Abhishek Agarwal, Senior VP and CIO – Corporate IT, Balmer Lawrie & Co Ltd, talks about driving business through an integrated data management application.
From the Defence Ministry to manufacturing, telecom, IT service partner and then a conglomerate, Abhishek Agarwal has worked in a variety of industries in his 22 year career. During this time he’s helped modernise the Indian Army’s technical capability in decisionmaking using IT, spearheaded Maruti Suzuki Dealer Management System, and worked with the likes of Airtel, Wipro, and Vodafone. Abhishek has been involved in the hardware, networking, and software development aspect of organisations and this experience has come in handy at Balmer Lawrie & Co Ltd. Realising the importance of an integrated data network, Abhishek has successfully implemented an application to streamline the company’s entire operations across multiple branches and 80+ geographic locations. Here, he tells us more about the implementation.
The need for an integrated data system
“For a transport and logistics organisation like ours, information flow is a crucial part of the operations. If one part of the system is not integrated with the others then our customers and agents end up suffering. During analysis it was found that our legacy application was unable to handle the current business dynamics. The idea for an integrated data system had been approved a while ago. But it hadn’t been kick-started yet. Being from the telecom sector I understood the importance of having quick and easy access to information. So I pushed for it. I drew up a plan that convinced management by showing them the projected business benefits and improvements in operational efficiency that would result. It was a commercially off the shelf (COTS) product. However, being a PSU we made quite a few changes to the product prior to implementation.
“When we launched the Mumbai branch, we decided to first conduct the POC of the application. As usual there was a difference between the business requirement and the customised product. Unfortunately, in India, very few actually provide the specific requirements a public sector enterprise needs. It took us approximately four months to stabilise the setup. We had to start from scratch, gathering the required information pertaining to the business processes, and build it up according to what was actually needed.”
How it works
“The tool has a three tier architecture, with a web base, a database, and the application.
The system has built-in MIS along with integrated BA tools. The application is completely web-based and uses our local data centre in Kolkata. The information still needs to be manually entered into the system, but the consignments are cleared and dispatched only when the customs agencies have entered all of the required data into each column. Additionally, we have integrated the system with a few airlines, so that if any material is coming via air, we can track it.
“Now, thanks to the new setup everything is integrated and we can track everything, from a customer’s enquiry to airline information and closure, all online. It is a complete end-to-end system, where an enquiry is reviewed immediately and the purchase order issued out, along with the appropriate quotations, right in the system itself. The system also provides a 360-degree view of sales and marketing. This has helped bring back transparency into the system. We can clearly see the profit and gross margins, the quotations being sent to customers, and whether we are able to deliver them or not.”
Overcoming challenges and reaping benefits
“The four months we lost because of requirements not being made clear cost us dearly. We had to get the precise requirements and conduct a fresh UAT from scratch, which caused the whole project to get derailed. After that we found that there was also a lack of quality manpower on the vendor’s side. They did not have enough team members to be put on the project so that it could be rolled out in one day. So we decided to split the project into three phases.
“Management, on the other hand, was another challenge, as people weren’t ready to accept anything different. Now, when every aspect of operations is automated they are convinced of its benefits. Not only can we track each and every phase of the process, payments are issued out to the middlemen automatically, after passing through the SAP system. As a result we have been able to generate additional revenue. We also increased shipment thanks to operational efficiency. Additionally, we’re able to control debt because of better control on collection due to MIS reporting.”
In the works
“Currently the mobile app is under construction and we expect to rolled it out in the coming year. While the majority of the process has been completed, a few reporting issues and other minor kinks remain, which we are working to eliminate. Mobility is the next goal. And while we are yet to find out if people will be ready to accept ordering on a mobile platform, given that we are a PSU, we are looking for ways to make the application completely secure and comprehensive, so that all issues are addressed. We have already conducted a POC using a smartphone, and right now, we are working on developing a finished application that has none of the drawbacks and limitations.”