Since starting its train operations in 1998, the 760 km Konkan Railway come a long way, as it now connects three Indian states—Maharashtra, Goa and Karnataka. In the same year, the IT team at Konkan Railway adopted an ERP system customized by Tata Infotech. This ERP was written in the fourth generation programming language (Informix 4GL), and ran on the Unix operating system with Informix RDBMS version 7. It ran on hardware systems which use Alpha servers with Tru64Unix from DEC (now HP) [costing approximately Rs. 11 Crore in 1997].
Tata Infotech's contract ended in 2003, after which the responsibility for maintaining the application was taken over by Konkan Railway's in-house IT team. After handling it for three years, the team realized that the language and the ERP platform had become obsolete, and that there was a strong need for an upgrade—an ERP migration project would empower the business once again. "Since the business was growing, it was necessary to scale up the applications, and also keep up with the latest in the industry," recalls Vijay Devnath, the CIO of Konkan Railway.
However, the task was not easy. Konkan Railway floated a tender in 2005 to find potential vendors for the ERP migration project. The IT team was looking out for a tool that could convert legacy language application logic into modern J2EE (Java). "We did proofs-of-concept with vendors such as Microsoft (.Net), HP and CMC before finalizing on the Kochi-based Amrita Technologies. "They had a tool which almost suited our requirements. Amrita Tech successfully managed to demonstrate this tool, and hence got selected in 2005-06 for the ERP migration project," says Devnath.
"The original working software had approximately 23 million lines of code, which were built over five years," Devnath explains. "Another six years would have been required if we had manually done the conversion . We wanted someone to do the majority of the conversion automatically, preserving the business-logic inside the code." The total cost of the ERP migration was around Rs 5.2 crore. Procurement estimation for replacement of the old hardware and networking came to around Rs 42 crore. The hardware required for the ERP migration project included replacement of 88 servers, 1,200 clients, and network infrastructure spread between Belapur in Navi Mumbai to Mangalore in Karnataka (covering 60 locations).
The ERP migration project started in 2006 and was completed in 2009. 70% of the ERP migration was done with the help of Amrita Tech's tool, while 30% of the code had to be written manually due to its complex nature.
The new avatar
The new version of Konkan Railway's ERP runs on the standard x86 system, with Linux as the operating system (Informix RDBMS 11.5 version); the application language has been changed from 4GL to Java enterprise edition (J2EE). "One aspect that we kept nearly stable during the ERP migration project was the business logic. The ERP system covers operations such as ticketing (revenue collection), finance, accounts, HR and payroll, and applications for stores and inventory management, maintenance management, rolling stock and fuelling," informs Devnath.
The ERP migration process was complex in nature, and this posed several challenges to the IT team and its partner. "During ERP migration, the database version got upgraded with new features, hence we had to change even the database," notes Devnath. "The new application server was added in between the client and the database, where we use JBoss on the application server. Understanding and programming in JBoss took a lot of effort from the IT team."
Training and retraining also proved to be key challenges during the ERP migration project. "Since the business logic remained the same, there was not much scope for any kind of confusion. But now things look different on the screen. We have around 1,800 users spread across 60 locations. We had to train them to make them familiar with the new technology," Devnath says.
Cost savings was definitely one of the chief benefits derived from the ERP migration project. Most of the vendors had suggested that Konkan Railway's IT team rewrite the application; this would have cost the organization Rs 23 crore way back in 2005, and taken almost five years to finish. In the end, the ERP migration project was completed at much lower cost—and in about three years' time..
Working on the ERP migration project was a memorable experience for the internal IT team. According to Devnath, along with the new set of applications, they are still using the older version simultaneously at select locations. Both ERP applications run on a common database engine. This again helped the IT team in saving on costs, because almost 50% of Konkan Railway's users still use the older ERP application.
The ERP migration stage has now passed, and Konkan Railway's IT team is planning to include additional modules under the ERP. "Our ERP has all the major modules, but there's a need to add sub-modules like a provident-fund management, recruitment module, service register module and contract management module. We want to cover operations which are now handled manually," says Devnath.