by Sneha Jha

Indian Railways Gets an IT Facelift

Jul 09, 20144 mins
Change ManagementComputers and PeripheralsEnterprise Applications

S.S. Mathur, GM-Corporate Coordination, Centre for Railway Information Systems, shares his views of the railway budget--how it’s going to infuse current IT initiatives with a breath of new life.

The Indian Railways is all set to get an IT facelift. In his maiden budget, Union Railway Minister, D.V. Sadanand Gowda painted a picture of a futuristic and efficient railway system driven by IT.

The budget introduced a host of IT-related initiatives (see box). And S.S. Mathur, GM-Corporate Coordination, Centre for Railway Information Systems (CRIS), is very optimistic about the IT initiatives spelt out in the budget.

“The budget is futuristic and practical. It strikes a balance between short-term plans and long-term goals of Indian railways,” he says, lauding the budget as “positive and pragmatic”.

“Gowda has not given a laundry list of initiatives. He has outlined only those initiatives that can be implemented over the next two years,” he says. “These initiatives are not something revolutionary. It’s not a break from the tradition. There is an element of continuity.”

The world is witnessing a communication revolution. Internet and mobility are taking centerstage. And the Indian Railways are keeping up with the times.

“The initiatives are an attempt to set the foundation for information systems that will be at the forefront in the foreseeable future. Armed with these initiatives, we will have our fingers on the pulse of the customer. It sets the tone for a digital and mobile future,” Mathur says.

Ticket to Tech

Talking about the revamp of the E-ticketing system, Mathur said that it addressed a long-standing grievance of customers.

When the E-ticketing system of CRIS struggled with an ever-mounting load, the organization realised that incremental improvement in the system would not save the day. It would need an overhaul of the system.

“That’s when we decided to revamp the system. So there is nothing revolutionary about the next generation E-ticketing system. It’s an evolution aimed at improving the response time for the customers,” he says.

The E-office system is another example of a project that the budget will infuse new life into.

“We have been told that within the next five years all offices of the railways will be put on an information system, thereby reducing a lot of paperwork. This is not something revolutionary, but just a natural progression. However, the pace that it is now expected to pick up is revolutionary. To that extent, it is a reinforcement of the CIO’s vision,” he says.

Regarding the Indian Railways’ Wi-Fi plans, Mathur says that for the past four years the railways had been toying with the idea of providing Wi-Fi to passengers. This is the first time, however, he says, that the government has taken concrete steps in that direction.

The railways has a strength of 13 lakh employees and the E-office initiative will impact over 4.5 lakh supervisors and office workers.

Asked about whether he foresees any change management issues, he says he does not anticipate any implementation challenges in the form of user resistance or organizational culture.

“In this age, there is no resistance to the deployment of modern IT systems. It is just about developing the ability to structure, formulate, conceptualize, and execute large-scale IT systems on such a wide canvas. Acquiring the capacity to do that is the only concern,” he says.

Mathur is, however, cognizant of the fact that the IT-led modernization of the railways will require a Herculean effort, given the size of the Indian railways.

“There is a lot of follow-through that will have to be done, not just for IT initiatives, but also for the other organization-wide technology improvements. The nuts and bolts have to be worked out,’’ he says.

The fund required to execute the IT implementations has to be taken into consideration. “The revenue budget of Indian railways is Rs 150,000 crore. Of that, IT requires less than Rs 1,000 crore. IT’s fund requirements are minuscule of the total requirements of the railways,” he says.

Some IT Initiatives in the Railways

E-office and GIS-based land records. These will improve the efficiency of the railways, Electronic Railway Receipt (ERR). This will give a big boost to freight customers, lower logistics cost, and help track consignments.E-ticketing system. Will be able to support 7,200 tickets a minute, and allow 120,000 simultaneous users in the future. Will address long-standing customer needs.Wi-Fi connectivity in A1 and A category stations and in select trains.