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Issue of September 2004 

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Big Ideas, Anyone?

Imagine an illiterate farmer in a remote village in Madhya Pradesh sitting at a desktop wired up to the WWW through a small VSAT link powered by a small power generator by its side and surfing away to glory, downloading invaluable information about weather forecasts and sowing trends. Or even checking prices for Soya beans at the nearest government-run market, or even on an International commodities exchange.

A few years ago such a scenario would have seemed outlandish but today it's a reality. ITC's e-choupal project covers over 15,000 villages in Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh providing millions of farmers with critical information about farming. Farmers can look at weather forecasts, order fertilizer and herbicide, and consult an agronomist by e-mail when their crops turn yellow. At some e-choupals they can even buy life insurance, apply for loans and also check their kids' exam results.

While much has been written about the social benefits of ITC's e-Chaupal, the matter of the fact is that the project was conceptualized with a pure business focus to create farmer communities in villages to facilitate sourcing of high-quality farm produce for the company's fast growing agribusiness.

In IT parlance, e-chaupal is an intelligent blend of applications like CRM and supply chain management. For instance, by helping the farmer identify and control his inputs and farming practices, and by paying more for better quality, ITC has been able to preserve the source and improve the quality of produce. In the commodities market, these two factors are helping ITC create a definite competitive advantage.

ITC now plans to leverage its e-chaupal infrastructure to sell third-party products, provide rural market research services, and in the social sector, to provide services like health advisories and enable e-governance.

While ITC's e-chaupal project has been widely reported due to recognition received in the international arena, there are several such smart IT initiatives within private sector and public sector that harness the potential of technology for social and business benefits.

Be it eSeva, the e-governance project undertaken by the AP government to free public services of bureaucratic intervention or CONCERT, Indian Railways' Computerized Reservation and Ticketing network, Indian enterprises are churning out smart and intelligent IT initiatives that are not only best-in-class globally in terms of technology deployed but also in terms of creating business and social impact.

Intelligent Enterprise

To recognize such groundbreaking IT initiatives in all walks of life, Network Magazine instituted the Intelligent Enterprise Awards last year. The core objective behind the launch of these awards is the belief that Information Technology by itself can no longer provide a competitive edge to enterprises. With organizations having easy access to similar technologies, they need to innovate in order to maintain their advantage.

Such technological innovation cannot be judged simply by technology deployed and level of investment. Even small enterprises with paltry IT budgets can blend relatively old technologies to create intelligent solutions that generate immense business value.

Intelligent Enterprise Awards recognize enterprises that have exploited existing technologies in newer ways, or experimented with new ones. Also it takes into account innovation on the process side. An organization can invent new technology processes or tune existing ones to seek value provides it a definitive competitive edge.


The Intelligent Enterprise Awards 2004 will be given away in nine key verticals that include Telecom, Media & Entertainment, IT & ITeS, Energy, construction and utilities, Banking, Financial services and Insurance, Health Sciences, Industrial production, Government and infrastructure, and Retail & consumer products.

Nominations are invited through multiple channels and are shortlisted by Network Magazine and Ernst & Young on the basis of pre-defined evaluation criteria. Based on the scores awarded, finalists are shortlisted for selection by the Jury.

The selection of winners from the three finalists in each category is decided by a Jury panel representing eminent personalities from diverse fields. The shortlisted entries are judged on the merits of innovativeness of the application, technology used, value and impact thereof.

The Intelligent Enterprise Awards 2004 will be presented in the month of October at a special ceremony coinciding with Technology Senate 2004 which will be attended by over 200 of India's top CTOs, CIOs and IT heads.

Highlights 2003

In its first year, last year, the Intelligent Enterprise Awards were given out in four categories at an annual retreat for India's leading IT heads at Kochi. The Award for the Most Intelligent Enterprise went to V. V. R Babu, CIO, ITC (e-Choupal Project).

There were three runner-up awards. One went to Gopal Shukla, CIO, Dabur for its initiative to integrate its 1000 primary distribution channel with secondary distribution.

The second runner-up was Sanjay Govil, CIO, Eicher Motors for implementing an employee sales portal. The final one went to M. D. Agrawal, Chief Manager-IS Refineries, BPCL for implementing a core operations application aptly called the Digital Nervous System.

The Awards were judged by an eminent panel consisting of Dr. Manesh Shrikant, Honorary Dean, SP Jain Institute of Management & Research; L. C. Singh, President and CEO of Nihilent Technologies; Pradeep Pendse, Senior Associate Dean-Systems & E-business, Welingkar Institute of Management Studies; and Sunil Chandiramani, Parnter, Ernst & Young.

Intelligent Enterprise 2003—Bharat Petroleum

Good journalism includes follow-ups to provide an ending for any story that began with a news flash. So let's take a look at the status of the implementation that won the Intelligent Enterprise award at the Technology Senate last year: BPCL’s end-to-end portal implementation for its refinery operations.

Besides the consolidation of the SAP R3 Enterprise version, which is complete, there were four other plans in the pipeline: a dashboard based IT system for each business unit. They were a Business Intelligence (BI) system; a Wi-Fi access system; and ERP, Supply Chain Planning, Manufacturing Execution System, and Supply Distribution deployment, upgrades and enhancements.

The dashboard-based system is still under development, and M. D. Agrawal suggests that about 35 percent of it is complete. The BI system, which was planned for deployment at the data warehouse is still pending. It may commence in the next quarter.

BPCL has successfully set up 802.11b access points, and in the refinery have established a second level of residency on wireless in case the fiber-optic broadband link goes down. As for the ERP and supply distribution system, big customers like Asian Paints (India) Limited can communicate with BPCL via a direct access connection to the ERP on the IBM MQ series platform.

Intelligent Enterprise 2003—Eicher Motors

Eicher Motors has setup an employee self service portal called EPIC to enhance productivity and promote knowledge-sharing. Eicher Portal for Information and Collaboration (EPIC) was initialized in 2002 by Eicher Motors, to provide a single 'secure service point' for all information and collaboration needs of Eicher employees and partners through the browser.

Eicher has deployed internal services (HR, IT, Finance) and external services (customers and dealers) on a comprehensive Web-based system. This is accessible though SMS as well as a call center to reach out to dealerships and field service teams in remote locations. It provides customers with an interface to know the status of their products in terms of history, problems and resolution. It also has a knowledge management interface to proactively provide self-serviceability to dealers, customers and field force.

The Benefits

SAP licenses and training expenses for a large number of employees would have been prohibitive. Access for this has been enabled through EPIC, resulting in significant cost savings. The turnaround time for key employee-centric processes have reduced by around 40 percent.

There has been a considerable reduction in data-entry errors and administrative costs by minimizing the need for telephone follow-ups, printed forms, and manual data entry. And there has been a rise in employee satisfaction due to quick, efficient resolution of HR issues and transparency of employee-centric processes. Customer satisfaction levels have also increased as a result of instant availability of information.

In future

The ultimate vision is to make EPIC the single window (device-independent) gateway for all information and collaboration requirements within the company.

In phase two, Eicher plans to augment the framework with catalogues/auctions formats with complete RFQ cycle. This project is under final phase of development and testing and builds on e procurement concepts internally marketed as E-Source.

Intelligent Enterprise 2003—ITC Limited

e-choupal, ITC Agricultural business division's Web-based initiative offers information, products and services to farmers of soya, wheat, coffee, and shrimps. It is designed to provide physical service and support through a 'choupal sanchalak'—a lead farmer—who acts as the interface between the computer terminal and the farmers.

The Innovation

Farmers can access the latest local and global information on weather, scientific farming practices, as well as market prices at the village using e-choupal kiosks in Indian languages like Hindi, Kannada, and Telugu.

The choupals are available in states like MP, UP, AP, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Gujarat. Apart from LIC's life insurance products, FMCG products like salt and biscuits, agricultural implements, and automobiles are also vended through the network.

The Benefits

The main benefit for ITC is an enhanced relationship with the farming community across 25,000 villages. E-choupal has also delivered a reduced transaction cost for its agricultural commodity purchases.Farmers retain inventory information, which helps in improving the trading decision quality,and the company can cross-sell it'' products and services for the rural market.

Future Roadmap

ITC plans to increase e-choupal implementations from 45,000 to around 10,000 information kiosks. This will benefit farmers in 100,000 villages by 2005.

For every 50 choupals, a retail hub will be set up so that villagers can experience the products that they will order through the kiosks. The first hub has already been commissioned in MP.

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