IT cannot guarantee productivity by itself: Karthi Madhavan
IT is the support for any industry and it has played a very transformative role in businesses. At times, business transformations have happened because of very small IT initiatives. For example, the first biggest transformation that took place because of IT in the transportation sector in India was the railways reservation in the 80s. It was done by CMC when it was a government company. IT can help business, particularly transportation, in two ways: 1. Cut down the cost or keep the cost minimal or optimised so that efficiency driven from the system is maximum. 2. Keep the business effective. As much as it is efficient, the business also has to be made effective which means you have to earn more revenue from the market. For that, the costs have to be kept most optimal – right up to 99.99% efficiency. That is fine but how do you get people to board the bus? So, as much as IT helps in making systems and internal processes efficient, it also plays a huge part in actually making them effective by getting information on how the end consumer sees the importance of the value added services. This is just like what Manjunata Prasad was mentioning that because of the online reservation system, he can earn 40% more profit during the peak time provided people actually get access to book the tickets during the weekends.
So, any IT initiative by itself cannot guarantee productivity. It has to be coupled with same business process reengineering. Putting up a beautiful portal is not enough, it should be able to tell you when your next bus would be coming – in 35 minutes or 45 minutes! The so called ITS can sometimes backfire because if you say that the next bus would arrive in 35 minutes, the reaction could be, “Oh really? I have to wait for 35 minutes? Let me just take an auto or taxi and go.” At least right now, the consumer is expecting it to arrive in the next two to three minutes and hence, is waiting for it. If I give an IT system which predicts that the bus would arrive in 35 minutes, I have to ensure that my business process drives to make sure it does not come before 35 minutes. So, despite whatever we think, IT by itself cannot solve our business problems. The business should solve the business problems. IT can enable it to solve the business problems.
In the US or in Europe we have done multiple integration or multiple process projects. I have seen a very important thing. Senior leaders from the transportation industries can take a lot of inputs from this: Reuse of information is missing in India. You have KSRTC which is extremely profitable and you have Tamilnadu Corporation which is struggling and Kerala which is entirely profitable. And these are all neighbouring states. As a consumer the reuse is not happening. Today you have open force technologies where a lot of technology can be reused. We have enterprise resource planning. I would like to give an example here: if one Corporation will go for SAP, the other will go for Oracle financials and yet another will opt for JD Edwards. At the end of the day we are all state transport corporations running in India! Many of these technologies can be useful for all because the common problems can be solved by a single working solution. But all keep finding their own solutions and that becomes a problem.
Transport Undertakings can be made efficient by IT through fuel management system, enterprise resource planning, depot management system, labour management system, etc. You can have multiple management systems where you can drive efficiency to the best level possible. To make the system effective, you can have your portals, online reservation systems, intelligent transportation systems, passenger information and other systems. Because at the end of the day the customer does not pay because he sees the LED board or a nice looking GPS dabba (box) inside the bus and you tell him it is for tracking the bus; what the customer really pays for is the benefit he gets out of these things. IT plays a tremendous part in making transportation effective, but one challenge in dealing with IT is that it changes faster than the business today. What we think is the solution for one problem now might not remain the solution later. It might have changed. Then you need to go to the next version and then, to the next version. So sometimes IT itself becomes a problem. At the same time, very difficult problems can easily be solved with some focus and investment in IT – both from the efficiency as well as effectiveness point of view.
‘State government should take initiatives first’
Madanpal Singh: We had been receiving many requests from many state governments regarding equity infusion and rural connectivity but the main issue is that public transport is neglected at both central government level and state government level. So the first and foremost issue is that either a proper policy should be made on it or it should be included in the agenda while deciding on policies. Or, a vigilance document should be brought out to promote it instead of promoting other small wheeler growth. Given the increase in population, other requirements of the people also increase and that includes transportation. People are moving towards other modes of transport rather than public transport.
National Transport Development Policy constituted under Dr Rakesh Mohan will soon be submitting its report. It is learnt that they have made specific applications regarding the promotion of public transport and Intelligent Transportation Systems. So, promotion of public transport is already in the offing. The supply side of buses has not kept pace with the increase in population. It needs to be stepped up. Earlier, there was equity infusion in SRTUs from central government also till 1988 or 1990 – two-third from the state government and one-third from central government. But now it has stopped. As for promoting public transport, let the state governments first take initiatives, then the central government also will come out with some kind of policy.
Sudhakar Rao (reacting to Madanpal Singh): There has to be a policy on bus connectivity or mobility in India. With the policy of the Planning Commission and the Government of India, the states will automatically fall in line. And they have their own way of functioning. If there is no system or policy for bus mobility by the GOI, most of the states are also least bothered. I think first the policy must be spelt out so that the states will be sensitised and then improvement can be made from thereon.
O P Gupta: Who shall take the initiative – the state governments or the Central government – can be a point of discussion but we are clear that strong focus and emphasis is required to be brought on public transport. I have seen personally that 50% of the policies that are brought in public domain fail in the beginning. We always mix up policies with financial strength or equity support or capital support. These are two entirely different things. I am more focused on the basic agenda to promote public transport – that may not necessarily need financial assistance in the first place. That can come later when somebody in accordance with that policy is also unable to cope up.
Manjunata Prasad: I have one issue with the Planning Commission – the seventh plan. The Commission had said that to have a wider reach of public transport there should be more and more participation of private providers in the public transportation system. But it later said that there was no policy about the role of the private transporters! There are questions – what is their role, what is their reach? Nothing has been specified in the process. There is absolutely no policy in transportation where it is public verses private. What has happened is it has done enough damage because the government thought that now that the private transporters also have come into the picture, its role will be minimised. That did not happen.