August 2014

Technology for Efficiency

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Baldev Singh

Baldev Singh
Managing Director, State Industrial & Investment Corporation
Of Maharashtra Limited (SICOM)

In conversation with Kartik Sharma and Poulami Chakraborty of ENN, Baldev Singh delves into the ways that IT has been leveraged for transforming operational performances and the challenges faced while doing so

Technology has been transforming governance modes in our country across sectors. Share with us your opinion about the contribution of IT technologies in leveraging the scope of governance.

The government recognises the need to leverage ICT for governance, but the public agencies have systems and services that are largely silo-based, replicative, insufficiently secured, and do not leverage electronic services sufficiently in support of public sector reform efforts. The lack of clear guidelines, standards and shared infrastructure has exacerbated this issue and presents a major barrier in providing seamless e-services.
Hence, there is a critical need for technology foundations to improve public sector efficiency, effectiveness, and information risk management – such as shared data centres, interoperability framework, information security governance, and enterprise architecture. There is also a need to leverage e-Governance  services to support governance priorities in the country, especially for on-going e-governance initiatives to increase transparency, promote inclusion, and improve the business environment. In this context, the government has sought assistance in increasing skills and the institutional capacity for developing the country’s IT/ITES industry and in establishing e-Government foundations and develop e-Services to support public sector reform and modernisation efforts.

How has IT helped in transforming the operational and functional performances in your departmental initiatives?

In SICOM, there are five major systems that cater to the need of user, management, external agencies, auditors etc. These include financial accounting, loan accounting, bill discounting, treasury and employee accounting. Besides these, there are subsystems like CRG, legal etc. that are associated with one or more of them. The introduction of these systems over a period of time has assisted the user in performing repetitive tasks with speed and accuracy. The time taken to fetch information and MIS reporting has also improved considerably and this all has been done on the basis of help from Information Communication Technologies.

There have definitely been benefits that have been observed due to the computerisation drive in SICOM. The multi-user, multi-tasking environment has reduced the time taken for voluminous data entry and has facilitated simultaneous record entry. Security access controls have ensured confidentiality of the information and the LAN environment has assisted cross-functionality of applications, instant validations etc. Connectivity, internal and external, has ensured that information can be exchanged within the head office and regional offices with speed and accuracy and importantly, bank reconciliations, TB, P&L reports can now be generated on a monthly basis.

How successful have you been in establishing effective communication networks particularly in tier II cities? What are the prime challenges faced while utilising these technologies for operational initiatives and how did you tackle them?

SICOM’s Information Service Section earlier termed as EDP – was established in 1985 with a single PC-XT and preliminary software environment like BASIC, LOTUS 1-2-3 etc., and the applications were developed and implemented on a standalone PC. Subsequently, they were converted to operate in LAN environment. The applications and reports were also changed to handle multi-user and multi-tasking situations. The FOXPRO database was used for applications’ development and reporting. Subsequently, UNIX/SCO operating system-based server and ORACLE database were procured and applications like loan accounting, incentives were implemented on the same.
In the initial stages, the main challenge was to convince the user and the establishment of EDP department of SICOM. There were apprehensions in the users’ minds that were clarified and explained through operational training, demonstration of repetitive task automisation, printing with speed and accuracy etc. The next set of challenges came when the networking was installed and applications were converted to LAN environment.

The users in the past (around late 80’s) were familiarised with the security and access control at login and application levels. Subsequently, audit trail, control mechanism at session and application stages was illustrated to them by hand holding process.
The challenges grew when all regional offices of SICOM were connected for e-mail communication. In tier II cities, there were problems related to infrastructure, permissions from local and regulatory authorities, government policies in the past, quality and cost of hardware devices, etc. SICOM, with the help of the government, resolved these issues and the hardware-related problems were solved jointly with vendors. The improvement in information transfer by communicating through electronic devices was noticeable, more accurate and faster as compared to our earlier experiences.

Please elaborate on your fund- based and non fund-based services and how IT has been implemented in these arenas of operation.

Our fund-based services include long-term loans that constitute of project finance and equipment finance. Under project finance services, we provide term loans for projects in the industrial, services and infrastructure sectors and for diversification, modernisation and expansion of existing projects. This includes funding up to 60 per cent of the cost of the project for a period of nine years for the SME sector and seven years for the infrastructure sector.
Financial assistance is up to ` 1 billion per company and ` 1.8 billion per group.
Under equipment finance, we provide for purchase of additional or balancing equipments like energy saving devices and pollution control facilities in an existing project, apart from other equipments that may add value to the existing project. While corporate or medium term loans range between a tenure of one to five years, the tenure for short-term loans ranges between three to 11 months. We also undertake bill discounting services. Our non fund-based services constitutes advisory services to the SME sector.
As a part of Information Communication Technology  integration, we have implemented the On-Line Integrated Accounting System (OLIAS), a multi-user application software. It covers financial accounting and bill discounting applications. Through OLIAS users are governed by an electronic authorisation utility in which the role and authority are defined for them and a makerchecker concept helps maintain accuracy.

It is a very user-friendly system. Till date, no slippages have been experienced in the application. The Loan Accounting & Monitoring System (LAMS) is another major system implemented. Presently OLIAS & LAMS are operating independently and the interface between FA & LAMS is handled through data files being transferred using FTP by manual intervention. There is some delay as compared to other modules but accuracy is maintained and no errors are experienced. We have also implemented the HRMS system which integrates the HR section and the salary group of the accounts department.

“In the initial stages, there were apprehensions in the SICOM users’ mind that was clarified and explained through operational training, demonstration of repetitive task automisation, printing with speed and accuracy, etc”

Share with us some insights over the department’s immediate initiatives that have been streamlined and your vision on exploring the potential of IT.

At SICOM, IT is a support service function with a miniature IT set up as compared to a software consultancy organisation or a data centre. The legacy applications have been developed and implemented periodically in silos having a heterogeneous environment and have been satisfying user needs. So, there are procedures set for major activities and are practically followed. Therefore, instead of a well-defined policy document, the documentation of pru dent practices is available. SICOM is in the process of replacing the existing applications and shifting to modern technologies. It is already in the initial stages in terms of the process of migration and development of legacy applications to the latest platform with an end-to-end solution. Majority of the features and policies will be available after the integrated application is implemented.

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