For the Railways, every IT initiative has to revolve around the strategic inclusion of customers according R B Das, Group General Manager – (FOIS), CRIS
Technology Sabha, the premier e-governance event organized by the Business Publications Division (BPD) of The Indian Express Limited, is fast becoming a can’t miss event for Indian bureaucrats serious about championing the cause of IT in their respective agencies. In what was the fifth iteration of the Sabha, they came from all over the country and the congregation witnessed a mix of nearly 100 high profile government officials, vendors and technocrats from diverse backgrounds.
Organized in the laidback town of Panjim, Goa, the discussions and the debates witnessed over the course of two days were anything but laidback. The event provided a much needed platform to government officials responsible for IT, to freely discuss ideas, share experiences and learnings amongst themselves and also to do some much needed introspection to better the state of affairs.
The event began with a lamp lighting ceremony and a brief welcome address by Sandeep Khosla, VP & Head-BPD. Post this, began a stimulating presentation by R B Das, Group General Manager (FOIS), CRIS, in which he talked at length about some of the IT initiatives in the Indian Railways and the role that they have played in transforming it from a loss-making outfit into a highly profitable, well-oiled entity.
Talking about the massive infrastructure and assets owned by the Indian Railways, Das began with a historical perspective and delved deeply into how they managed it all, albeit not so efficiently with minimal IT systems in place. He alluded to their humble beginnings of automation through the setting up of EDP centers and the decision to computerize the freight information and passenger reservation systems in the early years.
According to Das, the continuous increase in passenger and freight handling requirements and the associated assets, competition from other modes of transport especially in the freight business and the overall growth of the country’s needs were the drivers that forced the railways to reassess their strategies and widen the scope of IT.
Another key factor was the strategic inclusion of the customer as an integral part of the system. Hence, it chose to design a system which matched the capabilities of internal as well as external customers. This essentially meant that the applications needed to transcend the boundaries of the Railways as an organization and went into the user domain.
Despite the fact that the freight business is the real breadwinner, for the Railways, its passengers have always been the first priority. Therefore, when it came to implementing technologies, the passenger business processes were given preference over freight.
The implementation of the Country Wide Network for Computerized Enhanced Reservation (CONCERT) was a clear indication of this fact. CONCERT integrates five regional reservation centers and contains a judicious mix of local autonomy with uniformity of business rules. Das informed that CONCERT can perform reservations for over one million seats and berths per day and is currently available for over 3,600 trains nationwide for various classes across 1,700 locations.
The other significant system implemented by the railway has been the National Train Enquiry Services (NTES), a nationwide, integrated, online information system for monitoring the running of passenger trains and providing up-to-date information regarding the arrival and departure of trains. The PRS initiatives not only benefited passengers in terms of simplifying enquiry, booking and other processes but yielded multiple benefits for the Railways as well.
The Railways could now push for optimal utilization of berths, real-time availability of accounting reports, planning through MIS, analysis of traffic patterns for better overall planning, reduction in revenue losses and savings on manpower.
In his presentation, Das took special pride in talking about UTS Thin Client, a customized product developed by CRIS. He informed that since a normal thin client needs to be connected to a server all the time, CRIS developed a thin client that does not need always-on connectivity. In fact, the UTS Thin Client is capable of working independently and in disconnected mode for 72 hours (a configurable parameter) and issue tickets. It runs a lightweight OS, trimmed version of RDBMS and application on a 144 MB Flash ROM (Disk on Chip).
Although Das talked mostly about the railways’ IT initiatives on the passenger business side, he did not fail to mention some key initiatives on the freight side. Freight Operations Information System or FOIS comprises of a variety of applications implemented by the railways to streamline freight operations and optimize the use of existing resources and bring in greater transparency to the system. The various applications in FOIS are: Rake Management System (RMS), Terminal Management System (TMS), Control Office Application (COA), Crew Management System (CMS), Automated Equipment Identifier (AEI), Revenue Accounting System (RAS) and Management Information System (MIS).
Speaking about some of the other applications the railways has in the pipeline, Das informed that the organization was currently working on a Fixed Asset Management System, Human Resource Management System, Parcel Management System, Claims Management System, and Workshop Management System and was also in the process of setting up zonal data centers.
He concluded his presentation with a proclamation that a large complex infrastructure system such as the Indian Railways could never afford to simply bring in technology for the sake of itself, but intelligent use of IT is what is delivering the real benefits.