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Issue of February 2007

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A mission-critical network

N Mohanakrishnan

Ashok Leyland went through internal process restructuring in the late 1990s. This restructuring took place in areas such as supply chain, forecasting and outbound logistics. N Mohanakrishnan, Special Director, Information Management Services, Ashok Leyland felt that the only way to get the best out of this huge restructuring exercise was to migrate all of the company’s processes to a common IT platform.

“We were clear in our objectives to have the best-in-class information technology infrastructure and services for our growing businesses,” explains Mohanakrishnan.

Network Failure = No ERP

Prior to setting up of the centralised data centre at Ennore in Chennai, Ashok Leyland had a rudimentary ERP with systems operating from individual locations and data consolidation took place periodically. There were several issues that needed to be sorted out because of this arrangement.

The main problem was that the ERP application did not have a provision for manual updates in case of network failure. This meant that business activity on hand would have to be deferred until links were restored.

The integrated route

All of Ashok Leyland’s business processes now run on a single integrated ERP solution. This solution was developed in-house between 2000 and 2003 with the help of HTMT.

The WAN has 110 points of presence across the country and all these points access the ERP system hosted at the data centre in Ennore for daily operations. The entire infrastructure including the WAN is redundant to ensure that there is no single point of failure.

The company uses Microsoft products such as Exchange, Office, Sharepoint Portal Server and enterprise project management solutions. A centralised helpdesk has also been set up at Chennai to support 75 locations that support desktop management for 3,000 desktops and laptops.

Hooking it all together

All major locations of the company such as manufacturing centres, and corporate and marketing offices are connected by a 2 Mbps leased line with redundant ISDN connectivity from more than one telecom service provider.

Other points of presence are connected using 64 to 256 Kbps leased lines depending upon the level of activity and load. Alternate connectivity is provided through ISDN dial-up with appropriate bandwidth and the smaller locations use Very Small Aperture Terminals (VSAT) connectivity.

The new ERP solution, developed in-house, has been designed in such a way that all the dealer points and service outlets will be able to access it. On completing the initiative, Ashok Leyland’s WAN and dealer chain will encompass 400 points of presence.

Consequently, the IT platform’s continuity for carrying out business processes became critical. Steps were taken by the company to commission a business continuity data centre in one of the major plants at Hosur.

Information security

In terms of security, the company has designed and deployed an infrastructure which has virus protection, firewall and intrusion detection. All of them are running on HP servers. The company has put in place information security policies and procedures. It is also certified for BS 7799 by Standardisation Testing and Quality Certification, a division of Department of Information Technology, for compliance with BS 7799 guidelines.

In addition to this a number of security tools and intrusion detection and prevention solutions protect the company’s data. Continuous monitoring and evaluation of adequacy of the information security is made and necessary augmentation or modification to security infrastructure and policies are put in place from time to time.

Benefits and ROI

The deployment has enhanced process productivity with higher infrastructure availability to business. It has also improved end-user productivity.

Elaborates Mohanakrishnan, “The impact of IT on business and vendor partnership in this endeavour has been tremendous. The cycle time has come down drastically, and process productivity has gone up by about 30 percent. Manufacturing planning is also conducted automatically.” There is higher infrastructure availability with hardly any downtime. “The greater predictability of spending on IT and IT assets means that our TCO is better than before,” he adds.

The benefits derived with IT as the centre point is being felt across Ashok Leyland. The knowledge of IT and its impact on processes and operations has improved across organisational hierarchies. Communications across the 100-plus locations has become comparatively aster in the changed environment.

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