India is known as the biggest democracy, one of the BRIC nations (Brazil Russia India China) striving to significant economic growth not to mention largest IT offshoring country. It has some very big private companies (mostly family run) many of which run SAP. While this has brought India in limelight, there is another interesting aspect that is now slowly coming into light apart from the traditional issues around population and economic liberalisation.
India undoubtedly has one of the world’s biggest Public Sector organisations and some of these are going in for major IT Transformation projects. In this blog we shall look into three such examples – Indian Railways and Armed Forces which are already having a number of IT projects and a new IT Transformation project – Unique ID Card Scheme. And as a SAP Consultant the natural question came up – does Enterprise Application Software vendors like SAP have suitable solution for these unique opportunities.
First is Indian Railways which has some interesting statistics but also happens to be one of the Indian Public Sector undertakings that have a fine in-house IT department. Recently in news is the Crew Management Session that CRIS (Centre for Railway Information Systems) has developed in-house. The main and probably the first projecct CRIS took up that had immense benefit to the biggest customers of Indian Railways – the passengers, is Computerised Passenger Reservation System. It has grown from its early days to presenta day convenience of doing a railway reservation from your desktop online. Indeed as an Enterprise Application Indian Railways has some classical ERP functional requirements like Materials Management, Procurement, Finance/Control and HR. But very soon it gets into very specific functional requirements be it reservation for passengers or rakes for companies looking for goods movement to scheduling of crew & rolling stock, spare parts management, managing continuous stream of projects of varied sizes and so on.
Second is Indian Defence Services – mainly Army and Air Force. A recent article highlighted Indian IT Service providers fighting out to bag major defence deals. While it may sound odd but logistics and inventory management remain on of the more important functions in any armed forces. Apart from the sacrifice of brave men and women most recent wars have been won (and lost) tactically through managing logistics. Inventory Control and Materials Management are two of the classical ERP Operations functions that are an absolute necessaity to manage any armed forces. With huge numbers of mechnical equipment the other function that gains importance is Service Parts Management. Not to mention HR remains another important function. With large ranks of personnel, strict hierarchy and need to maintain records right from hire to beyond retirement (pension and other welfare benefits) HCM functions are much needed. Not to mention Project Systems, Procurement and Finance/Control for managing any major arms purchase to regular annual supply contracts. In fact many consumer goods companies in India have a separate channel in their Sales & Distribution network to cater to Canteen Stores Department of armed forces. So all in all there is tremendous scope for implementing SAP ECC in the Indian Armed Forces.
The last example is based on a very recent announcement which has roused both public and corporate attention in India. Nandan Nilekeni ex-CEO of Infosys Technologies has been appointed by the Prime Minister of India as the Chairman of Unique Identification Authority of India. This is still in conceptual stage but can turn out to be the biggest eGovernance project undertaken in India and potentially among all time top ones of the world. The Unique ID project envisages something equivalent of SSN in US which is the only comparable example. But the sheer numbers in Indian context makes it challenging. How do you manage more than 1 billion unique ids – SAP’s 22 character GUID can surely handle the absolute numbers but the challenge is to equate that with an unique identifier. Will a full name, mother’s maiden name, date of birth and place of birth ensure a unique identifier for a person. Hopefully it will. While I was chatting about this the other day with fellow Mentor Nigel James, he raised an interesting question – how will orphans, street children get their unqiue identifier – they have a name and possibly a date of birth but nothing more can be validated. Of course there will be more such practical challenges that need to be thrashed out in the “Design” stage before even considering the software application for “Build” phase to begin. The question is does SAP has something in their suite of products that can fit in to this kind of unique requirement. Maybe SAP HR to start with to maintain the record of each person, but what next. There will be so many Government and Private Agencies that will need to connect to this database for authentication and identity management. Some examples that come into mind is Passport, Voter ID card, Driving License, Income Tax, Health Insurance (UK’s NHS), Pension schemes, Bank accounts, Credit Card, Loan and Insurance products, Admission to educational insititutes from Schools right to Universities, Job History – the list of potential usages can be very long. So whatever database application is used it needs to be scalable, fast, flexble and most importantly open to respond to any kind of requests from any of the requestors.
I dare to say SAP might have something up in their sleeves to meet this kind of challenge. Listening to Hasso Plattner’s keynote at SAPPHIRE 2009 SAP applications built on top of columnar database have a potential to be scalable and deliver information with “Power of Speed”. But one thing is very clear there is no single enterprise application that fits most if not all the functional requirements of all the three examples. The Industry specific business maps like Defense and Public Sector does provide a good starting point. I guess that is where SAP’s futuristic goal of a Business Process Platform actually fit in. With a Process Platform I guess its easier to manage IT Transformation projects of this scale – pick and choose Process Blocks based on the basic requirements, slowly moving on to the specifc unique requirements. Maybe SAP will get into developing some of the unique requirements because surely there is a market and possible return of investment, not to mention most Government projects have longer than normal implementation timelines.
Surely I would watch how the Unique ID Project pans out primarily because you have a visionary at its helm and its starting fresh with the ability to take on the latest and greatest technology advancement coming up.
Update 8 July 2009 : Article highlighting challenges faced for Unique ID project.