September 6, 2018

Speaking at the Seminar on Leveraging IT for Mobility, in New Delhi

Mr. Pillai, Mr. Mukesh Nigam, Sunira Bassi ji and the entire team who has been working to make this ‘Aapoorti’ app possible and also putting together today’s very important seminar. Mr. Kashi Nath, Mr. Mathur, Mr. Pathak, other colleagues from the railways, distinguished speakers at the earlier two sessions, probably some of the speakers of the other two sessions also maybe here, valued participants of the seminar, ladies and gentlemen.

I was just seeing the program for the day and it’s quite an impressive set of subjects put together, which to my mind are very relevant in today’s world. The evolving nature of technologies that are changing the way mobility and transportation, both of goods and passengers, is taking place in the country. And I am delighted that the focus has been on both passengers and freight, because ultimately, unless we ensure more efficient movement of freight, we won’t be able to handle the cross subsidy that we are doing on the passenger side. And, therefore, please ensure that the discussions are taken forward in the same spirit and speed with which you have set up today’s seminar.

It’s really a matter of happiness for me that we have a new energy when it comes to engaging with technology in the railways. And as I was listening to some of the information being given about our e-tendering process, it does give a lot of satisfaction that even the chief vigilance commissioner has recognised the good work done by the railways, when it comes to more transparency, integrity of processes and taking forward the e-tendering and e-procurement process on a fast track method.

Just a couple of thoughts that came to mind with the figures that were just given on the number of tenders and the number of vendors. I believe if there are 444,000 tenders, you may like to consider whether many items can be clubbed together. Little bit of data mining could help you reduce these number of tenders because multiplicity of tenders of the same product only adds to cost, inefficiency, and I am sure your procurement will also be inefficient when the same product has been tendered by different zones and tendered at different periods of time, it is also prone to some sort of cartelisation.

So the more you aggregate the numbers, have larger quantities, give opportunity to efficient suppliers to pick up larger quantities out of that business, I believe you will find newer vendors also taking interest and you will able to get more efficient procurement. 150,000 crores of procurement is truly quite a large procurement and even if we can look for an initial saving of 15-20% and by my standards that’s the least that we can save.

My own feeling is that if we bring in more and more efficiency in our procurement processes and payment processes, and engaging with technology in a better way, we can look at even batter savings, but let’s go for at least 15-20% savings without compromise on quality, we should be able to look at better qualities.

I was just looking at some of the major IT initiatives and my office put up in my papers today a list of IT-related items on my dashboard. And my distinguished audience here today will be little surprised but IT-related items on my dashboard, which I monitor, have 27 items which are on top priority, have 27 items on high-priority and 3 items with a medium priority.

Why I mentioned this is to reflect for all of us in the railways to reflect upon the importance that we give to technology and the possibilities that IT opens up for the railways. So, out of 57 items, 27 – half of them are on top and half of them are on high-priority, only three are even considered medium, there may be many more which will be for officers down the line.

Now, all of them, and I was glancing at all of them, to my mind, none of them is anything very great or difficult. It has no, absolutely nothing in this list which could be as earth-shattering as creating a, what 5 or $10 billion company which Uber has now become. It’s nothing very earth-shattering that should take a long period of time. It’s more of literally duplicating what you have already done in a very successful way.

For example, Mr. Pillai has introduced GPS in his zone where he was general manager before being elevated to the Board. It’s a tried successful method. It will help us completely eliminate all fudging of data on train movements. It will help us track 22,000 trains go every day of different sorts, passengers, freight, all of them, we will be able to track all of them on real time basis and the public will be able to track that when we claim that punctuality has significantly improved in the last three or four months, the public will have a benchmark to check it out themselves.

And similarly, not a single item I find that there is anything which will.. we have now taken Wi-Fi to 710 stations. Now it’s a tried and tested model, 710 stations, and I think the Wi-Fi that the railways provides is probably amongst the best in the country. The speed of that Wi-Fi is without compare and I am being a little less humble than I should but I am proud of my people who have done that. Many of these were done with partnership with Google in the first 400 odd stations. Now RailTel is doing it on its own, we are also inviting people to take this up through CSR activities, but the target is we should take it up to 6000, by? What’s the due date Nigam? You don’t know it then we are not going to achieve it, who is from RailTel over here? Nobody from RailTel in a conference on mobility? December 2018! एक साल का आप अगर फरक ऐसे कर दोगे तो मेरा तो ब्लड प्रेशर ही उतना बढ़ जाएगा.

And all of these are doable. I never set a target, which is impractical or not doable. We always set it in consultation with all of you, but I think the important thing is we will have to look at outcomes being achieved in defined time frame, otherwise calling an Uber representative or calling somebody from… I saw all the list of speakers, it’s a very interesting lot of people who have put together. We are investing their valuable time and effort to come here, I don’t think Uber or Make My Trip or Bharti Airtel would be.. people at these levels would be so free that they will be willing to come every time we call them, but I think some of them came earlier in our conferences. I find some of them have agreed to come and spend time with you today and they are all senior people, CEOs and business heads and director level people, scientist level people.

Now, I think if we are going to talk to them then we better learn from them and this engagement with the public-private partnership type of engagements are certainly going to help us in the railways. We are very often we get cocooned in our own system, in our own working, we have done something worth 30-35 years in a particular fashion, change is always difficult, while it’s inevitable, but sometimes quite difficult to absorb. And if I think our team at the top is committed to that change, getting the youngsters in the railways to absorb that change will not be difficult; it’s always the top which is more difficult when it comes to absorbing something different from how we have done it all our life.

And I think I would urge all of you to take each of the issues that Raja ji or Harmeen or Ramit or Nandini, Mr. Kalyan Raman, Padmini ji, Mr. Pandu Ranga, Julian and all the other speakers. Each of the issues that come up, I think instead of just maybe speeches, I hope you are having some interactions also, keep it more interactive so we can actually share our issues. The railway people here can give them their concerns or difficulties and let’s have a more engaging conversation. If that is not possible today, have it in other sessions where you could actually put in a team of four or five young officers with each of these speakers to spend a couple of hours or few hours and have an engaging session, what their ideas are and what we believe are our difficulties. And I am sure we will find a way forward to move the needle and move the needle fast, because at least I don’t think we have the luxury of time on our hand.

The Railways is one of the most important organisations when it comes to mobility in this country, it’s certainly the largest, and to my mind, while some phenomenal work has happened. I was seeing the new Paperless Unreserved Ticketing numbers, they had moved up from 195 in 2014-15 to 67,000 last year. Of course, I don’t know whether any media will report that this is a 35,000% increase, they will do that leave it only for all the political slugfest that goes on where they have to create sensation and the political world these type of percentages are often thrown by the media. But I don’t think it will be of great interest to them that the number of tickets being issued, which are paperless has moved up in this dimension over a period of three years.

I am sure this year we will do even better and we will be looking at expanding this multi-fold, particularly, with the decision we have taken that every ticket examiner, just like every catering service provider, all of them is expected to have a hand-held POS machine now so that we issue the ticket, we issue the extra charges, we issue the bill for whatever goods are sold to our customers and consumers. And I think this kind of rapid scale-up of technology is what the nation expects out of us and that’s where we can take the help of the distinguished participants from the private sector in helping us making it simple and easy, let’s not complicate it and that’s particularly for you Mr. Nigam, CRIS should try to uncomplicate things, not complicate things.

I find in every one of your projects you are looking at reinventing the way. I don’t think that makes a lot of sense to me. I would personally urge you to see what is available in the market place and whether we can customise it to our use and quickly put it into, deploy it in the railways. And I had asked Ms. Bassi, I hope you are working on that the working of the all the projects of CRIS to see what we can do faster, where we can use technologies which are available with various people and customise it and bring it into the railway much faster than the times that we are taking right now.

But that’s the kind of advantage a seminar like this should give to the railways and I have not invested an hour to come here only to give a speech or to tick the box. My effort is that you all will use, leverage this kind of engagements and see what can be done even better more efficiently, faster certainly and can we revolutionise the passenger and our customer experience, both on the freight and the travel side, and there are so many things that are possible.

I was with the Honourable Prime Minister in a meeting of the National Hindi Committee, I’m sorry I got a little late that meeting went on a little longer than we had anticipated. Now the Honourable Prime Minister in his concluding remarks made a very simple suggestion, which he has given to the Ministry of External Affairs and they’re working on it. Maybe you can collaborate with them and see how we can either dovetail our processes or we can work parallely and MEA and Railways together can come out with this quickly.

But I will tell you how the Prime Minister’s mind is innovative in his thinking. We have a lot of tourists coming into India and I am sure our tourists use the railways also, they use the IRCTC website also, first of all we must look at some new name for IRCTC, something more catchy and easy, otherwise, I also make a mistake very often while pronouncing or giving out the initials of IRCTC. I hope I am doing it right, right now. But we could look at a simpler name and something which is more catchy that’s your job Mr. Pillai and I have been saying this at least for the last 7-8 months, nobody has come forward with an idea, but that’s a lesser important issue.

Now, the Prime Minister said that when the tourist comes in, let’s say there is a tourist from France. He may not even know English and he is travelling in Coimbatore or Madurai and looking up temples there, he goes to a smaller village or a smaller town and he suddenly feels uneasy and he needs a doctor or he needs a hospital or assistance of any other sort. I am sure the audience is wise enough to understand what we would face if we were in let’s say Greece and not able to converse with the local language.

Now suppose we could drop a hundred very simple typical issues: I need a taxi, I need to find a hotel, I need to make a reservation on a train, I have lost my purse where is the nearest police station, I need a medical store, we can work out and MEA is probably doing that, we could engage with them.

If a hundred such simple issues that could concern a passenger, now this may not directly relate to the subject on hand, but I think that’s where technology and mobility can interplay with each other and help the experience of passengers. Now if we could do those hundred small such small questions or support that a person may require in different languages and convert it to different Indian languages – English, French, Spanish, whatever else, and move it to maybe the 20-22 languages to begin with, our official languages English, Hindi, Malayalam, Telugu, Marathi, Gujarati, Odia, Bengali etc, etc, Assamese. Whichever part of the country the person is if he is logged onto the Internet there, the net will itself tell the system which is the local language, right? And the person has to only feed in his when he logs on to our IRCTC website or the MEA website, which they’re probably going to propose. With his name or passport it will also tell which is his local language or there can be an option that’s all minor details.

And then look at the Prime Minister’s mind how the clarity with which he thinks. It will be difficult for the person to pronounce the Tamil or the Malayalam or the Telugu, so he said you could actually have a recording of what ‘I need to go to the hospital’ and if in Hindi it has to be translated for some village in U.P or Bihar ‘मुझे नज़दीक का अस्पताल में जाना है’ and do that recording and there is an audio play there which he presses and he lets the villager listen to the audio. And then, I am sure with sign language the villager or he may actually given the courtesies that normally Indian people have, he may actually accompany him and take him to the nearest hospital.

Very simple thing, Garish ji. But think of the enormous potential in terms of encouraging tourism and encouraging tourists’ satisfaction this small thing can provide. I don’t know whether there is any patent to this because otherwise Uber will start working on it and will have it ready in three days probably. And that is the kind of speed of action that we need to do in the railways. Seed an idea, deliberate on it, you can take 2-3 days to deliberate and fine tune it, you may find some ideas you don’t like you can trash it, but let the youngsters in our teams engage with new ideas and I am sure we will get some game changing results, which will truly help make the passenger experience and our freight customer experience much-much better, much-much sustainably satisfying, not a one off a freight.

And in that there are so many new transformations that the railways is working on, they are related to the tracks, they’re related to safety, they are related to signalling, they are related to catering, punctuality, modernising our inspection processes, which will make them more efficient, much more clinically sound using data mining with the score of data that we are collecting. I think I don’t know any other department, which could be collecting as much data as the Indian Railways does, but how efficiently and effectively we use that, how well that data is actually calibrated and converted into action agendas is the defining success story that we are looking for. And that to my mind is possible given the high quality team that we have in the railways, given the commitment that each one of you have, only thing is our mindset will have to accept and absorb change.

In fact, George Bernard Shaw had said, ‘progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change, those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything, they cannot progress in life.’ And to my mind, this is an organisation, which is willing to accept change, willing to absorb change. We are not scared of failure. I think failure is only a stepping stone to success. We will have difficulties along the way. I am sure we will face challenges, many times we may not we may not be able to understand issues, some of them are quite alien to our typical way of working in the railways. But today the youth of India have such tremendous ability that if we leverage their abilities, if we leverage their enthusiasm, the more we get talking to people from this technology world, I think we can just change the face of rail travel in India.

As I often say, it’s time we got the charm back to the Indian Railways, and to my mind, technology can be that one defining contribution that will help Indian Railways change both the direction and the face of the Railways. जिसको हिन्दी में कहते हैं “इसकी दशा भी बदल सकती है, इसकी दिशा भी बदल सकती है” और अगर हम सब संयुक्त प्रयास करते हैं और प्राइवेट सेक्टर के साथ, बिज़नेस के साथ, academia के साथ, technology experts के साथ देश में, विदेश में सब को जोड़ते हैं हमारे इस नए अभियान में तो मुझे पूरा विश्वास है कि भारतीय रेल का सफ़र और भारतीय रेल की सुविधाओं में ऐतिहासिक बदलाव लाने में हम सफल हो सकते हैं।

बहुत-बहुत शुभकामनाएं।

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