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Issue of February 2007

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Wireless & Mobile enablement

How Elbee tracks consignments

Shirish Gariba

Elbee Express was under pressure to deploy a solution that would satisfy enterprise and individual customers by giving them the ability to track their consignments in real-time. The complications increased in managing different priorities of different customers from various segments for their consignment tracking.

Massive undertaking

To manage thousands of documents and parcels deliveries across more than 11,600 locations in India is a Herculean task. This vast chain has to run like a well-oiled piece of machinery for which pinpoint-tracking of goods, parcels and documents has to be a given. To satisfy this need and automate various business processes being followed, Shirish Gariba, Vice-President, Information Technology, Elbee Express, deployed a Web portal named eTABS.

Chosen path

The primary need was for a dedicated data centre—dedicated because the system had to be accessible every single day including national and bank holidays—to host applications and the consignment database. The solution was to outsource the data centre infrastructure to Mumbai-based NetMagic Solutions. Elbee’s servers and solutions hosted at NetMagic are deployed on the Windows server platform. Branch offices are connected to the datacentre in Mumbai using dial-up and broadband links.

  • Deliverymen carry handheld scanners which are connected via GPRS. The technology is being piloted.
  • Plans to migrate to wireless Web-based applications to update details in near real-time.
  • Some hiccups have been encountered—the devices needed are too expensive (in the range of Rs 50,000 to 70,000), capturing detailed information on the field is difficult, and the time taken for updating the information is about five to six hours which should ideally be near real-time.
  • A switchover from SQL Server to Oracle is on the cards once the wireless Web-based applications are completely deployed.

eTABulating consignments

Once the IT backbone was in place, the company launched the eTABS portal. The consignment reference numbers are used to track parcels online. The same portal interface is used by various Elbee branch offices to track the consignment before an aircraft lands. This means that branch offices can be alerted about loads before they arrive and get in advance shipment details such as weight, destination, delivery and exceptions.

After deploying the requisite IT infrastructure and eTABS, Elbee took things a step ahead by launching consignment tracking through SMS. An SMS interface is available at the eTABS portal; by messaging 7575, a service operated by the Essel group, customers can generate customised reports which contains the tracking information. The updates are transmitted to the client’s server after midnight at a time when network traffic is low.

IT Backbone

The company is availing of dedicated hosting at NetMagic with remote server, network, database monitoring and management. The 24x7 NOC is also handled by NetMagic. IBM Tivoli is used for management and monitoring resources.

Cisco 6509 series switches and Juniper M5 routers populate the network that is strung together using Lucent Cat 5 structured cabling. The x-way Xeon-based servers are from Dell and IBM. Data back-up is done using EMC Legato solutions.

The biggest challenge was to ensure that enterprises opting for periodic updates and customised report generation would not suffer security breaches by doing so. Because Elbee’s clients included major banks and financial institutions, security considerations were paramount. “The other major challenge was to balance the technological innovations with business needs. It was also a challenge to introduce innovations without hampering existing business processes,” says Gariba.

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Indian Express - Business Publications Division

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