ERP for rural development
Samir Somaiya, Managing Director, Godavari Sugar Mills,
shares how he managed and organised his companys first major IT initiative.
He also discusses the various challenges faced in deploying IT in a rural setting
Godavari Sugar Mills was founded in 1939, and is our groups
flagship company. We produce sugar, ethanol, chemicals and electricity from
sugarcane, and have a turnover of about Rs 500 crore. Our company has five manufacturing
locations in rural Karnataka and Maharashtra.
The sugar industry has always needed critical real-time information,
especially in the cane department. This is because sugarcane has to be crushed
soon after it has been harvested. The time delay between harvest and inventory
in the yard (for sugarcane to be crushed) cannot be more than 6-8 hours. Anything
beyond that can lead to a stock-out, and will lead to spoilage of our sugar.
This results in a reduction of sugar yield from the cane. Further, the complexity
increases since cane is harvested continuously from a few hundred centres across
various remote locations.
A rocket engine on a bullock cart
Sugarcane has to be crushed soon after it has been harvested.
The time delay between harvest and inventory in the yard (for sugarcane
to be crushed) cannot be more than 6-8 hours.
Anything beyond that can lead to a stock-out, and will lead to spoilage
of our sugar
Earlier, IT deployment in various departments of our sugar
mill was limited to a few meagre applications. There was no enterprise-class
integration apart from using an accounting package for financial accounting.
Unlike the cane department, where the information was available in real-time,
and used for a feed-forward system of control, the rest of the company lagged
and made use of a delayed feedback loop system.
I often used an analogy: the cane software systems compared to those of the
rest of the company were like a rocket engine put up on a bullock cart. This
is why I felt it was high time that the operational systems and business processes
change. In this way the change would reflect on the rest of the company as well.
But this could only be achieved through the introduction of real-time information
The consultants feasibility report advised us to go
in for a phased deployment. Contrary to the advice, we decided otherwise and
went ahead with a single-phase full-fledged IT deployment across remote locations.
It was also an excuse for me to re-examine the various procedures and processes
employed by us in the company, compare it to the best-in-class of the industry,
and modify it further wherever necessary.
Systems for sugarcane
The ERP deployment was started during 2000. We were probably also the first
sugar company in South Asia to implement SAP. The cane departments criticality
and its crucial real-time information needs meant that it was the first to go
in for computerisation.
The implementation was done on an Oracle database system with a self-developed
real-time application management system running at data centres located in Mumbai.
The implementations objective was to help track farm transactions in real-time.
The ERP implementation created a real-time culture with transparent and consistent
performance throughout the organisation.
Farmers are rated on their performance, and the ratings are used to predict
sugarcane availability during the forthcoming year. Rural connectivity for the
same was established using VSATs.
We also implemented GIS (geographic information systems) and remote sensing,
and introduced handhelds for faster data updates to the central database. This
helped cane inspectors to be more efficient. Further, we have also launched
multi-lingual Farmers Information System kiosks (in English, Kannada,
Hindi and Marathi).
My concerns were well-handled, and I was satisfied with the
full-scale one-time deployment. The introduction of IT throughout helped in
better decision-making capability. IT implementation has changed various processes
followed by us since inception, and simplified them further.
A slew of benefits
farm-land record with agronomy practices, and details and history of land holding
can be maintained. Factory experts can put across suggestions to farmers about
planting by examining the soil and water availability of a particular plot;
this has resulted in staggered plantation.
Staggered plantation has in turn helped the factory to crush
throughout the crushing season, thereby giving better yield and recovery. Information
about the supply of cane has become organised after our systems went online.
At any given point of time, the payment and recovery account details of a particular
area can be analysed. Today, there is just a minor deviation between planning,
budgeting and achievements. The reduction in manpower was also a major change.
Re-invent and Re-examine
A farmers portal, Kisan Khazana, is under development.
The challenge here is to make the content and
service delivery relevant and convenient to the
farmers through a local language GUI
My objective is to continuously re-invent and re-examine our
performance with an agile view to maintain, improve and provide consistent real-time
information to farmers in the remotest villages that our group serves.
In this context, a farmers portal, Kisan Khazana, is
under development. The challenge here is to make the content and service delivery
relevant and convenient to the farmers through a local language GUI. We have
also started implementation of a Wi-Fi mesh network in these villages.