Speaking at a conference on Digital Railways, the Indian Minister of Railways, Suresh Prabhu, said that the Indian Railways will be investing around USD 2 billion (~INR 130 billion) to develop a common Information and Communication Technology Platform, called IR-OneICT. This Digital Platform will be a huge Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) project. Up to 6 billion dollars could be saved by investing 2 billion.
IR-OneICT will cover all aspects, including cost analysis, attendance, accounting, asset management, medical management and land management, of the railways. It involves use of digital technology to better connect goods and services with the market and lead to more efficient internal management, providing better and reliable services to the passenger and higher customer satisfaction.
Better capacity and asset utilization would would help in running more trains, carrying more freight, resulting in increased revenues. Minister Prabhu said that the platform will use best in class technology and will enable business analytics and use of automated real-time data collection for safer operations.
The Minister talked about the Capex and Opex models for the Digital Platform and third model where Centre for Railway Information Systems (CRIS) and vendors may partner together. He also cautioned that cybersecurity should be kept in mind and appropriate precautions should be taken.
IR-OneICT is one of the key initiatives from Indian Railways Budget 2017-18
In the Indian Railways (IR) Budget speech for financial year, 2017-18, Minister Prabhu had highlighted the need for system-wide Information Technology integration saying, “Our policies have led to a piece-meal approach in IT. We have initiated system wide integration, both horizontal and vertical, akin to an Enterprise Resource System through innovative partnership models for which a preliminary report has been obtained.”
He had also mentioned though IR collects over 100 Terabytes of data every year, it is hardly analysed to gain business insights. He announced plans for setting up a dedicated, cross functional team called Special Unit for Transportation Research and Analytics (SUTRA) for carrying out detailed analytics leading to optimized investment decisions and operations.
A series of other ICT-related initiatives were also revealed. Regarding mobile solutions for customers, there are plans to integrate all the different digital solutions for ticketing, grievance redressal and other issues, into two mobile apps; one for ticketing issues and the other for receipt and redressal of complaints and suggestions related to all IR services.
Information boards will be installed in trains enumerating the onboard services and there will be GPS-based digital displays inside coaches to provide real time information regarding upcoming halts. Work is ongoing on the installation of a high-tech centralized network of 20,000 screens, across 2000 stations, known as Rail Display Network. This would not only provide passengers with real-time information but also unlock huge advertising potential.
New SMART (Specially Modified Aesthetic Refreshing Travel) coaches would have automatic doors, bar-code readers, bio-vacuum toilets, water-level indicators, accessible dustbins, ergonomic seating, improved aesthetics, vending machines, entertainment screens, LED lit boards for advertising, PA system and more
There were also plans to use drones and Geospatial satellite technology for remotely reviewing the physical progress across major projects.A Track Management System (TMS) was launched during 2016-17 for switching activities of track inspection, monitoring and maintenance to an IT platform, and generating automatic alerts in the form of SMS and e-mails. The Inventory Management module of TMS has resulted in inventory reduction by 27,000 metric tonnes, resulting in saving of INR 640 million (~USD 9.8 million) and scrap identification of 22,000 MT equivalent to INR 530 million (~USD 8 million). During 2016- 17, this system will be implemented on entire IR.
Reflecting the strong focus on incorporating IT, the minister said, “IR as an organization cannot progress on the path of prosperity unless that path is ‘digitally’ illuminated.”