the jury had no hesitation in awarding it the top prize. In fact, this is the only project to get the highest ratings from all jury members.

The project under discussion rides on top of the Internet ticket-booking project that got the award last year. What the current project does is to make available a Web service to telephony service providers- both fixed and mobile-that they can in turn use to provide train ticket booking services to their customers. For cellphones, you can have both SMS and IVR (voice) based booking services, while for the landlines, the service will be over voice.

Amitabh Pandey 
Group General Manager/IT Services

Prior to the launch of full booking services, a PNR alert service over SMS was launched, over a four-digit short code 7245, to which you can SMS your PNR number and receive up to four SMSs informing of changing status of the ticket on the 8th, 3rd, 2nd day before journey, and on the day of journey. This service is available on Airtel, Hutch/Orange, Idea, MTNL-Delhi, MTNL-Mumbai, Reliance & Tata Phones.

For the booking service, which is an extension of this effort, the concerned operators have to build their own application for making the service available to their customers.

Three operators already offer this service across the country. 

J. Vinayan
Joint General Manager/
Operations

Idea Cellular: SpeechRecognition Application
Hutch/Orange: SpeechRecognition/ GPRS
Reliance: CDMA (Java Based) Five more operators are finalizing their applications for rollout.
Tata Indicom: For cellphones andWLL phones-Speech Recognition
Reliance: Speech Recognition
BSNL: Menu driven application on GSM phones, Speech Recognition
MTNL Delhi: Speech Recognition
Airtel: Speech Recognition, Menu driven application on GSM phones, Landline Speech Recognition on Touchtel phones. 
Unlike conventional IVR systems, speech recognition based systems will actually let you book rail tickets over the phone without punching numbers and going through a complex menu. Such systems are quite popular abroad, but their deployments in India are still fairly low. 

The application runs on HP Proliant servers, on BroadVision’s One-to-One Enterprise e-commerce platform. A combination of Tomcat and Apache running on Windows is used to provide the webservices to the operators. 

A new service being planned is the booking of a ticket with just two SMSs, once you have registered at the IRCTC site and filled in the required information. This will be an SMS short code-based service and will be available soon.

The SMS conversation sequence
between the user and the IRCTC 

First SMS by user :
PLAN Example : PLAN kkumar kkumar123 1081 CSTM PUNE 10/05/2005 SL LIST2

Note : is the name of the list of passengers as registered on the IRCTC website.

Reply from IRCTC: 
Ticket fare:Rs 161.0, Availability status:AVAILABLE 0228, SMS TXN ID:501. Pls send sms BOOKPAY SMSTXN ID ICICIBANK MSHOPNAME to 7245 to book ticket.

Note : SMS transaction ID identifies a particular SMS instruction to the relevant transaction in the IRCTC database

Another factor that makes the project stand out is the number of agencies, both government and private that are working in tandem on the project. There is CRIS, which manages the original railway reservation system. BroadVision developed the e-commerce application with an Oracle backend, HCL is charged with the network and its security. 

Fifteen banks from both the private and public sectors offer online payment through direct debit from users’ accounts maintained with the bank, while three online payment gateways process credit card payments (it is cheaper to book tickets through direct debit than by credit card). Payments can also be effected through a cash card provider. Delivering the SMA or voice booking service to the end customer are a plethora of telephony service operators, both state owned and private. And courier delivery is effected through Overnite express. Finally, bringing all these together is the IRCTC, a subsidiary of Indian
Railways.

Our jury was of the unanimous opinion that in sheer reach and in the ability to bring about a sea change in attitude as well as approach, this project outshone the rest of the contenders. 

It also builds up and extends the excellent foundation they have built for online ticket reservation, which today has achieved a monthly turnover of 2 lakh tickets booked and a revenue of Rs 29 crore. Thus it is a fitting winner of the Best IT implementation project of the year award.

Maximum Social Impact e-procurement exchange under public private partnership model Govt of Andhra Pradesh


Project Head: Ajay Sawhney, Secretary to Government, IT&C Department, Secretariat,
Govt of Andhra Pradesh 
Location:
State of Andhra Pradesh

While setting up a procurements portal isn’t such a unique task, it’s the scale of this project and the social impact it creates, which made the jury decide to give it this award. The project affects all the government departments, PSUs, local bodies and even autonomous institutions like universities in AP. As of now, there are 2000 users from 40 departments/SBUs, registered with the portal and are already using its procurement services. In terms of social impact, it reduces cartel formations amongst contractors and suppliers since all the bidding is done online through the portal. It has actually increased the participation from the supplier community since anybody can bid for a tender. This helps empower even the small and medium-sized suppliers.

Approximately 5000 suppliers are already registered with it, and the service has been extended right down to the panchayat level. Another social benefit is that due to the transparency, the citizens of state feel satisfied that the taxes they pay are being spent wisely. 

Ajay Sawhney

The e-procurement exchange was set up by the Goverment of Andhra Pradesh to streamline its procurement process across various departments and SBUs. It was done to introduce and enforce best procurement practices. Annually the government used to spend about Rs 8,000 crores on procurement, and the process was plagued with problems. For instance, it took four to six months to process tenders, which is fairly long. A lot of paperwork was involved and not to mention multi-level scrutiny during procurement, which took up even more time. Like most manual tendering and procurement processes, this one was also affected by cartel formations as we just said.

The e-procurement portal helped resolve many of these problems. For one, it has done demand aggregation. So instead of each department floating its own tenders, everything is centralized, resulting in better buying power from suppliers. This helps the departments get goods at the best possible price, and even helps control inventory. It even helps pre-qualified vendors to access other government departments as well, giving them more business opportunities. It uses various types of e-auctions for getting better deals. Lastly, it increases transparency in the system, allowing for better monitoring and control over the procurement system. 

The architecture
The project has been built on an n-tier architecture. There’s a presentation tier that’s supported by two load-balanced Web servers. These provide the front end for the e-procurement portal. There’s a business logic tier, which handles several tasks including authentication, authorization and workflow management. Then there’s an XML data layer tier, which handles communication with the Web services. Lastly there is a database tier, which also runs on two hardware servers, configured in a two-node active/passive cluster to ensure high-availability. 

The business logic has been kept separate from the presentation logic by design. This makes the system more scalable allowing new departments to be incorporated into the system. All workflow and navigation code has been abstracted from the user interface for achieving this. Being an online system where users are logging in, getting authenticated and filing tenders the system needs to have proper security. For this, two-factor authentication, digital signatures and 128-bit SSL encryption have been incorporated. This architecture can even be extended to other devices beyond the desktop, such as the mobile devices. 

Skill sets and key players
A project of this scale requires several skill sets, to be fruitful. Since the project cuts across the entire geography of AP, foremost it needed somebody capable of bringing together diverse views and opinions to a single platform. That’s the reason the secretary of the state, AP, Mr Ajay Sawhney, headed it. Secondly, it needed a steering committee, consisting of people who were empowered to recommend and make decisions regarding changes in the legal and government framework. The project manager for the steering committee was Mr K Bikshapathi. Thirdly, it needed an external agency that could do the implementation and look at the technicalities. AP government chose C1 India as the external agency. The project manager for C1 India was Mr N. Kalyan Chakradhar Reddy. Fourth requirement was of the representatives elected from all the participating departments. These representatives were given extensive training on implementing e-governance initiatives, so that they could become effective CIOs of their respective departments. Together the team dealt with government policies as well as external stakeholders like vendors and consultants to carry forward the project. The project has made the complete procurement process paperless, which basically eliminates a lot of activities that add no value to the system. Some of these include manual sale of tender documents, manual opening and reading of bids, preparations of comparative statements, time spent in movement of files between people, manual creation of purchase orders and delivery schedules. This sort of a system ensures that at any point of time, authorized personnel can check the status of a particular transaction. There were three stages in the project-pilot, roll out and operations and ongoing maintenance. The project has been implemented using the public-private-partnership model (PPP). In this model, the government doesn’t invest in the hardware, software and customization of the project. It’s all borne by the service provider right up front. The service provider recovers the investment through service charges for all transactions carried out on the portal. These are charged to the individual government departments carrying out all the transactions. The benefit to the government in this case is that it doesn’t have to worry about maintaining the IT infrastructure, upgrading the hardware or software or the technology changes. As all these are borne by the service provider. The service provider needs revenues to the tune of Rs 4.55 crores per annum to operate and maintain the e-procurement portal. 

At the end of the day, the project has resulted in the reduction of tender processing time by 70%. In a procurement worth Rs 16,000 crores, AP government saved 16%, which is tremendous. 

Most Innovative Plasma Display Wockhardt Hospital & Heart Institute


Project Head: Herbert Albert, IT Incharge , Vishal Bali, VP Operations 

Location:
Bangalore

There are projects that cost a lot of money and effort and still end up going nowhere, and there are projects that cost, what seem like peanuts but still end up making a huge impact. The patient status display system at Wockhardt Hospital & Heart Institute, Bangalore falls in the latter category. The project is simple in concept and implementation, and while it could have been done by any other hospital, has not been attempted by any one else. 

To understand the full impact of the system, you need to put yourselves in the shoes of relatives of patients undergoing surgery, or recuperating after the surgery in the ICU. Their anxiety is only understandable. Typically, they would be groping for the smallest bit of information. The system takes patient information from the hospital information system, and keyed in put from medical staff during the operation or when the patient is in the ICU, and displays it on a plasma TV kept in the visitors area. The displayed information can be from a menu of predefined items or keyed in. the system can also run timed PowerPoint shows (.pps files) or flash animations. 

Vishal Bali, VP Operations (Top)
Herbert Albert, IT Incharge

Each patient’s status is displayed for a minute. In case of emergency, there is a freeze button, which can override the cycling display and emergency information like, paging a relative to meet a doctor or to provide blood at the blood bank can be flashed. The system has a simple operating interface, where attending nurses call up all information from menus. Only one line of additional information, which is usually about when relatives can meet patients, is typed in. The menu items on patient status range all the way from ‘operation in progress’, through various recovery stages. The messages of the system are meant to pacify the relatives. There is one item ‘patient is critical’, which is flashed when necessary, only with the attending doctor’s permission. The application front end, the data entry screen is a Visual Basic application running on Windows PCs. The back end is a MySQL database running on Linux. The concept was developed by Vishal Bali and Herbert Albert, with implementation done by Think Ahead Advisory services. Also involved was the ten member team from the operation theatre and the ICU. The project got the go ahead in Jan 2003, was piloted in Jan 2004 and implementation was completed by May 2004 at a cost of Rs 8
lakhs. 

Our Jury was of the unanimous opinion that this was one of the most apt usages of IT that they had come across, delivering on a high priority need, albeit of a limited audience, with a very simple solution. Hats off to the solution for its simplicity.

Most Technologically Challenging PRISM National Stock Exchange of India


Project Head: Satish Naralkar, MD & CEO, NSE.IT Ltd 
Location:
Mumbai

PRISM or Parallel Risk Mgmt System is a fine example of using parallel computing to meet the business needs. Parallel computing is generally used in super computers for performing complex scientific calculations, but it’s been used here for doing risk management in the stock market. The NSE (National Stock Exchange) deployed this project for its wholly owned subsidiary, the National Security Clearing Corporation or NSCCL. This subsidiary is responsible for the clearing and settlement of all trades executed on the NSE. When the futures and options market opened in India, there was a need to develop a risk-management system for it, which could monitor the risks associated with each investor. The computation of risks in this form of trading is quite complex, and if NSE’s trading members violate any norms while doing so, they can be barred from trading any further. It’s therefore not only important for trading members to know of the risks involved in derivatives trading, but they also need to know it in real time to avoid disablement. Moreover, any system that provides this information can’t afford to drop even a single transaction, because that’s equivalent of one trade being missed. If that single dropped trade turns out to be a risky one, imagine the consequences. That’s where the PRISM or Parallel Risk Management system comes in, which provides this information to all trading members in real time during intra-day trading hours of
NSE.

Satish Naralkar

Building such a system is a technological challenge given the complexities involved in risk computations, which is why PRISM gets this prestigious award. The parallel computing architecture is normally used in super computers for running scientific applications. PRISM is a live example of using the same architecture for a business application. 

Typically, to create such a parallel computing system, it would have required mainframes or super computers. This would have considerably shot up the cost of building such a system. However, PRISM was developed using utility hardware, comprising a few 4-way Intel Xeon-based servers running RedHat Linux. The software for it was developed completely in-house using ANSI C, MPI or Message Passing Interface, Java, RMI and Perl. MPI is a standard communication interface used in super computers. Specifically the MPICH implementation of MPI was used, which is freely available. As the system’s been developed in ANSI C, it can be deployed on any UNIX-based system, hence RedHat Linux was used. Java was used to build the front end of the system. 

Plus, the methodology used to calculate the initial margin requirement for each investor was SPAN or Standard Portfolio Analysis at Risk. SPAN identifies the overall risk in a particular portfolio for futures and options contracts for each trading member. It uses 16 standardized definitions of risk scenarios, which are defined based on the probable change of price over a day, or probable change in price volatility over a day. These help identify the largest loss a portfolio is likely to suffer during a day. 

How it works
The entire parallel architecture of PRISM is divided into four processes. These are called Received, GUI handler, Mother and Child. The Received process, as the name suggests receives live data from NSE’s trading system. The GUI handler handles all GUI queries and user interactions. 

The mother does basic portfolio handling for traders, maintains the margin data and also monitors for all the trading violations. Plus, it does the crucial task of child process scheduling, ie finding a free child process and routing requests to it in real time. 
The child process is responsible for doing the margin computation. In case a child process crashes due to some reason, the mother will automatically assign it to another child process. Until a child process is assigned, the computation load is shared by the remaining child processes. 

The best part of the system is that its highly scalable. Any number of mother and child processes can be added to the system, based on the transaction load. Blade servers can be used for scaling the system up, since they can pack more computing power into lesser space. Currently the system can perform 200 computations per second, which is quite significant. 

Further still, the system has built-in software-based fault tolerance, instead of hardware-based fault tolerance to save costs. The fault tolerant system is identical to the live system and runs in parallel with it. In case the live system fails, control is automatically shifted to the fallback system, which then starts using the child processes. 

Both systems compute positions and monitor violations, but the disablement messages are only sent out by the live system. Such a system could not have been built with technical knowledge alone. It required a mix of software development skills in Java and C, as well as functional skills in derivatives and risk management. The real challenge, as claimed by NSE was in ensuring that the system worked in real time. 

The beneficiaries
The original beneficiary of PRISM is the trading community as it provides them online results to prevent their exposure limits from exceeding. This reduces the risks in this business, which could otherwise be very heavy. Returns offered by the system are instantaneous, as NSE handles 99.5% of all derivatives trade in India.

The system was tested at CDAC’s supercomputing facility, and can be used in areas other than risk computation as well. It’s actually brought the cost of super computing down, and can be used for other business applications like decision support, surveillance and trading engines. 

Overall, PRISM is technologically a very challenging project. It’s a combination of ingenuity and complexity. Ingenuity is in developing such a system in house using utility hardware and freely available super computing standards. Complexity is in using the SPAN algorithms in real time for risk computation. 

Maximum Business Impact GIS-based Risk Mgmt System ICICI Lombard


Project Head: Naganathan Sriram, National Manager-Technology 
Location: Mumbai

ICICI Lombard, a joint venture between ICICI Bank and US-based Fairfax Financial Holdings, is a general insurance company, which deals in insurance of personal, business and rural products, including house, motor, health, fire and special perils, industrial risk, corporate cover, tea crop, and many others. In the insurance business, success of a company depends largely on its ability to identify, quantify and manage the risk associated while issuing policies. The insurance premium for any policy depends upon the risk associated with it. 

Typically, premium for, say, a motor vehicle is calculated on the basis of the price and age of vehicle. However, there are several other parameters, which can help better predict the risks associated with a policy. Factors such as distance to work, route driven, auto theft statistics for work and home can play an equally important role while underwriting motor vehicle policies. Thus, apart from the conventional parameters used for underwriting, factors which have a geographical component can and should be used to calculate risk involved in underwriting. Similarly, property insurers can use geographical data such as distance to fire station, windstorm risk pattern, distance from sea cost, and floodplain for calculating policy premiums. In conclusion, each and every object or event has got a geographical component, as at any point of time everything has to be somewhere.

As said above, the working rule for the insurance business is to minimize risk or, to better align pricing with risk, and geographical data can play an important role in achieving that. A way to utilize this data in the insurance business can have a tremendous impact on the overall business. This is precisely what ICICI Lombard has done in its Geographical Information System (GIS)-based risk management system. Any point on the surface of earth can be identified by a latitude and longitude pair. Once this pair of information is defined for an area, the area can then be linked to many other types of information available about that area. The information could be in the form of demographic data, weather pattern, flood susceptibility, seismic zone, etc on a macro level and in the form of the condition of roads and intersections, theft statistics or distance from fire station at a micro level. A GIS represents such geographical information about a particular area or location onto visual geographical maps. 

GIS plots different types of geographical data as separate layers on the map. So, you can have a layer of, say, rainfall pattern data plotted on to the map, another layer could be about disaster zones. This GIS information when combined with, the static and moving location of objects which are to be insured, such as house, motor vehicle or factory, can give valuable insights into deciding policy premium prices. A visual representation in the form of maps, gives an easy way of looking at and understanding data, thus enabling better decision making, identification and management of risk involved with various geographical locations, enhances policy processing, reduce cost, manage customers and accounts better.

ICICI Lombard is presently using four layers of data that includes spatial, demographic, rainfall pattern and disaster zone information. The system is used for reinsurance, underwriting, customer service, rural and agricultural business group, and marketing. It facilitates online tracking of various risks down to the pin code level in any geographical location. The company, in coordination with World Bank, has introduced Weather Insurance, a GIS that provides weather information like rainfall patterns can give much better understanding and decision making for weather underwriting. 

Apart from managing risk, the GIS system is helpful in marketing activities. It can give details such as number of policy holders in a particular location, which can be used to make marketing efforts for areas where the number is less and to cross-sell other products where the number is more. Pre-underwritten products can be offered to customers based on risk analysis provided by the GIS for separate locations. 

The GIS is also actively used by sales and other field personnel, who are probably not well versed to understand and analyze complex reports, but the same data presented in the form of a visual map lets them understand it better, allowing them to be more analytical as well as be more productive. 

The project started in November 2004 and the application uses ASP.NET to deliver GIS content over the Web. The maps are provided by MapInfo’s MapXtreme software to the ASP.NET system. Oracle8i is used to store all GIS data, which is provided by various vendors. The hardware cost, which includes a Dual-Xeon server, was Rs 2 lakhs. Application software and development cost comes out to be Rs 30 lakhs. Considering these numbers, the overall cost of the project is not too high, whereas, the returns offered are much higher. 

Though, the results cannot be quantified in absolute financial terms, it is clear that such a system can definitely have a very great impact on the way an insurance business operates. Along with it, the quality of data presentation through maps is much higher than reports or charts. Being a Web-based application, it can be accessed all across the country by various agents, sales personnel, branch offices, etc.

Bottom line 
Offering best priced products in the insurance industry, while simultaneously enhancing profits, requires managing the risk associated with underwriting in the most efficient way. However, a very, if not the most, important factor for calculating this risk, which had traditionally been ignored by most insurance companies, is the geographical component of data and its applicability to determine product pricing. ICICI Lombard’s GIS based Risk Management System, aims at accumulating, processing and presenting that geographical data, which can be used to create better insurance products for both the customers and the company. 

The GIS project, while managing risk also helps in other business activities, such as marketing and customer care. Considering the importance of location based data for insurance industry, this GIS based risk management system does become the project which can have the maximum impact on a business.

It helps insurers assess risk more efficiently by tracking accumalation in real time. It also helps the organization better align processes with risk and thereby provide pro-active customer service.

Products Cross-sell ICICI Bank


Project Head: Joydeep Dutta, Jt GM 
Location:
All India

You want to find out how much you made on your deposit interests and you call up the ICICI call center. The executive greets you and then you both go through the exercise of identifying yourself, specifying your account and the items you want to check. At the end of the conversation, the call center executive says “By the way sir, could we interest you in a life insurance policy we have pre-approved for you?” You get curious and ask for details. At the end of it, you buy not one policy but another one for your wife too and decide to insure your car and house too. Neat. 

This is called ‘cross-selling’. What happens in cross-selling is that you are their customer for one or more products and they use these relationships to sell you more products. Cross-selling and the technology it leverages (data mining) have been around for years. Yet, one seldom sees data mining actually being applied for a business application such as this, which is one of the reasons that the project managed to get a slot in the top 10.

How it works
In the case of ICICI, they are leveraging their existing CRM data to first find out what relationships you have with them. Then, these are analyzed on some 90 different parameters that can range from your credit worthiness to the strength of your payments, deposits or service accounts (cards, policies, etc). Your total score is then compared with a list of services those points qualify you for, and this short list is called up on the call-center executive’s screen when you call them.

Although ICICI is using this marketing technique majorly for the incoming calls- that is they pitch a product to you when you
call them up-they are also using their on-field representatives use outward calls to promote pre-approved products. Note though that you should have already qualified for being sold something. That is, they won’t be selling every calling customer a product.

Systems
This pre-approval system is keyed in to their IVR system, their internal financial database as well as their data-warehousing application (‘Teradata’). The front end was coded in VB 6.0 and the back end is hosted on an IIS 5.0 Web server.

Given the simplicity of the implementation, the entire project was completed in a total of 35 days from conception to going ‘live’.

Costs
They have revealed that this is their ‘most significant project completed in the last financial year’. They also say that the development did not cost them anything-perhaps because 3i Infotech (formerly ICICI Infotech) did their development with a team of 20 to 40 people. The project is expected to run through its life over the next five years.

Impact
Although we would find the entire concept of someone trying to sell us yet another product when we call a call center -yes, usually we call them up to shout at them, right? ICICI says the project has been immensely successful on the ground. They wouldn’t give us a figure that we could print, but they are said to have sold a large number of other products to their existing customers.

Optilearn Pfizer Limited, India


Project Head: Arun Gupta, Senior Director, Business Technology 
Location:
All India

This is an e-learning project, which allows Pfizer to conduct tests online for its employees. As far as technology goes, this is just another e-learning project. However, it gives a completely different picture if you look at the environment and manner in which this project has been implemented. For one, a pharmaceutical company has put it to practice. Pharmaceutical sector is an aggressively marketed and defended arena, where even a day of laxity can lose you entire regional markets. As such, a pharma company needs its operatives in the field to stay sharp and atleast one-step ahead of competition. That’s where Optilearn comes in handy.

Currently, the role of Optilearn is simple, small and ‘humble’. It serves merely to certify Pfizer’s thousand or so field representatives, marketing personnel and executives. However, the twist comes from the fact that the company has made certain certifications mandatory for those three rungs of its operation. These certifications ensure that these employees are up to date on the latest, not only on their employer’s products and offers, but it also provide valuable feedback to the company about who needs training. 

How it works
We are not going to delve into the programming mechanics of Optilearn. The designated test administrator adds and schedules an exam. Automatically, an e-mail is sent out to all the marketing and sales employees. They are to take the exam by a certain date. To provide some element of unpredictability and test-rigor, the questions and even their multiple-choice answers appear in random order. The tests are also graded according to dynamic difficulty-the tougher the question, the more points awarded to the candidate.

Arun Gupta

If the candidate cannot appear for the test due to some reason by the given date for some reason, they can re-schedule to take the test. This flexibility allows for Optilearn to be efficient and useful to its maximum.

When Pfizer decided to implement such a solution, they had an important concern. Their in-house application called, Optima, had to interoperate with Optilearn. Optilearn could not, thus, maintain a stand-alone database of users or results, they needed to be shared with Optima. 

For this purpose, Pfizer added a Web service to Optima that authenticated users for Optilearn as well as saved back the results of the certification attempt. This was a key deliverable and once this was achieved, the rest of the system falls into place.

The systems
Optilearn is a browser-based solution that requires just a PC or Mac with a browser to run. It supports both Netscape or IE. For the server-side software, it needs a Windows Server, .NET Framework 1.0 with SP 2, SQL Server 2000 with SP3 to run.

Costs
The entire implementation took Pfizer and Learning Mate about four months (February to June) and costed approximately 10 lakh rupees. They also had to deploy additional hardware worth another 8 lakh rupees. The project is expected to prove its worth over the next three years.

Looking at the future
Now that the basic goal has been achieved, they’re starting work on porting it over to the handheld so that it can be used offline. It could, thus, also be put to use to carry around a knowledge base of ready-to- use information about products and technologies offered by Pfizer.

Centralized Core Banking Punjab National Bank


Project Head: K S Bajwa, GM-IT 
Location:
All branches of PNB across the country

Punjab National Bank is a 110 years old bank, and its employees are used to working in a particular way. Introduction of the core banking solution required a dramatic shift in their orientation. People who were used to following traditional banking processes had to be trained to use the new system. So in effect, implementing the core banking system wasn’t the biggest challenge. 

Even more challenging was the task of bringing in this change management. People had to be trained in phases, so that bank’s existing operations didn’t get affected. Another major challenge was managing so many different vendors, which had to be handled very carefully. Another major challange for the bank was handling vendors such a huge implementationwould obvioulsy involve multiple vendors. It was a challange for the bank to get the best support.

The project started way back in 2001. So far, the bank has managed to implement the core banking solution across 1050 of its 4500 branches across the country, some of which are in the remotest of areas. 

K S Bajwa

The bank has used all possible communication links for different branches, depending upon the requirement. These included everything from leased lines to VSATs, radio frequency, etc and even different service providers. Such a wide mix of communication equipment is necessary considering that the bank has branches even in areas where the basic infrastructureitself doesn’t exist. 

The scope of this project was to centralize the core banking solution so that a single customer database is maintained to provide a consolidated view of the bank’s operations. This way, the customers would belong to the bank and not any particular branch. The branches would function as the delivery channels, managing customer accounts. 

The result of centralizing the database was that the bank could build a strong MIS for strategic decision-making. A more long-term objective of having centralized database is to build a data warehouse with a cross sell application on top of it for all customers. Currently it’s functional only for the bank’s premium customers. 

The Centralized Banking Solution has made it easier for Punjab National Bank to provide customers anytime, anywhere banking service. It has also integrated various delivery channels like ATM, tele-banking, Internet banking, debit/credit/smart cards, etc. This allows the bank to attract and retain the right customers, and business in the core branches has grown by as much as 2.5 times. 

The bank uses a three-tier architecture with multiple delivery channels integrated to provide a unified enterprise banking system. There have been other challenges that have been managed here as well.

For instance, security risks in Internet banking are huge. For this, besides having a proper security infrastructure, the bank also provides a virtual keyboard for customers to enter their account details. Other issues like other people using the bank’s domain name for malicious intent have also been resolved. The bank also has a remote DR site in Mumbai, which is asynchronous. Another synchronous DR site is also being considered. Plus a risk management system is also being deployed. 

Cost of doing such a massive implementation, of course, runs into hundreds of crores of rupees. Of course, even the team size for deploying such a project has to be huge. It consisted of 80 people, who brought several skill sets to the table, such as DBA, reporting, help desk support, quality control, project management, etc.

Wireless Franchisee Reliance Infocomm


Project Head: Ashish Kumar Chauhan, CIO 
Location:
All across India

Bandwidth availability and penetration has increased manifold but, when it comes to connecting the remotest of villages, wired connectivity are either not available or not up to the mark. In several cases people have used VSAT)to provide connectivity to such places. ITC’s e-Chaupal, last year’s Best Implementation, uses VSAT to connect such villages. A VSAT link suffers from high latency; the equipment is expensive, has high power requirement, and setup is time consuming. When it comes to connecting, a 1000 locations with minimum cost, using a device with minimum power requirement, for transaction oriented applications, VSAT is not suitable. 

Ashish Kumar Chauhan

Faced with a similar problem, where neither VSAT nor wired links fit the bill, Reliance Infocomm used CDMA and phones to wirelessly connect around 2200 Reliance shops, and partners to its corporate network. The phones, used as data modems, are ordinary CDMA phones, which people use for Internet-access on the move. The connectivity provided is used for running Reliance’s Web-based POS and CRM applications, enabling real-time bill payment, account status checking and instant connection booking. VPN is the solution that organizations use to remotely and securely connect to corporate applications.

Rather, than doing encryption and tunneling at the user end, VPN connections to the corporate systems are provided by the network for all phone numbers of Reliance franchisees. This eliminates the need for the users to create VPN tunnels to the corporate network to access it.

The project, started in Feb 2004, is the first time that mobile phones have been used as a medium of connectivity to thousands of locations, including the remotest, for running business applications. Though, the project can be easily passed as run-of-the-mill by many, it has presented to all of us an alternate connectivity option for making secure WAN links, which can be used by, say, a bank to connect some remote branch, or a project like e-Chaupal, which is running across hundreds of villages. Presently, the maximum theoretical speed offered by CDMA is 144 kbps, which should be sufficient for many applications. Apart from that, it can also be used for securely connecting ATM machines, mobile credit-card payment devices and other POS terminals.

Tools Planning System Titan Industries


Project Head: A C Chidanand, Group Manager, SAP team 
Location:
Watch Division, Hosur, Tamil Nadu

The tools planning system is meant to help Titan’s tools department to analyze tools’ life, re-estimate tools’ requirements to ensure that the production doesn’t get delayed. The company had been using SAP R/3 and SAP APO systems for their demand planning and availability check during production planning. However, the system didn’t have a proper tools planning system, and the customized solution that had been implemented earlier was too complicated. 

The problem was that all parts required for watch assembly didn’t reach on time or in the right quantities in the watch assembly plant. As a result, there was misalignment in the plant, leading to production delays. A full-fledged study of the existing supply chain process was done. This included a review of the processes for demand planning, manufacturing, sales and distribution. At the end of the study, the company decided to implement a system that would calculate the approximate
number of tools required as per the demand and projected lifecycles. 

The team behind this project

There were two challenges in implementing this system. One was that it had to integrate with the existing SAP R/3 system without touching SAP’s source code. And second had to do with the transactions carried out by the tools planning system itself. While a user would perform one transaction on the system, the system did several transactions internally. Even if one of them failed, reconciliation had to happen, leading to inconsistencies in the database. The solution that was created for this problem was that if one transaction failed, the other transactions were called back. If you’ve ever used a SAP system, then you will definitely know of how difficult it is to track the flow of information in it. SAP or any other ERP system for that matter face the problem of batch roll back, ie, if you feed any information to it, you don’t know where all it will go. So if you want to reverse the transaction, it can be pretty difficult since you don’t know where the data is sitting and what all it has affected.

The project was executed in three phases. First, the discover phase, which involved understanding the supply chain system. Second, the diagnose phase, which involved studying each of the issues identified in the first phase one and providing alternative solutions. Third and last was the define phase, wherein a detailed solution was proposed and pilots done. Infact, even the supply chain was segmented into demand and supply. The demand pact kept track of distribution planning while the supply side was responsible for procurment and manufacturing. The entire project was completed in 14 weeks. The system was developed using three elements. The first was to use features of SAP’s standard materials management and plant maintenance modules. Second was ABAP, which is a proprietary language for developing on SAP. Third was the creation of a customized database table to the existing database. Despite all these changes, the existing hardware used in the setup was not altered. There were no costs other than manpower for, as it didn’t require any change of hardware, and programming was done in SAP’s own proprietary language. It did however lead to better system efficiency, helping Titan cut down on their inventory costs and even reduce the manpower. The planning time was reduced at shop levels. It helped release the material into production based on capacity of bottleneck resources.

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