From bar-coding rail tickets to smart metering, electronic procurement and online crew management, Centre for Railway Information Systems (CRIS) is a key partner in Indian Railways’ IT journey. CRIS claims its IT applications fetch Indian Railways about Rs.427 crore every day.
In an interview, CRIS managing director Sanjaya Das tells how the society formed for enabling IT-based freight operation has grown. Edited excerpts:
How has CRIS evolved in the last three decades?
In 1980s, when former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi and telecom engineer Sam Pitroda were preparing a blueprint for India’s information and communication technology industry, the duo decided to keep the Indian Railways (IR) in its ambit too. Reason: IR was completely dependent on manual operations, often leading to delayed freight. So, in July 1986, a society—Centre for Railway Information Systems—was set up.
We were set up exclusively for freight information systems, but in the last three decades, CRIS has diversified to various segments like passenger reservation system, unreserved ticketing, e-ticketing system, e-procurement system, some ERP (enterprise resource planning) for production units and now into track management, locomotive management systems, wagon management systems, accounting management systems and many others.
So, from being a society, now we have become the backbone of the Indian Railways. What I can say today is that it is impossible for Indian Railways to run without the systems developed by CRIS, as we have transformed them from manual system to IT-enabled systems. Today, our IT applications fetch Indian Railways around Rs.427 crore per day, while revenue from the Internet or e-commerce gateway is just Rs.302 crore.
What is the latest technology application you’ve developed?
It’s a paperless ticket using the geofencing technology introduced on the suburban trains in metros like Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata and between New Delhi and Palwal sections. It is one of the most exciting projects undertaken by us with the help of Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) and the first of its kind in the world.
Geo-fencing is a feature in a software programme that uses global positioning system (GPS) or radio frequency identification (RFID) to define geographical boundaries. It is a virtual barrier.
Under this, we surveyed tracks and marked their GIS coordinates and put them on our system. If you are on the geofencing coordinates, you cannot buy the ticket.
In this application, people who want to travel in these suburban trains can buy tickets through a mobile application without standing in queue.
For example, if you are travelling in Mumbai or Chennai, you need to be within radius of 5km of the railway station to buy the ticket; the ticket cannot be bought while you are travelling on the same train as geo-fencing doesn’t allow it.
We have used geo-fencing in this unreserved ticket because we don’t want people to buy tickets on train only when they see the TT (travelling ticket checker) on the train as it would encourage ticketless travelling, leading to loss of revenue. Need to buy ticket before boarding train and not buy when on the train.
What are the other ways in which you are helping railways to stop revenue losses?
There are scores of products that we are offering. These include bar-coded tickets, which are checked by the TT using their smartphones. Unreserved is largest that IR sells and it is 20 million and we earn Rs.50 crore and the largest number sold is unreserved. This has helped IR as many cases of fraud have been detected where people buy unreserved tickets from agents often where tickets are tampered by changing the value, adding more passengers like number of person is changed from one to four, etc.
With the bar code, tampering is impossible and you need to be a high-level crook to do this.
To expand this project across India, Indian Railways needs to replace around 15,000 dot-matrix printers with laser ones.
Similarly, there is a smart metering application developed by us where smart meters are installed at major points such as railway offices and at big power consumption centres.
In these areas, reading of meter is done automatically and you get the info about the power consumed; there is no chance of making a mistake. It helped IR to save crores of rupees and it is a UNDP funded project in Ambala and New Delhi divisions.
Rail minister Suresh Prabhu has been talking about data monetization. Do you have any idea how the ministry plans to generate revenue from it?
Data can help companies working in the field of travelling like those providing taxis and tour packages by offering these services based on our data. This is something very useful for them to target, especially passengers like those travelling in first AC, second AC.
The only thing is that we started our data warehouse two years ago only, and the information is stored for just 90 days (after which) it automatically gets deleted from our system.
Whatever IT solutions you are providing, is it developed in-house?
It’s a mix of outsourced and in-house. In some cases where we don’t have skill sets, we outsource.
We have extensive knowledge in ticketing, freight operation, tracking of trains; so, in these areas, now we have developed skill set in e-procurement. In these areas, now we have good skill sets.
Tracking of wagons through RFID (radio-frequency identification) or an ERP-based system —there we don’t have good skill sets and we would outsource it.
We have 1,200 people, out of which 600 are IT professionals, 200 domain experts and the balance office-staff.
Actually, the plus point is we are a low-cost IT solutions provider. There is something which is not realized, we don’t buy off-the-shelf packages, we don’t pay licence fee.
Do you think had CRIS been a public sector undertaking, it would have helped IR to earn revenues?
We have been approached by all the leading companies for projects in the US, the UK, to partner with them because in the railway domain and railway technology, we are way ahead of all IT companies. I cannot name the company, but can tell you that companies working on railways projects in the UK, Europe, Arabic countries and Indonesia are very much interested in partnering with us. However, we have our own constraints.