Interview

Setting up Example in Business Workflow Systems : Ravindran Karupiah, Indah Water Konsortium, Malaysia

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We used Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 for its messaging system for several years, and introduced several workflow applications which were integrated with the messaging system to automate work processes and improve customer service levels. When tasks were not completed within a specified time, an escalation was triggered, sending alerts that are delivered through e-mail messages to the appropriate individuals. These workflow solutions significantly accelerated processing and approvals”, says Ravindran Karupiah, General Manager, Information Technology Department, Indah Water, in an interview with egov magazine

Please provide an overview of Indah Water Konsortium. What were some of the challenges Indah Water faced?

Indah Water Konsortium Sdn Bhd, a national sewerage company, wholly-owned by the Minister of Finance Incorporated, government of Malaysia, is entrusted with developing and maintaining a modern and efficient sewage system for Malaysia. In 1994, the Malaysian federal government awarded Indah Water the concession for nationwide sewage services, which had previously been managed by local authorities. Since then, our company has risen to the challenge of ensuring that Malaysians are able to enjoy a clean and healthy environment through a proper and well-maintained sewage system.

The company, which has about 2,400 employees, works through 17 unit offices and a number of smaller satellite offices located across Malaysia. In light of the wide scope of our operations, the company’s e-mail system is especially important to our internal communications and it is a very crucial component of Indah Water’s business workflow systems. In fact, Indah Water has issued e-mail accounts to about 1,200 employees.

We used Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 for its messaging system for several years, and introduced several workflow applications which were integrated with the messaging system to automate work processes and improve customer service levels. These workflow systems include processes such as leave applications, purchase requisition, and purchase orders. When tasks were not completed within a specified time, an escalation was triggered, sending alerts that are delivered through e-mail messages to the appropriate individuals. These workflow solutions significantly accelerated processing and approvals.

Indah Water is a prominent utility company and this messaging system forms an important channel of communication with members of the public who submit inquiries, complaints, and even job applications to Indah Water through our e-mail system.

As we continuously seek to improve operational efficiencies and staff productivity, we were interested to upgrade to Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 as soon as it was available. Also, our IT managers believed they could further improve operational efficiency and business processes with the software’s focus on unified communications and collaboration.

How did Indah Water deploy Exchange Server 2007 to enhance operational efficiency, business processes and customer service? How did you roll out the solution?

Indah Water engaged Microsoft partner Mesiniaga Berhad to help us migrate to Exchange Server 2007. For the initial implementation, the Exchange Server 2007 system was installed on two HP ProLiant DL 380 G5 server computers using Dual-Core Intel Xeon 5160 processors. These combined to give best-in-class solutions, and created a more efficient and responsive enterprise messaging system that offers up to three times the performance of previous single-core based servers and give new levels of price performance and an improved cost per mailbox.

The installation proceeded smoothly without any problems. In fact, it was even easier and faster than installing Exchange Server 2003. We deployed Exchange Server 2007, a native 64-bit application, on Windows Server x 64 and used Microsoft Office Outlook as our messaging and collaboration client, along with Microsoft Office Outlook Web Access for remote e-mail access through a Web browser.

What are the benefits Indah Water has enjoyed as a result of deploying Exchange Server 2007?

Since deploying Exchange Server 2007, our employees have enjoyed better e-mail service and improvements in productivity and decision making. Some of the specific benefits include:

  • The ability to deliver high availability: Indah Water especially welcomed the local continuous replication (LCR) feature of Exchange Server 2007. LCR supports the continuous replication of data across multiple disks on a single server. In the event of a disk failure or data corruption, switching over to the copy database makes recovery faster and easier.

The LCR capability effectively eases the previous complexity in doing backups and restorations. Now if the main server is down, we can link up the replica database, and restore our data almost immediately, rather than restoring from a tape backup. Previously, it could take as much as eight hours to restore a single e-mail database.

  • Improved productivity and decision making: The mobility features of Exchange Server 2007 have improved the productivity of Indah Water managers. Because important information is always available, it is easier for them to make decisions even when they are out of the office. In particular, our managers like the built-in Direct Push feature of Exchange Server 2007. Just like push mail, Direct Push technology enable users to receive e-mail messages, calendar details, contacts, and tasks from Windows Mobile powered smartphones and devices. The impressive thing about this feature is that our managers receive this data as soon as it arrives on the server computer in their offices, wherever we are. We can be in constant contact with our colleagues, partners, and customers. Managers can also make decisions and give approvals even when they are on the move.

As a utility company, problems and issues can come up at any time. When this happens, our employees need to be alerted. With the enhanced mobility features of Exchange Server 2007, such as push mail and Outlook Web Access, our staff can keep on top of all important matters.

Please provide your comment on capacity building, training needs of employees within the department.

With about 2,400 employees working across different business units ranging from customer service centres to finance to on-site support, it is important for Indah Water to continually train our employees to drive improved operational efficiency and staff productivity. The IT department is no different. We have a diverse group of employees with different levels of skills and knowledge. We need to make sure that whatever technology we implement, users would be able to pick it up relatively quickly, and be comfortable using it. Training is conducted both online and offline to support the needs of our team.

What are some of the major obstacles to your computerisation plans and how they are being overcome?

With any new technology, it is only natural for users to feel a little hesitant about using it as they need to familiarize themselves with the solution. We tend to face this challenge with most new deployments, but we find that the team picks it up fairly quickly with some training. Essentially, when it comes to technology, we tend to listen to feedback from users (staff), because they are in the front line and it’s important to make sure we get their buy in. We also have training programs to make sure staff understand and can make use new features of any technology deployment.

It is also very important to look for the right partner, one that is flexible and technically competent, when adopting any new technology. That way, you can be assured that the new technology compliments your existing system and will drive positive business outcomes for your company.

Are there other capabilities in the solution that you feel will help address Indah Water’s future needs?

Because Indah Water plans to develop new workflow applications to automate more work processes, Exchange Server 2007 is proving to be an ideal solution. It is a powerful, robust, and unified messaging system that will serve as the foundation for the messaging component of our workflow applications.

Our organisation is also planning to tap into the collaborative strengths of Exchange Server 2007 by integrating it with Microsoft Office SharePoint Portal Server. This integration will provide our employees with a convenient single point of access to applications such as e-mail and workflow systems.

This means that with Outlook Web Access, employees who are out of the office will be able to easily and securely access their SharePoint files. Employees can access SharePoint documents without a VPN (virtual private network) or network tunnel, by using LinkAccess, a feature that retrieves and displays a document while providing a higher level of security than a VPN.

What advice would you like to share with other companies that may be looking to upgrade their company wide messaging systems?

As a utility company, we operate a critical service. My advice to other companies is that it is important to have a reliable communications system to ensure efficient information flow both internally and externally. Although Exchange Server 2003 has served us well, the new release of Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 has significant enhancements that have greatly improved our messaging system.

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