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Issue of March 2006 

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Re-Drafting IT & the ITO

Case files: Evolution of the ITO

Eight companies that got it right

The need to get the most from the least, a desire to stand out from the pack, these are the motivations that have propelled the evolution of enterprise IT and the IT department. The following pages chronicle eight instances of how IT and the ITO are preparing for the future

How does an organisation derive the most from its infrastructure? That appears to be a simple question, but the answer is rather complicated as each solution is unique.

First of all, there is no standard formula since each organisation is distinct in the challenges it faces. Industry verticals vary, as do business objectives. There is no standard template to resolve infrastructure issues, or measure the tangibles and intangibles.

Over the next pages we see eight cases and solutions. These may be the answers to issues that may be faced by many of you. Or they may be the starting point to where your solution lies.

RoI at Hindalco

Efficient benchmarking, RoI measurement and process re-engineering based on the measurement results differentiate Hindalco from the crowd. Kumar Dawada reports

Sanjeev Goel

“Hindalco has always been a profit-making concern. Its turnover was Rs 2,500 crore and the profit after tax was Rs 700 crore in 2003, when ERP was implemented,” says Sanjeev Goel, Senior Vice President, IT, Hindalco. Ironically, this was the biggest obstacle in implementing a common processing system. This is why change management initiatives were necessary to convince business users.

Overcoming Mindsets

At that point, many key people were above the age of 50. Their exposure to IT was limited. “When we tried to implement ERP, they resisted more because they could not visualise the benefits that the systems would give later. Their argument was we are successful and making profits. ‘Why change a profitable system?’” says Goel.

However, Hindalco’s key objective was to adapt and develop best practices which can be extended to acquired companies and subsequent projects. It also wanted to reduce cost by eliminating waste within business processes, improve customer satisfaction, and reduce inventory at every stage of material flow. Other objectives included simplification of processes, cycle time reduction, building data analysis for better decision-making and defining metrics at transactional, operational and strategic levels.

At this point, the senior management team and IT worked hard to educate Hindalco’s employees on how to benefit using a global perspective. The key business users and department heads were involved. “It is crucial to motivate people as a team, divide credits, and get key business people to take ownership of the initiative to ensure that the organisation benefits from an IT initiative,” reveals Goel.

Hindalco deployed its ERP implementation in August 2002 and it went live in September 2003. The total cost of implementation was Rs 24 crore. The ERP was later extended to include SCM and CRM to cover 22 locations including manufacturing units, sales offices and godowns. It integrates over 300 processes and 1200 sub processes.

Oracle e-Business suite was used to cover sales, distribution, procurement, inventory, finance, accounting and manufacturing. It also implemented the MRO Maximo maintenance module and a payroll module developed in-house.

Gauging Returns

It was the ERP that set the stage to create a new culture which constantly questions status quo, gives agility to adapt to change and keep innovating so the change translates to profits. “Most organisations have five to ten percent brilliant people but the remaining staff do mundane jobs for their entire life. We brought challenge in their lives by measuring the time taken for each activity. So we can tell them at the end of the year their precise contribution to the organisation’s growth,” says Goel.

Hindalco already had data from the pre-ERP days. As data from ERP started to emerge, the organisation set up a measurement system. Many processes were identified and divided into sub processes. This was initially done at a team level where a team with better performance was benchmarked with the others. Similarly, within teams there was comparison at individual levels.

Hindalco’s motto is ‘what you cannot measure you cannot improve.’ “For instance, in the time cycle for account bill passing, we measured in terms of cycle time and redo. If 20,000 invoices are generated in a month and 100 entries are wrong, we tried to increase the number of invoices and reduce the errors,” explains Goel.

Another instance was the requisition-to-pay cycle. The average time taken for receiving, time taken to unload goods and send them to the stores, time for inspection, time for delivery, and bill processing are all measured. Each activity is measured in hours and minutes. The current and previous times are compared, and then reasons for performance drops are evaluated. This evaluation is then compared with the results that can be realistically achieved. After this, the business user is inspired to improve his or her performance and capability since it is transparent and shared across the organisation. It is used to analyse employees during their annual assessment. It helps motivate, promote, and reward them.

Goel uses the example of reduction in the dispatch cycle from production to allocation to illustrate this. The time taken was reduced from 24 hours to 7.2 hours. “We also measured how long it takes from hiring trucks to actual arrival of the trucks at the site. We measured truck arrival to trip completion. Even a reduction of few hours can bring down the cost and cycle time substantially,” elaborates Goel.

Tangible And Intangible Benefits

The major tangible benefit was in inventory management. In Renukoot, the inventory came down by Rs 24 crore. “The collection cycle too became faster. Faster processing and application of payment received led to faster dispatch of materials to the customer. We also tied up with banks to receive and pay faster,” elaborates Goel.

“Hindalco never asks a person to leave. We never cut down on manpower,” states Goel. He then elaborates that areas of improvement are identified and people are encouraged to work in a better way. This helps them to handle the increased workload without increasing manpower. This is a major intangible benefit. Also, people take pride in their overall improvement and efficiency.

According to Goel, the ERP implementation has made a major impact at Hindalco. The immediate benefits in terms of IT infrastructure are in term of standardisation, common server and automation.

Further benefits depend on the role of the actual user which depends on how effectively he analyses and uses the available data. “ERP or any other IT implementation is like a marriage. The stability and success of both depends on long-term commitments. Extracting more benefits from an implementation takes years,” quips Goel.

Methods To Measure RoI

Goel feels that methods including balanced scorecard and Economic Value Added (EVA) form just the basic framework to calculate RoI. They are the foundation and good for conceptual understanding. However, most companies need to use internal systems to measure different types of capabilities in term of performance, strategy, efficiency and profitability. Implementing them successfully varies across companies.

According to Goel, consultants may provide many solutions. However, making them work depends on the user company. Companies like Hindalco operate in remote areas of states like Bihar, Orissa and UP where people’s educational skills are lower than other parts of India. So they have to look for unconventional solutions. “We use an internal MIS—a customised solution for performance measurement. We also have a monthly accounting system to give a fairly detailed idea of how we are performing,” says Goel.

Goel is of the opinion that it is very important to involve business users in RoI measurement. Hindalco involves business leaders from inbound, outbound and maintenance business units along with senior people from management and there is a steering committee to supervise them. “We also involved functional users from each process, along with the technical team and consultants. The key business users must have ownership of the initiative. Credit for initiatives must be divided at the beginning, and co-ordinated team effort is a must for any IT initiative to succeed,” says Goel.

Initially the ERP initiative was implemented for Hindalco’s aluminium business. It is now being extended to include Indal. (See Box: Integrating Growth to examine how Indal’s systems are being integrated under the Hindalco umbrella.)

The Road Ahead

“In the next five years Hindalco is going to grow to an Rs 25,000 crore company through organic and inorganic growth,” prophesies Goel. This will depend on process standardisation and resource sharing. These include IT infrastructure and consolidation at the transaction and application levels. Even then, Hindalco plans to quantify only RoI benefits related to cycle time, inventory or cost management and not those which lead to manpower reduction.

A Common Face For Sales And Marketing
Earlier, Hindalco had only 22 locations, now there are 53 locations including Indal’s operations. The company is working on a project where sales and marketing have a common face as far as the customer is concerned.

“There will be a common system, godowns, and branches. This is expected to be complete by the end of February 2005. In the next four years, we will have a common system for our entire metal business which includes copper. We also have mines in Andhra Pradesh and Orissa as well as two mines in Australia. Everything should use the common system including new projects,” reveals Goel.

IDBI thinks outside the box

Unprecedented growth in the corporate sector has led to infrastructure being massively scaled-up and outsourced management models being adopted. IDBI Bank is a case in point, says Toms Mathew

Industrial Development Bank of India (IDBI) bank has opened its state-of-the-art data centre at Belapur, Navi Mumbai. The new data centre will host all the mission-critical applications of the bank. The ‘On Demand’ IT infrastructure built by IBM Global Services would support the bank in its future development plans.

IDBI Bank had a data centre at Andheri, Mumbai which was established in 2001. After IDBI Bank’s mergers and acquisitions, the bank had to accommodate a large volume of data. Being a five-year-old structure, it could not really cope with the bank’s growing needs.

Choosing A Service Provider

IDBI Bank decided to give its ‘build and maintenance’ contract to an outside company and outsource the creation and management of its IT set-up to a third-party. At the Andheri data centre, the bank has been using the Sun platform. The bank decided to implement a new infrastructure and the contenders in the race were HP, IBM and Sun Microsystems.

The selection process took off by deciding a selection criteria which included initial hardware cost, operation cost for the next five years and software cost of the software used.

Sanjay Sharma

IDBI Bank uses Finacle, a core banking software provided by Infosys. Therefore, the bank had to consider the results from Finacle too. Another factor which the bank considered was application need and the servers required. IDBI Bank calculated projected volume of growth for the next five years.

According to Sanjay Sharma, Corporate Head, Technology, IDBI Bank, IBM promised IDBI Bank of the lowest total cost (TCO). Although IBM will manage system integration and management, the bank will retain assets with itself. The contract given to IBM includes services like hardware, software, support, and maintenance.

Making The Shift

Since the information was highly sensitive, the bank had to ensure that there was no room for error. The shifting process went off quite smoothly. Two different service providers were employed for establishing a reliable network link—Reliance Infocomm and Tata Teleservices. The main servers were shifted to Belapur in the first phase. Data shift and other shifting processes followed.

IDBI Bank took great care to make sure that the data centre shift did not cause any inconvenience to its customers. With an eye towards this aim, the shifting was done only on weekends. Sharma says that it took only three weekends to complete the entire shift.

All the shifting activities were simulated to make sure that nothing will would happen to the data sent from one centre to another. “We also did extensive stress testing to ensure that load would not be a worry,” emphasises Sharma.

Reaping The Benefits

Since the data-centre is designed to handle the bank’s services for the next five years, IDBI Bank need not be worried about future mergers and acquisitions.

Decrease of batch times (time for the start and end of an operation) and backup window can be counted as the main positives. There is no single point of failure and IDBI Bank has its backup on servers. IDBI Bank will be able to deliver multi-channel banking to its customers.

State-Of-The-Art Technology

The shift has also been a migration from Sun Microsystems infrastructure to the IBM system. Enterprise 10000 (E10K) servers from Sun Microsystems have now been replaced with IBM p590 servers.

The data centre employs software like IBM Tivoli and IBM TotalStorage. According to Sharma, the technologies used ensure that it is a Level 3 data centre.

The new 13,000 sq. feet. data- centre will play a pivotal role in the bank’s aim of increasing the number of branches to 500 by 2007. The bank plans to build a data warehouse and a business intelligence centre. IDBI Bank will also set up information kiosks with a transaction facility so that customers can check their balance, transfer funds within the bank, and pay bills.

The consolidation race

Mahindra & Mahindra's consolidation story is about a migration from a decentralised ERP system to a centralised one, writes Sneha Khanna

K H Nabar

SAP implementation started for Mahindra & Mahindra (M&M) in 1996 with the required BPR, and SAP R/3 on the Windows Server platform. Starting from SAP R/3 in 1997, slowly migrated to a centralised architecture that uses SAP R/3 Enterprise Solution Version 4.7 in 2004.

Closing The Gaps

Even after implementing earlier versions of SAP R/3, there were inefficiencies. So in 2004 M&M upgraded to SAP Enterprise version 4.7.

This version suited M&M’s needs better as it catered to Indian taxation and auto industry-specific processes (using ‘Z’ programs developed by Mahindra Consulting).

Later, M&M decided to take advantage of the improved communication infrastructure technology and do away with the high maintenance inhouse ‘Z’ programs and cumbersome data consolidation. With 55 servers (20 database servers and 33 application/DRS servers, one development server and one test server), the company was facing operating difficulties in server-wise backup, patch upgrades and version upgrades.

This is when the company opted for server consolidation with a fresh implementation of SAP R/3 Enterprise version 4.7. They also decided to implement R/3 Enterprise on a single consolidated server.

“M&M went for data centre consolidation on a single server, which has already been done at our Kandivali data centre. This includes all the M&M servers at Worli and all R/3 servers from Nashik, Igatpuri, Zaheerabad and Nagpur, co-located at the Kandivali data centre,” says KH Nabar, Head-Business Solutions, Corporate IT, M&M.

The company decided on Unix-based servers for its R/3 database. IBM P5 with AIX was chosen as the server platform. M&M also decided to deploy its existing Intel-based servers as application servers with Windows 2003. The data centre at Kandivali provided redundancy of power, network and air-conditioning. Cisco routers and switches are used across the network; leased lines and MPLS connectivity to connect all manufacturing plant locations.

“Spare parts depots, various area sales offices and branch offices are connected using MPLS technology provided by BSNL. While the expected life of the project is five years, it took less than a month for successful completion,” details Nabar.

He adds that this helped M&M extract the maximum benefit from improved functionality and rectify the earlier implementation’s shortcomings. The company expects not to require version upgrades until 2009 for core R/3.

Value Propositions

SAP R/3 E4.7 will provide the company with ERP-based SAP products such as IS-Auto, SRM, and CRM within the organisation. With this setup, M&M expects to meet business requirements such as vehicle sequencing, vehicle tracking and warranty management.

The company expects to improve functionality, especially India-specific requirements and those specific to the auto industry. As the servers consolidate and become centrally located, the required maintenance will reduce proportionately.

“The total number of non-standard ‘Z’ programs has been brought down to a great extent. As a result of this fresh implementation, requirements such as Supply Chain Planning and Business Intelligence will be better taken care of,” says Nabar.

The single server will reduce time and effort for periodic consolidation of information and data flow. “Currently, a lot of effort is invested in information consolidation and data flow through Automatic Linking Enabling (ALE), data upload, etc. This will be eliminated and integrated data will be available in one server. It will improve data visibility and facilitate decision-making with regards to inventory control, production planning and funds planning across the plants/company,” explains Nabar.

M&M can now generate company-wide analytics from a single consolidated server. Nabar says, “This would also result in reduction of time in closing accounts on monthly, quarterly and annual bases.”

From RISC/Unix to Lintel

Indiabulls migrated from Unix on RISC to Linux on the x86 platform to gain flexibility. Toms Mathew reports

T S Miglani

Indiabulls, the retail financial services company, started operations six years ago. It migrated from Unix on the aging HP AlphaServer architecture to Linux on the Intel Xeon platform following greater customer demand and the need for better performance. “Upgradation is a continuous process and is necessary for growth,” says Tejinderpal Singh Miglani, CTO, Indiabulls Group.

Indiabulls does real-time electronic trading on Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) and National Stock Exchange (NSE). With over 1,30,000 customers across the country, the company has to assure its customers that there is no room for error.

The core of every transaction is a proprietary transaction engine that has been developed in-house. The entire system follows a multi-tier architecture. Users can log in using an installable client application through a remote PC.

Scalable To The Max

Indiabulls built the entire infrastructure keeping an eye on future scalability. Says Miglani, “Scalability has been built into the entire system’s design. In addition to the application server and the database, there are many subcomponents designed to achieve scalability,” says Miglani.

Earlier, Indiabulls was using Tru64 Unix running on HP AlphaServers (HP DS20E Alpha). “There were no problems which forced us to go for server upgradation. We went for server upgradation just to improve performance and scalability,” says Miglani.

Though they had no problems with the Alphaservers, Indiabulls had some concerns about the product. The two prime reasons why Indiabulls quit Alphaservers were the uncertainty of their lifecycle and the undue delivery time. Says Miglani, “The delivery time for an Alphaserver is almost eight weeks, whereas that of an Intel Xeon processor is only one week. If we want, we can also rent those machines from the market. Also, the price of an Intel Xeon processor is much lower than that of Alphaservers.” He also says that the price-to-performance ratio is much higher for Intel Xeon processors.

Flexible And Secure

When Indiabulls decided to go for server upgradation, it had two options. Either it could go for Itanium processors or for 32-bit Xeon processors. Taking into consideration the stability of the platforms and the compatibility with the system, Indiabulls went for Intel Xeon processors.

Indiabulls uses Intel Xeon processors and Dell 5560 servers. The operating system is Red Hat Enterprise Linux 3.0 and the database is Oracle 9i Real Application cluster. The latest technologies used ensure Indiabulls high scalability and greater flexibility.

The front-end of the entire architecture is an application server. Indiabulls employs an Order Routing System to route the transactions. All the networks in the system are two-way connected. The transaction requests are transferred to servers and Database Management Systems (DBMS).

The integrity of the person who tries to do the transaction is verified and if the identity of the user is found valid, then the requests are sent to the stock exchanges. The responses from the exchanges are updated to the database. After the transaction is over, the customer receives a receipt.

Since the entire system runs real-time, the structure has to be secure and foolproof to the fullest. Miglani says that the Linux platform ensures high security to the company and the customer.

Pluses All The Way

The migration from Tru64 Unix on the Alphaserver to Linux on Xeon took almost three months. The process started in December 2003 and ended in March 2004.

Better performance has been achieved after the deployment of the new infrastructure. Since the system uses Linux, lack of manpower is no longer a concern for the company. Ease of availability is another advantage that Indiabulls has experienced from the new setup. Since the hardware employed is highly scalable, Indiabulls believes that there is no need to upgrade hardware in the near future. Currently, Indiabulls is trying to deliver better service to its customers. Says Miglani, “Since the system is inherently scalable, there is room to accommodate future growth and since the software we are using is proprietary, there are no licensing problems either.”

The lease-out option

Symphony Services chose to lease its network. Sneha Khanna finds that this move has paid off by protecting the company from the tides of technological obsolescence

Stephen Hsu

Symphony Services provides delivery centres for IP security systems and communications infrastructure. To derive advantages of leasing, Symphony’s in-house team leased out its network and security infrastructure.

This model helps Symphony spread its investment over time for better cash flow management. Says Stephen Hsu, Chief Financial Officer, Symphony Services, “Leasing is a valuable tool for financing network investments by spreading the cost of new technology over time. It helps organisations manage their cash flow better and conserve capital budgets.”

In August 2005, Symphony chose Cisco Networking and Security Lease Model for its campus expansion at Bangalore. The $2 million project will have investments of $1.2 million during the first deployment phase. Cisco worked with its gold SI partner Wipro Infotech to deploy the Symphony network.

An Operating Lease

The main objectives Symphony had in mind when going in for the leased model were reliability, scalability, a balanced infrastructure investment and capital management. This model from Cisco is an operating lease model under the Cisco Capital programme.

Cisco extends its equipment on operating lease for a period of three to five years, depending on Symphony’s choice. “The lease period is four years. Symphony pays rentals on a quarterly basis,” says B Ashok, Senior Vice President, IT Services, Cisco Systems, India & SAARC. At the end of the period, Symphony will have the option to upgrade/ buyout the network equipment.

Started in December 2005, the first phase was completed over a period of two months by Wipro Infotech. This is a three-tier IP-centric network architecture using Cisco Catalyst 6500 series LAN switches with Virtual Private Network Services Module (VPNSM).

For security, Symphony integrated firewall and security modules with the leased model. The architecture has firewall and security modules at the core comprising the Intrusion Detection Systems Services Module (IDSM) and Firewall Services Module (FWSM).

IP telephony is deployed with IP phones and IPCC Express, and 40 wireless access points for the campus. There are distributions and access layers supported by services, along with quality of service (QoS).

SLAs Cover All Aspects

Equipment used is covered under Cisco’s Smartnet support. Symphony will have access to information and assistance according to its needs.

Wipro Infotech has signed services and support SLAs with Symphony. These concern aspects such as response time, spares support, onsite support and technical support.

  • Response time: Response to queries and support requests within four hours of logging the request.
  • Spares support: Advanced Replacement Next Business Day (ARNBD) of spare parts within four hours to a maximum of the next business day.
  • Onsite support: A trained Wipro Infotech field engineer will be responsible for onsite replacement of parts.
  • Technical support: Access to Cisco’s technical assistance centre (TAC). This includes online support to directly login a TAC request or via Wipro Infotech including phone support.

Saving A Packet

Symphony expects 20 percent cost savings over three years, as there is no risk of ownership. Another advantage is that of repayment structure as the monthly repayments keep decreasing.

“A projected residual value is deducted upfront from the networking solution cost, thereby lowering monthly repayments and total deployment cost,” explains Hsu.

However, the biggest advantage is lack of technology obsolescence. Says Hsu, “Leasing shifts the risk of technology obsolescence and end-of-life equipment disposals away from Symphony, which gives us significant savings.”

Details on the second phase are still not available. According to B Ashok, Senior Vice President, IT Services, Cisco Systems, India & SAARC, “The second phase of deployment will be in accordance with the company’s business requirements and expansion plans.”

Moving with the times

TCS exemplifies the advantages accruing from bandwidth consolidation. The company reorganised its connectivity using MPLS VPN. Sneha Khanna reports

Ananth Krishnan

MPLS VPN is fast becoming a preferred option for companies which need a private network without going in for a complete makeover. It is providing them with the benefits of being on a VPN, and the quality of service (QoS) advantage of MPLS, making it the best of both worlds. Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) had these objectives in mind when it shifted from SSL VPN to MPLS VPN from AT&T in August 2005.

VSNL provided the network links. Says Ananth Krishnan, Vice-president, TCS, “The key driver for the TCS MPLS VPN network is the ability to support a collaborative enterprise.”

The Three 'V's

Prior to this deployment the TCS network, which relied on SSL VPN, could support only data-based applications. The company wanted a network which could also support voice and video.

Krishnan says, “TCSers across the world need to use voice, video and data in a seamless manner, with assured quality of service.” He elaborates, “We plan to use the network as a key enabler for allowing multiple corporate applications like knowledge management, telephony, mail, chat and video conferencing.”

The network is based on Multi-Protocol Label Switching (MPLS) technology and is constructed using a single international private leased circuit (IPLC). The network can support multiple MPLS-based VPNs over a single TCS physical network infrastructure across all geographies.

A Step At A Time

AT&T will cover 130 sites in the project using an Enhanced Virtual Private Network (EVPN) on a single backbone. This project will cover TCS sites across the Asia-Pacific, EMEA (Europe, Middle East & Africa), the US and Canada/Latin America.

In the first phase, AT&T has covered 25 locations including TCS’ regional headquarters and development centres in Hungary, China, Australia and Latin America. Krishnan explains, “The first phase has been live now for three months. We have connectivity for 25 sites, and will be adding the remaining ones in phases two and three.” It involved setting up multiple leased lines and backup scenarios using more than 100 large to medium routers and modems.

The company plans to cover the remaining 105 sites in the next two phases. This will consist of approximately 52 sites in each phase. “In the coming two phases we will be covering an equal number of sites over the next six months. We are expecting to finish the second phase in mid-2006,” says Krishnan.

Possible Setbacks

One of the major challenges which TCS faces is in countries where AT&T does not have a presence. Says Krishnan, “In countries like China and South Africa where AT&T does not have a presence, they have to work with their local partners. At times this may take longer than scheduled.”

Another challenge the company faces is testing each site and making sure that the voice and video applications are working properly once the deployment is completed.

Gains From MPLS

One of the biggest benefits the companies feel they have gained has been the ability to commit data rates for each type of traffic. Says Krishnan, “With MPLS we are able to manage end-to-end connections with class-of-service for different traffic types like voice, video and data.”

According to Krishnan, yet another significant benefit has been the ease of management for the company since AT&T takes care of all the major issues.

The Real RoI

TCS is of the opinion that real RoI is in terms of its employees and their productivity. “The RoI for us has been the ability of TCS to build a global collaborative enterprise in terms of innovation, people and productivity,” feels Krishnan.

The company expects many more benefits with this deployment. “The hard RoI will be in terms of speed to market and savings on network costs, travel and conventional telephony,” predicts Krishnan.

Mahanagar Gas: Thinking Thin

Mahanagar Gas Limited (MGL) used to have decentralised applications at different offices that needed manual interfacing. A thin client approach made things easier, says Kumar Dawada

MGL procured Citrix Metaframe 1.2 for Windows in early 2001 for a customer billing software project. In mid-2002, this project was discontinued by their offshore implementation partner. “The cost of Citrix deployment was Rs 2.5 lakh for just the software as an existing server was used for deploying Citrix,” says Hemant Joshi, Manager, IT, MGL.

“Our policy is not to throw away things. We don’t have an IT junkyard. We are always on the lookout for how best we can use our existing resources,” says Joshi. This is how MGL realised that it could use existing Citrix licences for business needs. So MGL started using Citrix again in early 2004. The organisation is currently using Citrix Metaframe XPs 1.0 (Presentation Server 3.0).

The Thin Solution

MGL used the thin client approach to get maximum mileage out of its Citrix deployment.
The pilot deployment of thin clients was done in the finance department

MGL used the thin client approach to get maximum mileage out of its Citrix deployment. The pilot deployment of thin clients was done in the finance department.

Immediate benefits included cost savings compared to desktop PCs and reduced maintenance costs. “We can give our employees the latest LCD monitors and still end up saving more than 50 percent compared to a normal desktop PC,” says Prosenjit Purkayastha, Vice-president, Finance, MGL.

It has many IT benefits. All terminals are disk-less and so all software and applications reside on the server. This makes it easier to manage. “There is reduced risk of a malicious software attack. It also avoids multiple points of failure. All employees have to save their data on the server instead of the desktop, so a single data backup can be done at a centralised location,” says Joshi.

Blessing In Disguise

Before deploying Citrix with thin clients, MSL had decentralised applications running at different offices requiring manual updating and interfacing. There was also poor inter-office connectivity due to insufficient bandwidth. This was a major issue.

MGL’s main business is to supply Piped Natural Gas (PNG) to households, small and medium commercial establishments and industries in Mumbai and surrounding areas like Thane and Mira-Bhayander. It also provides Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) to taxis, auto-rickshaws, cars, tempos and trucks. “Being service-oriented, a centralised billing system was critical for financial viability,” confides Purkayastha.

The Citrix deployment ensured that centralised applications became easily accessible from all offices and locations. It also resulted in quicker deployments of such applications. “This has enhanced employee productivity across the organisation and has contributed to employee delight due to ease of usage of the applications,” says Purkayastha.

To mitigate the bandwidth problem, MGL deployed an RF link between Sion and the MGL head office at Bandra-Kurla complex. There is very little downtime after that. The only time they have problems is when a flock of birds fly directly in the line of the signal. Citrix deployment ensures that all terminals have the same network speed. It also helps monitoring the activities of the employees. Joshi claims that it is easiest to block sites and unauthorised internet activities on thin clients.

Lessons From 26/7

During the infamous Mumbai flood, the Kalina office was worst affected. “There was five feet water in the office which contained the billing data. However, we ensured that the server hard disks were retrieved before water could destroy the data on them,” says Joshi.

MGL now provides key end-users with DVD-RWs or high capacity USB pen drives or 80 GB USB hard disk to back-up individual data. Daily backup of the server data is also undertaken on tape as a precautionary measure. The tapes are then taken offsite for storage.

Roadmap To The Future

MGL’s immediate plan is to bring about integration across the organisation by implementing ERP. “We are making the best use of our assets. However, in the future we want to go for BI. We have 117 gas outlets; BI can help us find out which gas station is viable or not,” says Joshi.

Spinning off the IT arm

From being ICICI Bank’s back office processing team six years back to its present day role as a separate entity, 3i Infotech has become a force to reckon with. Sneha Khanna reports

V Srinivasan

Prior to 1999, the company known as 3i Infotech served as the back office team for ICICI Bank to handle processes for bondholder and shareholder services. Known as ICICI Investor Services at that time, it had around 50 employees.

However, it was not easy going as technological changes required in the system resulted in investor complaints. Once the bottlenecks were sorted out, the team started performing and things changed.

Time To Go Solo

Seeing the growth and capabilities of the group, the ICICI management decided to make it a separate entity. “Based on the technology capabilities of ICICI Investor Services, the ICICI management decided to go in for a full-fledged company,” says V Srinivasan, CEO and Managing Director, 3i Infotech.

This was due to the perception that the new entity could bring good business. For this, the management brought together the IT staff, 200 employees from across the ICICI group, to form the new company which was christened ICICI Infotech.

The name was changed from ICICI Infotech to 3i Infotech in 2005, because the organisation wanted to be known as a separate entity before its first public issue.

Off To A Rocky Start

Things were not in the favour of the new company. 3i Infotech missed the Y2K-related software boom and the dot com boom. In addition, the start-up suffered heavily due to the meltdown in the IT sector caused by 9/11.

US companies started to reduce the number of vendors they dealt with, consolidating their outsourcing to a few mid-sized or large players which made things even more difficult for the young company. “Soon after we formed ICICI Infotech in 1999, there was a technology meltdown in developed countries. So we had to build ourselves purely on service strategy using a solutions-based approach and with less dependence on developed countries,” says Srinivasan.

So the company decided to grow not only organically, but also by using business acquisitions and expansion. It got into the process by acquiring Rohan Software in 1999 followed by Ivory International and Object Xperts in year 2000. It went on to acquire more companies in the following years.

Teething Trouble

While setting up the company one of the major challenges faced was the capital expenditure for setting up global offices. “Creating a market presence was one of the challenges faced by our company in its initial period,” says Srinivasan.

Another challenge was that the company, which served only the banking sector, was now exposed to a wide range of business verticals. Also, as the company tried to get a global footprint, it faced many issues. These included dealing with a multicultural team, product localisation and fulfilment of regulatory requirements in particular countries.

After substantial growth, the company decided to adopt the de-risking strategy with a bigger portfolio and made its foray into software products. Says MB Battliwala, Head, Global Marketing, 3i Infotech, “Our company has successfully de-risked its operations by spreading them across various geographies and products, and services-based solutions.”

A Name To Reckon With

Six years down the line, the company has made its presence felt directly and through channel partners with development centres in Chennai, Bangalore and Mumbai. It has a global presence in the USA, the UK, the UAE, Kazakhstan, India, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Australia.

Today the company has over 2,300 employees. Its client portfolio includes the parent group ICICI Bank companies as well as over 500 customers from 45 countries. The company offers IT services and software products to banking, insurance, capital markets and ERP for manufacturing, retail, distribution and contracting. It has also distinguished itself as a model worth emulating for many of today’s IT teams.

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