Moving A Community

fp-1.jpg (10084 bytes)It is difficult to put Chandranath Som
into the slot of an IS manager. For, his role is not strictly that of managing the systems
of an organization. He is responsible for the computerization of a whole sector of the
Indian economy. As the Deputy Director of the Federation of Indian Export Organizations
(FIEO), Som has, in the past eight years, moved from implementing systems within his
organization to making over 5,000 exporter-members of his organization computer friendly.
As he told Surajit Agarwal in this interview, "I had to face a number of challenges,
but what kept me going was the belief that what I was doing could fundamentally change the
way my country does business." More….

What was the state of
computerization at FIEO when you took over?
When I joined FIEO in 1990, we
had no systems department and no computers. Whatever databases we had, were being handled
on a consultancy basis by an outside source. So, the first effort was to simply get in a
systems culture into the place. This we did by having training programs in all our offices
and moving up the staff from typewriters to computers. We did face some resistance
initially as many people thought the computer would not be a very useful tool, but we
worked at it, and today, we have completely networked offices all over the country.

What about the database? You said
that was in a pretty bad shape.
The database then had around
40,000 records and was in a flat-file format. Today, we have migrated to Oracle and have
over five lakh records on it. More than the numbers, what is important is the
fundamentally different uses the database is being put to. Earlier, it only helped us when
we had to bring out our directories, or when we sent mailers to our members. Today, there
is extensive querying going on that helps the people within the organization as well as
the export community to cast informed decisions.

But how have you made a difference
to the exporting community by doing all this?
Most exporters in the country
fall under the small- and medium-size enterprise sector. For them to have knowledge and to
accept computers as a part of their business is very difficult. But, over the years the
benefits of FIEO computerization have filtered down to them and today many of them cannot
function without their systems.

How can you say that the benefits
of FIEO computerizing have filtered down?

I will give you an example. We get a lot of export enquiries. When we first started, the
only way we could get them out to our exporters was through our FIEO newsletter. This used
to cause a huge delay and the conversion rates of enquiries to orders too was very small.
Then, when we had our database operational we started matchmaking. We would send out the
queries only to the concerned exporters. This speeded up delivery and a lot more orders
started getting converted. The third step was to give exporters email through a scheme
with CMC. Once that happened, exporters started getting the queries immediately and they
too could respond immediately. The benefit of this was that not only the number of
enquiries went up, but we also started getting serious enquiries. As a final step, when we
set up our own web site, and started hosting our members’ home pages, the number of
enquiries tremendously increased. We receive something like 800-1000 hits a day, and we
have lost count of queries, because, they now come directly to the members home pages. The
good results encouraged many exporters to upgrade.

You are also involved in EDI in a
big way.

Yes, that is my next challenge. The Commerce Ministry has given the task of spreading the
EDI concept in the private sector to our organization. As a part of this, we have worked
actively with service providers to ensure not only a fair pricing but also a good solution
to the community.

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