Using information technology to bridge the communication gap

Updated: Sep 24 2005, 08:22am hrs
A significant player in the Indian automobile industry, Company A manufactures and markets tractors, trucks, buses, motorcycles, engines and power generators. It also makes automotive gears and other auto components.

With more than 4,000 employees spread across seven manufacturing facilities and 33 marketing offices, Company A works with 800 vendors that supply components and sub-assemblies. The company sells its product lines through a strong network of about 950 dealers and distributors spread across the length and breadth of the country.

The Challenge: Enabling Information Access for a Country-wide Business Company As manufacturing and marketing operations are dispersed geographically, which created obstacles to effective planning and execution. Prior to adopting a Citrix solution, the companys remote offices could only share information via e-mail - an extremely cumbersome process. Similarly, although mobile users were able to access information from Company As network via designated Web pages, the process was very slow and inefficient. Hence, the company needed an efficient way to collect and disseminate information across the organization, including to its mobile sales staff selling tractors in remote, rural locations.

The group was scouting for an efficient and cost-

effective technology solution to orchestrate its information flow from factories to offices and vice versa. Besides, the company wanted help in managing application deployment at remote locations and in maintaining its mobile users with the least effort and cost.

Cost savings were particularly important to the company as it aimed to maximize its investments in its IT infrastructure, based on the belief that an enhanced infrastructure would in turn improve productivity and contribute to the overall bottom line.

Implementing a solution for remote office connectivity, Company A partnered with a system integrator to deploy a solution. Presently, more than 300 users in all locations across the country connect via WAN to this centralized information system, to access business applications an in-house collaborative workflow and messaging system, a supplier management system and a customer service management system.

Anytime, anywhere access to centralized applications has enabled users to provide inputs and retrieve information about production, inventory and sales processes in real time. With this technology, users can expedite business processes which range from entering information about leave and travel to conducting complex business transactions with suppliers and dealers.

Cost Savings by Efficient Information Access and System Management

Currently, all business applications at Company A are being managed through the cenralized administration capabilities. The challenge to reach all employees at all locations with an efficient and cost-effective solution has been met. The task of deploying new applications and upgrades has been reduced from a weeklong affair to a couple of hours.

The solution saved considerable manpower efforts and reduced the costs of deploying and updating applications. The company no longer needs to maintain IT staff at all ocations, nor require its IT staff to travel to remote locations to provide support. The company also achieved substantial savings in its communication and IT infrastructure costs.

The solution has helped manage unending requests for higher bandwidth and upgraded desktops. During that same period, the company saved Rs 50 lakh (US $100,000) that would have otherwise been spent on upgrading client hardware configurations.

The solution enabled the company to save a major chunk of its annual IT budget, which was then invested in important strategic IT initiatives. Moreover, considerable savings in time and efforts of the IT staff allowed Company A to reassign these employees to more important and strategic application development. Sourced from Citrix


Process improvement leads to cost reduction
Surendra S Yadav , Head, department of management studies, III-D

The case discusses an interesting example of a strategic decision of the Company A, aimed at improving cost competitiveness by using information technology (IT).

The management of Company A seems to have been concerned with the process improvement and the cost

reduction that may result

from the improvement. The management has identified the process of information flow where there is a need and a potential to bring about changes to make it more cost effective.

The decision seems to be quite pragmatic considering that cost reduction pressures are faced by many Indian companies. Needless to say, cost reduction is considered as an important value proposition.

Let us look at the role of IT for competitiveness. IT certainly provided a great opportunity for enhancing produc- tivity by improving information access to manufacturing and marketing operations dispersed geographically. The case hints that access to information using e-mail and Web page was slow and inefficient.

It is apparent that systematic diagnostic was done to identify the root causes of the problem of slow speed and inefficiency. It seems that root causes may not have been addressed by the rapidly improving bandwidth and Web technologies. Therefore, a need for new IT solution arose.

If we assume that the existing technologies were obsolete and less scalable, we can focus on strategic advantages of the new solution. The objectives of productivity and bottom line improvement are fundamental to most organizations. It would be great if the group could identify specific productivity criteria so that effectiveness of the solution can be measured. The case may be too small to give details about the process of selection of

vendor and implementation issues. However, limited information given in the case hints that the implementation may be considered successful at this stage.

The saving of Rs 50 lakh reported are beneficial, but need to be looked at in the overall picture of IT spending over last few years. What kind of future tangible and intangible benefits are likely to come and what kind of incremental and overall cost benefit ratio is expected will ensure sustained cost effectiveness of the solution. The level of the initial capital expenditure is not clear from the text of the case. The amount of savings of Rs 50 lakh (though substantial in terms of absolute figures) can be better appreciated if the investment level required to generate these savings is also known. In the end it may be worthwhile to look at long-term competitiveness.

Progressive firms can use

IT solutions for differentiation. As a significant player

in the Indian automobile industry, the Company A is

well positioned to lead other firms in leveraging IT for

competitiveness.


Balance between central control and decentralisation
Devita Saraf, Executive Director, Zenith Computers

CITRIX Systems is the global leader and one of the trusted names in on-demand access. In this particular case, the company has used a thin client solution to connect networks where a large amount of information needs to be passed from multiple nodes to a central network holding major customer and other relevant data.

This solution is popular to connect the various dealer networks to a central solution to check on inventory, deliveries and other pertinent data. This is only one example of the capabilities of this solution. But, this solution works very well in certain cases and may not work as well in others. Therefore, it is better to put this system on certain areas and/or departments of the company wherein a single type of IT solution needs to be deployed on a large and spread-out network.

Yet, this solution works best in low-end uses and implementations rather than in large cases. Again, it depends on how robust the companys network is for a solution like this to be successful. Through this installation the company will achieve substantial saving in its communication and IT infrastruc- ture. This solution helps to save considerable manpower efforts and reduce the cost of deploying and updating applications.

The company no longer needs to maintain IT staff at all locations, nor requires its staff to travel to remote locations to provide support. If the company is serious about the installation, it would help them not only in the short term but in the long run as well. This is a great solution to provide the best possible access experience to any application for any user.

No doubt, an investment in an area like this can be very fruitful if adequate training has been imparted [in this case, to the dealer network] on how to maximise this solution of connectivity. It also lets the entire system make decisions best suited for itself, rather than depending on an overloaded central administration. I would not recommend that a companys system be entirely decentralised, or else there would be a fear of losing control.

Another critical aspect to be considered is installation. This is a big challenge for companies and one has to be extra careful in selecting the right partner. Any company attempting to bridge an information gap definitely deserves kudos for the attempt. This is because crucial data lost in an information gap is one of the most common reasons for monetary loss.

This automobile company seems to be looking ahead into the future, and they will achieve gains from the time the solution was implemented.