Samir Sachdeva | June 15, 2010
Puneet Gupta, the general manager for public sector in IBM India, is responsible for business development for all IBM products and services to government organisations in the country. He has been with IBM for over 10 years and has held positions in several groups, including PC business, Channels and Unix Server business. In his current role, Gupta focuses on e-governance solutions and strategic initiatives on information technology with various government departments. He is part of the CII defence subcommittee on IT & communication and participates in several industry forums on IT. Edited excerpts from an interview with Samir Sachdeva:
How do you see the progress of e-governance implementation in India?
In India, we have seen a rapid deployment and progress of the National e-Governance Plan (NeGP) and large IT modernisation projects. The government is now looking to leverage IT to improve citizen services, efficiency and lower the total cost of operations. They are re-orienting their structures and policies around the citizens they serve. The progress in the last five-six years is enviable by any global benchmarks. This journey has just started and we have a long way to go before the impact of IT is felt across all sections of the society.
Tell us about IBM’s journey so far in the e-governance domain.
IBM India has enabled a number of central and state governments to drive various e-governance programmes successfully. These projects are aimed at improving services to citizens and enabling government organisations to achieve operational and cost efficiencies. We have successfully collaborated with several government bodies in India to drive many e-governance projects over the years and will continue to strengthen our e-governance capabilities. Global economic pressures have also required governments to evaluate and refresh their national information and communication technology (ICT) plan so as to remain competitive and relevant. IBM is helping to create new markets – the future of services – with its deep industry expertise and capabilities like IBM Research. IBM has provided business consulting services to public sector enterprises like Indian Oil and GAIL and is working on providing such services to the Indian government. There is an increasing affinity within the government to deploy commercially off-the-shelf applications like ERP, HRMS solutions instead of bespoke applications. This is a good trend and IBM is actively engaging itself to work more in this regard with the Indian government. IBM is actively localising government solutions and technologies for Indian conditions and engaging at all levels of government to become a lead contributor in the Indian inclusive growth story propelled by e-governance. IBM technology is at the forefront in key projects like CBDT, MCA 21, CRIS Crew Management and many more.
What is the role of IBM’s public sector business unit?
IBM’s public sector business unit in India is one of the fastest growing businesses. IBM is making investments in this business through the state-of-the-art e-governance centre which combines IBM’s global experience and technology expertise to deliver e-business solutions for the government. The centre offers IBM’s customers a range of services including technical consultation, proof of concept and technical presentations, implementation planning, solution architecture, application design and development, deployment and education and training. A part of this facility offers technology, support and infrastructure to help governments and total service providers to design, develop, test and port prototypes of e-governance applications. IBM expects that public sector business will be a key contributor to the growth of the India business.
You mentioned the CRIS (Centre for Railway Information System). What were the highlights of this e-governance project?
IBM has partnered with CRIS to help provide a centralised service to over 68,000 employees of East Coast Railway – that transforms the way they accessed their personal data like provident fund balance, leave eligibility, account status etc – all at the touch of a button (through kiosks placed at railway stations). The integration of multiple disparate applications built an inherent intelligence into this solution and fundamentally transformed the end-user experience from the perspective of both a railway employee and a railway vendor/supplier. IBM has also worked closely with CRIS in building the Crew Management System (CMS). Under the system, bookings of train drivers, which were done manually and monitored at various levels by inspectors and officers, are now arranged through software. CMS is a unique system in which accuracy and monitoring is automatically maintained.
What do you think of public-private partnership (PPP) in e-governance?
Today, governments are facing increasing challenges that impact their ability to fulfil constituent requirements. And by 2020, government interactions will require perpetual collaboration – organisation, culture and governance; partnerships and intermediaries; knowledge creation and sharing and personalised interaction and services – across transnational agencies, societies, governments and constituencies. PPP is certainly a step in the right direction.
Have you taken up any e-governance project under the PPP model?
In May 2007, IBM signed a $45 million, five-year services agreement to modernise Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) IT infrastructure. The pact is designed on a unique PPP model. IBM will make upfront investments in the deployment of hardware and software infrastructure and will then be paid over a period of five years for services rendered to CBDT. IBM will offer integrated infrastructure solutions to CBDT’s three data centres in Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai and facilities management services for the Income Tax Department (ITD) across 745 offices in 510 cities in India. The solution includes IBM’s system servers, storage, security solutions and host of other associated technologies and services.
What about the Passport Seva Project (PSP)?
IBM is working with TCS to manage IT infrastructure for the Passport Seva Project. Taking steps to make passport service more people-friendly, the MEA (Ministry of External Affairs) aims to nearly quadruple the number of passport counters to 1,250 from the current 345 and bring the entire process of issuing travel documents online. As many as 77 fully computerised new passport facilitation centres would be opened across the country. To speed up the process of police verification, a secure network is also being set up. IBM is working closely with TCS to provide the required support for a successful implementation of the project. I understand the INCOIS (Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services) project is also built on the IBM technology. The INCOIS project is being implemented under the Ministry of Earth Sciences. Right from helping fishermen in the coastal zones in the country with better yields and optimising fishing time to predicting storms, earthquakes and serving as tsunami warning system, INCOIS is leveraging technology provided by IBM to offer ocean-related intelligence that has a very critical societal and business impact.
What key challenges did you face in implementing these projects?
The mandate to “do more with less” continues. With frenetic change as the predominant driver, leaders and managers in governments of all sizes are charged with balancing growing needs and shrinking resources with the burgeoning demands on – and complexity of – the systems that keep their worlds operating. IBM has formed long-term relationships with national, regional and local governments in all regions of the world, resulting in a long list of references. IBM has a proven track record, with a dedicated focus on clients’ most critical needs, delivering lasting transformative solutions involving the integration of processes, people and systems.
Which organisations and institutions is IBM partnering with to offer solutions in the e-governance domain? What role for the IBM Research Lab are you looking forward to?
IBM India Research Lab is heavily focused on developing solutions for specific industries, including government. The goal is to create groundbreaking applications and platforms that would help businesses and industries thrive. Take, for example, the potential of the Spoken Web. People can create voice sites using a simple telephone, mobile or landline. The user gets a unique phone number which is analogous to a URL and when other users access this voice site they get to hear the content uploaded there. Interestingly, all these voice sites can be interlinked creating a massive network, which can work like the World Wide Web. IBM partners with almost all leading IT players in the Indian market to work collaboratively to offer the best solution to the customer.
The Indian Council of Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER) recently brought out a report, concluding that IBM is monopolising the mainframes market. What do you have to say about it?
This report was written by Openmainframe.org, an organisation that is a front group for many of IBM’s competitors. So you must consider the source of these unfounded accusations. Openmainframe.org is bought and paid for by Microsoft and other IBM competitors, so it’s hardly surprising that it would be making an anti-IBM argument. This report has no credibility.
The accusations in this report are not being driven by the interests of clients, but rather by some of IBM’s competitors. To call the IBM mainframe a ‘monopoly’ is reflective of lack of understanding of technology challenges facing the country. IBM servers face vigorous competition. IBM’s System Z servers constitute less than 10 percent of all server revenue and 0.03 percent of total server shipments. In fact, only a decade ago, the IBM mainframe was on the verge of extinction because of competition from Wintel and other distributed platforms that still heavily dominate the market today. But by investing billions of dollars in research and development, IBM improved the mainframe platform and enhanced its competitiveness.
Even while doing so, IBM regularly has lowered the prices paid by clients for doing work on the mainframe. As a result, IBM’s clients have benefited from innovation on the platform, and an alternative to Unix and Windows has been preserved.
Continuous quality improvements and reduced prices are not what one would expect from a so-called monopoly.
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