In 2006, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) realized the need for a data capture for its software development projects under Government of India’s Mission Excel IT (MEIT) program. With nearly 20 crore documents containing pension related data of more than 22 lakh former officials of Army, Air Force and Navy, the requirement was critical. The records that were being managed by the CGDA (Controller General of Defence Accounts) at MoD had to be physically corrected, stored, scanned and electronically archived in the EDP department on SAN servers. But the digitization project was not just a scanning implementation.
In 2006, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) realized the need for a data capture for its software development projects under Government of India’s Mission Excel IT (MEIT) program. With nearly 20 crore documents containing pension related data of more than 22 lakh former officials of Army, Air Force and Navy, the requirement was critical. The project was bagged by Mumbai-based Netspider Infotech India Ltd. (NIIL) at Rs 6.84 crore and delivered favorable results for this large project.
“Apart from huge volumes, the DIMS (Document Imaging & Management Solutions) project needed a specialized solution provider to physically handle, restore, record management, scan the records across multiple locations on a single unified software platform,”says Dr. Mala Iyengar, former Senior Deputy, CGDA, MoD.
Some of the country’s largest system integrators like HCL, 3i Infotech, CMC bid for the tender. The project was bagged by Mumbai-based Netspider Infotech India Ltd. (NIIL), that provides end-to-end DIMS, Large Scale Scanning, ICR (Automated Forms Processing) and RMS (Records Management System) projects. Against established players like HCL (Rs 35 crore), 3i infotech (stex) (Rs 21 crore) and Newgen (Rs 27 Crores), NIIL bagged the deal at Rs 6.84 crore and delivered favorable results for this large project.
Keeping Costs Down
The DIMS project was conceptualized and spearheaded by Dr. Iyengar in mid 2006. Various vendors were invited to present technical proposals and a request for proposal (RFP) was floated. “For such a massive government project, each component of quotation like manpower, hardware, licensing, software development substantially makes a difference to final bid,” recalls Samir Dhingra, Managing Director, NIIL.
According to the technical evaluation committee at CGDA, NIIL scored high in technical bid highlighting a detailed roadmap with well-defined activities. NIIL was also L1 in the commercial bid which made it eligible to execute the project. “Such a project involves frequent visits to sites, large amount of time for record management job and other on-field activities,” feels Dr.Iyengar.
Being a job-oriented project of document handling and scanning activities, keeping the cost of manpower low was key. NIIL hired local and raw labour from UP at approximately Rs 2,000 per month as against the four-fold price demanded by trained staff from metros. “In earlier government projects, we successfully implemented this business practice of hiring local people,” says Dhingra. Starting with a 20-member team, the figure reached 700 by mid 2007. Reusing the ICR software of ABBY from an earlier project, they had licenses to execute the same for this project saving huge costs. Being a distributor for Canon, NIIL saved almost 30 percent hardware costs for scanners used. The use of a high-end Scanoptics scanner that delivers 240 pages per minute / 480 images per minute, and used for fragile paper was a calculated move. “We were the first users of this scanner in India. We decided to use this scanner during quotation due to the large volume of documents involved,” says Dhingra.
Perception Vs. Deliverables
Once the project started, few unknown differences between customer perception and vendor deliverables cropped up. Initially, NIIL delivered black and white images and restored the physical documents, as brand new physical documents out of the scanner were expected. “They were not accepting electronic images and we faced challenges in physical and electronic QC parameters. The demand of black and white images with old documents was not possible and we did grey scale scanning with compression. Physical documents were complicated to handle as most were in bad condition. There were pension series which even the department did not know about,” he says. The customer demanded some data entry on fields which were not present on the old PPO (Pension Payment Order) like Qualifying service. “From perception level to implementation phase, there was a lack of basic understanding from ground operating level,” says Dhingra.
Out of 20 crore documents, 11 crore were to be restored, pasted and bound in physical form while the remaining also had to be scanned and stored in document tracking software. The lack of standards at the CGDA office in terms of binding of documents was a hindrance. NIIL’s team had to set high and acceptable standards first. “Work was not progressing though we put in a lot of effort and man hours. After standards were set, about 2.02 crore images were accepted in the next two months,” says Dhingra.
Creating an inventory of documents was a time consuming effort. NIIL resorted ICR technology for inventorisation which helped reduce the processing of forms. “Our people did a quality check along with customer officials who did a 6.25 percent sample check. However, their fixed schedule meant our staff was more dependent on speed of the department at times,” he says.
Uniformity Across Locations
Ensuring each document was digitized and stored for easy retrieval and reconciling physical with electronic documents was a major hurdle. During the initial physical binding and scanning at PCDA, Allahabad and CDA, Meerut, NIIL met various heads of locations across CGDA offices. There was no uniformity of requirements for EDPTS software for physical record management. “Tracking is an integral part of search and retrival. The scanned documents are reconciled with physical documents and both locations are put in software. Using metadata, the software retrieves the physical and electronic documents,”explains Dhingra.
NIIL contemplated developing software based on Java, which was expensive and time consuming. “Outsourcing was expensive and frequent changes made us deploy a special team of developers,” says Dhingra. NIIL started developing in-house software EPDTS (Electronic & Physical Document Tracking Software) based on ‘Ruby on Rails’. Some people at CGDA were working on this technology for their internal short term projects which helped them understand this concept. It took 4 months of software development and 6 months of fine tuning to meet requirements. Through the tracking system, electronic documents i.e. PPOs were readied, and the customer got it immediately at Allahabad. “This software points to the location of physical documents. There is reconciliation between electronic and physical records and the record center is complete,” says Dhingra.
The Road Ahead
Things are now in shape and they know exactly what lies where through EPDTS software. “If the pensioner does not have a PPO number and only knows the regimental number, rank or rank last held, the office can still retrieve the PPO electronically and physcially. This was a major achievement,” says Dhingra. As the 6th Pay Commission is implemented, these documents help faster payouts,” says an MoD official. “PPOs which took upto 30 days are retrieved in minutes,” says Dhingra.
With the last phase set to finish in 6 months, NIIL has realized the importance of ground level people in large deployments. They plan to work with government bodies with well laid requirements. The project helped NIIL gain a stronger foothold with this sector. “It was a holistic project covering every aspect of DIMS from inventorisation to ERDMS. Understanding customer needs and effective resource allocation is our success mantra,” feels Dhingra.