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APRIL 22, 2007
 Cover Story
 BT Special
 Back of the Book

Mobile Security
Today, it is all about information and how the right information is sent to the right people at the right time and right place. Uncertainty about how to secure mobile phones in the face of increasing threats is slowing individual adoption of mobile applications. There are many facets of mobile security, including network intrusion, mobile viruses, spam and mobile phishing. Analysts expect big telecom companies to develop security solutions on various security platforms.

Rough Ride
These are competitive times for the Indian aviation industry. As salaries zoom, players are scrambling to find profits. Even the state-owned Indian is now seeking young airhostesses to take on the competition. It is planning to introduce a voluntary retirement scheme for airhostesses above 40 years. On an average, they draw a salary of Rs 5 lakh a year. The salaries of pilots, too, are soaring. According to industry estimates, the country needs over 3,000 pilots over the next five years.
More Net Specials

Business Today,  April 8, 2007

India's 20 Most Wired
What's IT? Some software, some hardware, and a telephone line. So why does one company end up using it better than another? The answer, as our fourth annual listing of India's Most Wired Companies reveals, lies not in the IT budget size, but innovative application.

Bringing Tech to Life

All info you need is here: Bajaj Allianz runs on IT, says Bhaskar (centre)

It's got 900-plus offices across India, more than one lakh agents, and 2 million customers, and it's the fastest and the biggest private life insurance company in India in terms of market share. So how did Bajaj Allianz, a joint venture with the Bajajs of Bajaj Auto and Allianz ag of Germany, go on to become numero uno in a short span of six years? "All along, technology has been an integral part of our business strategy," says J. Bhaskar, Head (IT), Bajaj Allianz. He isn't exaggerating. Every aspect of the private life insurer's strategy has an IT component built around it. Its systems are geared to support both the primary customers (read: policy holders) and secondary customers (agents). Result: It has a very popular customer portal, where policyholders can not just view details of their policy, but pay renewal premium through credit card. "We also use the web to provide training for sales staff," says Bhaskar.

The company, which has an annual it budget of 1-2 per cent of annual premium (not including sunk investment of Rs 70 crore so far in it), has in-house core systems such as the JAD (joint application development) and Time Boxes that help deliver new products quickly into the market place. The system can issue 35,000 policies a day and manage collections of 50,000 a day. The IT department, which Bhaskar says is the backbone, also digs out numerous reports and analyses on a daily basis. These go into supporting the decision-makers and marketers at the company. Not rocket science, but Bajaj Allianz evidently uses it much better than its competitors.

From ATMs to Mobile

Cashing in on technology: Sambamurthy's customers may soon be able to transact via their mobiles

ATMs and plain vanilla computer networks don't excite B. Sambamurthy anymore. As the Chairman and Managing Director of Mangalore-based Corporation Bank, Sambamurthy has seen his relatively small bank (total balance sheet size of Rs 45,000 crore compared to Rs 4,93,870 crore of behemoth, the State Bank of India) lean on it to stay competitive. A decade ago, Corporation Bank was one of the first to install a cash management system, which ensured better utilisation of funds for corporate customers and lower working capital requirement. "Technology is a great leveller. Now the size of your branch network is no longer the only decider, since you can reach a wider audience by leveraging the internet and mobile phones," says Sambamurthy.

While the bank has done much more with ATMs than just dispense cash (its customers can pay utility bills, recharge their mobile phones and even pay insurance premia via its ATMs), it is mobile phones that Sambamurthy sees as the next game changer. "Although we already offer some rudimentary services such as checking your account balance, we intend to offer a much wider range of services on this medium soon," says the Chairman. Other services the bank could soon offer include transfer of money between accounts, more detailed bank statements as well as indenting for personalised stationery like cheque books.

In a leap of faith, the bank has chosen a relatively unknown Panacea core banking solution from the Chennai-based Laser Soft Infosystems because it lowers the cost of transaction for its customers. But given the bank's track record with it, it perhaps may have found another source of competitive advantage in Panacea.

Clicking with Consumers

Streamlined: Sahasranamam (bespectacled) with colleagues

Until the tsunami two years and three months ago, excess water was never Chennai's problem; dry taps were. So, if people in Chennai are beginning to find something to cheer about Metrowater, it's not all courtesy the tsunami. Recently, the 137-year-old organisation, which supplies 640 million litres a day to 6 million people in the city, strengthened its decade-old citizens charter to better address consumer complaints. A key aspect of this progressive move is greater transparency-both within and outside the board. "We were not unfamiliar with computers, we've had them since 1986, but it was only a couple of years ago that we inter-connected all our PCs," says A. Sahasranamam, Chief Controller (Finance), who also looks after the board's ERP initiative.

In 2003, a pilot project was launched using Oracle ERP 11 I (pronounced eleven eye) in one area office. Once it proved itself by October 2004, the board decided to extend it to all offices (10 city offices, excluding the head office) and depots (160 of them), besides the central storehouse. Once the storehouse was linked, availability of information made managing the board's business much simpler. Earlier, financial data from each of the offices would be delivered to the head office on floppies, but now they are online. Customers, too, can pay their bills or register complaints at any of the depots that the head office monitors. Metrowater has spent Rs 9 crore on the project so far, but another 100 depots still need to be linked. Sahasranamam says it will be done shortly. After all, there's a citizens charter to live up to.

Savvy Start-Up

Going rural: Malhotra's (L) BPO hopes to induct 200 people this year

It's a BPO, but barely a month old and does more low-end work than most others. So why is even on our list? Because, like we've mentioned elsewhere, 'most wired' to us doesn't mean having the biggest budget for it. Rather, it means savvy use of information technology to either differentiate oneself or make a significant impact. And on those two counts, 25-year-old Saloni Malhotra's rural BPO is a shoo-in. Malhotra's mission, inspired by one of iit Madras Professor Ashok Jhunjhunwala's speeches, is to turn rural internet centres into BPOs, so that livelihoods can be improved. "Our BPO is more like a network that is widespread, with three seats in a centre doing several shifts," explains Malhotra, an alumna of Pune's Bharati Vidyapeeth engineering college.

Most of the rural BPO's projects involve data entry, digitisation of records for government bodies, proof reading of books, and some cad work. Revenue from projects range from Rs 30,000 to Rs 3 lakh, allowing a centre to earn Rs 8,000-12,000 a month. DesiCrew has done work for 20 clients so far, including banks, public sector enterprises and a publishing house.

Currently, there are 60 people in DesiCrew's network of BPOs, and the kiosks are available through N-Logue, a firm incubated by Jhunjhunwala's TeNet company. In other words, N-Logue sets up rural kiosks and DesiCrew augments their income by sending outsourced work their way. "We are just starting and there are enormous challenges ahead," says Malhotra. "I hope to induct at least 200 people this year." A small step for her BPO, but a giant leap for the 200 villagers.

Virtual Education

Class apart: A virtual classroom in progress at Meenakshi College

Millions of school children in India get sub-standard education for any number of reasons: a lack of classrooms, books, or teachers. Chennai-based Everonn Systems believes that's a business opportunity. Set up in 1987 to promote it education in schools (it also meant setting up the infrastructure and training teachers), Everonn soon ventured into distance management education. "When we saw that the concept was well understood, we decided to take distance education to schools and colleges in far-flung towns," says V. Kannan, Everonn's Director.

The multi-media content for its classes are developed in association with educators, and the 'classes' themselves are held in its studios. That means quality education is now available to hundreds of high school children in poorly staffed and equipped schools. Currently there are 131 private schools in its network, all in Tamil Nadu, and 200 colleges across the four southern states. From July, classes for grades 6, 7, and 8 will also be offered. Says Kannan: "We are doing some pilots in Goa and Madhya Pradesh and expect some more schools in these regions to join in."

Students who opt for Everonn's virtual classes have to pay Rs 65 a month per subject, involving 30 hours of teaching per subject. Typically, several schools hook up simultaneously for one class. Everonn expects to close 2006-07 with Rs 43 crore in revenues, and has plans of investing Rs 25 crore in expansion. Kannan's big dream is to reach 5 million students by 2010.

Bricks to Clicks

Rewiring: GMR is going in for IT overhaul with Hegde as CTO

One of the first things we now build at a new project site," says Subbarao Hegde, Chief Technology Officer of the Bangalore-based GMR Group, "is a broadband tower so that senior managers sitting in Bangalore have access to the latest status reports." Don't be surprised. With 36 infrastructure projects (worth hundreds of crores) in the works, GMR has plenty of reasons to tighten the screws on project management. The it overhaul at the group is so extensive that Hegde says GMR's executives, business partners and other stakeholders will soon have high-speed access to ongoing business projects, wherever they may be built. No wonder, Hegde calls it the WAWA initiative: work anywhere, work anytime.

To realise it's full potential, GMR is investing in a multi-layered approach to technology, covering basic applications such as ERP, but also looking at other business drivers such as a messaging and collaboration platform, knowledge management portal and business intelligence tools. With many of its executives on the road most of the time, Hegde is also ensuring that all these applications can be accessed on mobile devices such as PDAs, making sure critical business data is accessible "across people, processes and partners." For old economy companies such as GMR, coming to grips with technology is itself half the challenge, given most executives' disinclination to look much beyond telephones and basic e-mails. "Everyone from the Chairman down is backing our technology upgrade; Now, it's just a question of getting the project done quickly so that they can begin leveraging its benefits," says Hegde. Indeed, GMR's team working on the multi-crore Delhi airport modernisation plan will need it.

Plug And Play

Ready to roll: Hero Honda adopted ERP pretty early

This year, Delhi-based hero Honda will roll out 3 million two-wheelers. That's more than 342 bikes an hour, or 6 per minute. Each of these bikes also has around 2,000 components that go into its making. Multiply the two and you begin to get a sense of the complexity that the world's largest manufacturer of two-wheelers must deal with just on the manufacturing side. Yet, if Hero Honda continues to roll out its frugal motorcycles without missing a beat, it's because of its early start with ERP in 1999. Apart from improving employee and shopfloor productivity, the system has connected 250 suppliers and more than 550 dealers across the country. "Information is updated twice a day from the ERP system and includes details like dispatch details, warranty claims and delivery schedules. These might seem trivial but things like this really help," says Ravi Sud, the company CFO. Looking at Hero Honda's numbers, you don't want to argue with him.

Elephant Learns to Dance

Way to go: Vasudeva has helped wire up 450 HPCL locations

See the lady smiling in the picture above? Look at her closely one more time. Nishi Vasudeva has the distinction of overseeing the largest implementation of JD Edwards EnterpriseOne in Asia. Executive Director of it & ERP at public sector oil giant, Hindustan Petroleum Corporation (HPCL), Vasudeva took just two years to wire up more than 450 of HPCL's locations and 4,000 employees across India under Project Parivartan. Now, a complex web of wide area network (wan), using leased lines, VPN links, isdn and PSTN links among others, connects the organisation. "Standardising on a single ERP system helped us improve efficiency and productivity," she says as a matter of fact. "The itinfrastructure provides the foundation for all the other services like corporate mail, intranet, employee portal, document management system and a slew of web-based and work flow-based applications."

Thanks to its IT investment, HPCL has been able to improve its performance in three key areas: decision-making, customer responsiveness and, finally, integration and standardisation of processes. If that sounds too mundane, don't forget that HPCL is a Fortune 500 company that owns and operates two oil refineries, two cross-country pipelines and a network that includes terminals, depots and bottling plants. With a 17 per cent market share in the oil and gas sector, HPCL also exports its products to countries like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Malaysia. "We have better control over our operations and a greater understanding of business drivers," says Vasudeva. Like we said earlier, IT isn't about technology, it's about business.

Look Ma, No Wires

The IBM edge: Paranjape hopes to offer better services to customers

Bharti Airtel proved that you don't need to own all the servers and routers to be a most wired company. Idea Cellular couldn't agree more. Last month, the Pune-based mobile phone service provider signed a 10-year it outsourcing deal with IBM that is estimated to be worth $650 million. "We expect that the partnership with IBM will not only help us support our aggressive growth plans from an it perspective but will also bring in substantial value to customers, employees and shareholders," says Prakash Paranjape, Chief Information Officer, Idea Cellular, which has close to 15 million subscribers.

With IBM taking care of Idea's it services, Paranjape says, the service provider will be able to offer its customers best-in-class solutions and innovations. "Bill Flash" is one such service that Idea already offers its customers. This service allows a subscriber to instantaneously get information on his billed and unbilled amount by just punching in a four-digit code. "Besides making our subscribers happy, this has significantly reduced pressure on our IVR system and call centre," points out Paranjape. Given that there aren't too many countries in the world where scalability of telecom operators is being tested like it is in India, outsourcing it to a vendor like IBM may be the best it investment Idea could have made.

A High-Wire Act

Modern approach: it helped KNP re-engineer itself, says Gonsalves

How could an 84-year-old organisation that had an ageing workforce, conservative thinking and a structure conducive to the past…create value for all stakeholders and at the same time ensure that it was not a one-time effort?" asks Jason Gonsalves, Vice President (Corporate Planning and it), Kansai Nerolac Paints (KNP). The answer, as the embattled company discovered, was re-engineering.

To start off, KNP migrated from its functional-based legacy systems to a process-based systems culture by implementing the sap R/3 solution. "ERP along with investments in connectivity, servers and allied infrastructure, converted the organisation from a decentralised, off-line mode, to a real-time connected enterprise," says Gonsalves. Recognising the potential of information as a valuable asset, KNP put in place two key business intelligence solutions, namely data warehousing and knowledge management.

With an it budget of 0.5-0.7 per cent of revenue (last year, revenue was Rs 1,300 crore), the company has connected its sales offices and factories around the country with its data centre using a communication infrastructure based on VSATs, leased lines, isdn, VPN. Today, the company has a smart card-based loyalty programme for its contractors in addition to computerised colour dispensing (CCD) machines for its dealers. Over the past year or so, KNP has also taken to audio and video conferencing of employees in a bid to cut cost. A vendor portal has also been launched with an eye on better vendor management. Red, as this paints company discovered, looks good only when it's not on your bottom line.

Cracking a Nutty Problem

Oil's well: Copra portal has simplified the buying process, says Kamath

Marico buys one out of every 25 coconuts grown in India. Considering that India is among the largest producer of coconuts in the world (producing more than 13 billion coconuts every year), that sounds like a nutty proposition to manage. But for Marico, the solution was simple. "We just turned the copra buying process on its head," says Vinod Kamath, Chief (Finance & it). Basically, Marico started a copra portal, where instead of Marico quoting the price, the suppliers quoted the price. Marico, then would take the final call on price and quality. "This initiative was particularly challenging due to the fact that the vendors/ traders were not it savvy," recalls Kamath. Today, the company, which has an IT budget of Rs 5 crore per annum, has implemented SAP-SRM to integrate the packing material suppliers.

With the company's dependence on agricultural produce like copra, sunflower and sunflower seeds, crop estimation and market forecasting are a crucial part of major buying decisions. Marico uses field survey personnel for data collection and estimation. "The data collected by these personnel is transmitted on a daily basis using the FSP Portal, which otherwise would take at least a fortnight for collation and aggregation. This initiative will ensure the availability of data to make better buying decisions," says Kamath.

That apart, Marico integrated its customers on one side and vendors and distributors on the other. It has also piloted the use of PDAs for sales force automation and plans to roll it out in full scale shortly. And you thought marketing oils was a simple business.

Model Municipality

Showing the way: Corporation's Systems Manager Subhash Patil

It is one of the most successful e-governance stories in India, and it is set in-no, not Hyderabad-but Kalyan Dombivli, a suburb in Thane district. About five years ago, the Kalyan Dombivli Municipal Corporation (KDMC) decided to create citizen facilitation centres (CFCs) and urban local bodies to bring about greater accountability and transparency in its operations. The results, to say the least, have been stunning. Assessment of property now takes just 21 days, with 24 KDMC staffers working on it compared to 62 previously; disputes over bills have dropped from 25 to 2 per cent of new assessments; a new water connection now takes two weeks rather than six; and KDMC's revenue in 2006-07 is expected to be Rs 245 crore, and Rs 340 crore next year. "The e-governance project has helped citizens get their work done at a much faster pace, and the corporation earns almost 90 per cent more in tax revenues," says R. D. Shinde, Municipal Commissioner, KDMC.

There are six CFCs apart from the one at KDMC headquarters across Kalyan and Dombivli's seven wards, and citizens can walk in at any of these CFCs and avail of the corporation's services. These six CFCs are connected online with the central servers and offer more than 90 corporation services across the counters. Not surprisingly, KDMC has become a municipal model not just within Maharashtra, but the central government has expressed interest in replicating its model across India.

Wiring the Unwired

Reaching out: Shetty's hospital treats thousands of patients remotely

Annually, just 70,000 cardiac procedures are conducted in India, even though more than 2.5 million are required. The problem is that just a fraction of the population has access to specialised healthcare because the best doctors sit in distant hospitals in large cities. Rather than bring patients to specialty centres such as Narayana Hrudayalaya, a six-year old cardiac centre on Bangalore's Hosur Road, the hospital now treats thousands of patients remotely, using technology ranging from the humble telephone line to a dedicated broadband set up to transmit images like electrocardiograms (ECGs) from remote towns and villages to specialists at Narayana Hrudayalaya. Elsewhere, the 53-year-old Shetty plans to lean on the network of 1.65 lakh post offices nationwide (and the rudimentary connectivity many of them have) to expand his Hrudayalaya Post initiative. "Almost 99 per cent of the cases we see don't have to make the long journey to Bangalore or other large towns for simple tests such as ECG," says Dr Shetty.

The doctor says that his hospital can replicate its success in cardiology in several other areas of medicine that require remote assistance such as eye care, where images can be viewed virtually. Technology and connectivity will also help Narayana Hrudayalaya execute the ambitious Pan-African Network, mooted by President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. "We will be connected to all 53 nations in Africa to try and address some of their most critical healthcare needs," says Dr Shetty. Impressive? You bet.

Out of Darkness

Powering change: Panday wants NDPL to be a trendsetter

In July 2002, when Tata Power got the control of North Delhi Power Ltd (NDPL), one of the three privately managed power distributors that came into being after unbundling of Delhi Vidyut Board (DVB), its officials found two out-of-date computers in its main office. Since the PCs were still partially packed, it remains an abiding mystery whether or not they were ever used by the DVB officials. The story today couldn't be more different. NDPL, which supplies electricity to a population of 5 million in north and north-west Delhi, has been able to bring its aggregate technical and commercial (AT&C) losses down to 26.52 per cent in March 2007 from 47.79 per cent in 2002. What helped? A Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition System (SCADA) that NDPL has implemented for 11 grids so far; it allows better control over distribution. That apart, its ERP system generates a 'dashboard' of key performance indicators that the top managers can employ to take decisions

More visible, however, are the improvements in customer service. "NDPL is the first power distribution company in India to have posted the consumption, billing and payment record of all its customers on its website. We have also implemented automatic meter reading technology that collects data from meters and transfers it to a central database," says Akhil Panday, Principal Executive Officer, NDPL. The 'billing efficiency' (the percentage of consumers billed on their actual consumption rather than on compromised estimates) increased from 54 per cent in 2002 to 98 per cent in March 2007.

NDPL's website also provides for registration of complaints and status check on those complaints. "We want to become a model in power distribution," says Panday. Good for India.

Retailer in a Rush

Taking stock: Reliance uses technology to track buying trends

In less than five months, Reliance Retail has opened 96 retail stores, spread across 9 cities and already has on its roster half a million customers signing up for its loyalty programme. Reliance Retail is on a roll. But the roll-out couldn't have been possible without state-of-the-art technology, which peeks out at every end of Reliance's retail strategy. At the front-end, the company uses Wincor touchscreen billing terminals with Metrologic bi-optic scanners that scan and weigh merchandise simultaneously, cutting down waiting time at the checkout counter.

Reliance has chosen Israel's Retalix Storeline pos and Retalix Loyalty software for managing point-of-sale transactions and loyalty programmes. The front-end transmits data to the enterprise resource planning (ERP) system at the back-end in real time. All its stores and distribution centres are connected by VPN/broadband. The data collected from the checkout counters helps the company track customer buying trends, average ticket size and choice of items. Based on this, the company can manage and plan for its stock-keeping units (SKUs) and determine stocking levels across its range of products.

In its farm-to-fork strategy, Reliance Retail is eliminating the middle-man and sourcing produce directly from the producers. At the same time it wants to ensure that physical handling of stocks is minimised. It currently relies on bar-coding of crates and racks at the distribution centres from where the product is picked up, but pilot runs with Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags are on. As the network expands and scales up, tracking the movement of products will become more critical. Wal-Mart is supposed to run the world's largest private it network. Perhaps Reliance Retail will end up running India's biggest.

Banking Big On IT

Easy access: Shamrao Bank has its own in-house banking software

Back in the early 2000s, the Mumbai-based Shamrao Vittal Co-operative Bank made a mark by being one of the pioneers among its peers to adopt a bevy of it initiatives. As early as 2003, the bank installed Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP telephony to connect its three dozen branches and four extension counters, slashing its intra-branch communication costs. When customers were initially reluctant to accept the newly-introduced ATM technology on security grounds, the bank introduced e-tokens (temporary ATM cards) for withdrawal of money from an ATM. "It greatly reduced the initial fear factor on the part of the customers," remembers Ravikiran Manikikar, it Head at the bank.

What may seem as small steps was a giant leap for this 100-year-old bank at a time when co-operative banks were falling down like nine pins because of huge pressure on their margins. The bank used technology to shave costs and keep its bottom line healthy. It developed an in-house banking software, 'Genius-1', which was implemented in all its branches in 2004. By connecting all the branches electronically, the bank was able to offer services that were akin to 24X7 banking. Besides, the bank introduced SMS and tele-banking for its growing breed of tech savvy customers and was the first co-op to introduce a two-hour remittance system. Next on the anvil, says Manikikar, is an electronic gateway that will help its customers pay utility bills, and tie-ups with other banks to provide its nearly a million customers access to more than 8,000 ATMs.

C for Cow, M for Mouse

White revolution: Sumul Chairman Manubhai Patel

In more than 1,000 village societies in Gujarat's Surat district, some 250,000 farmers selling their milk through the Surat Milk Producers' Union (Sumul) are an it empowered lot. Using an online integrated computer system (OICs), farmers in 450 of the 1,008 village milk co-operative societies in the district can now know exactly what transactions they have done and how much they will earn. Sumul is one of the 12 district unions that produce dairy products for the Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation (GCMMF), which markets Amul and Dhara brands, and has used technology to boost efficiency at the milk co-operative. Says Jayesh Desai, Sumul's MD: "Automating the village societies has helped us increase efficiency considerably. We get the necessary information on time, which has helped in accurate decision-making."

Of its annual turnover of Rs 600 crore, Sumul earmarks Rs 5 crore for its IT budget and is now connecting all the 1,000-odd villages with wireless and leased telecom lines. Recently, it introduced communication kiosks (with email, video conferencing and VOIP telephony) for farmers in some of the villages with a target of covering all of them by end-2007.

Bottom Line Booster

Smooth driving: Tata Motors has the largest automotive CRM base

You would imagine that at an engineering-intensive company such as Tata Motors, it would play a crucial role. And you would be right-but only partly. Because at the Pune-based automotive major, it isn't just a tool, it's a bottom line booster. "it is an integral part of the company's process stream. The bottom line growth is inconceivable without it support," says the company's Senior General Manager (IT), Probir Mitra.

At Tata Motors, it is classified into Engineering Systems (CAD/CAM) and Business Systems, which includes manufacturing and procurement. According to Mitra, the company has developed a knowledge-based engineering framework called knext, which reduces design cycle time and integrates design tools and processes. "It also helps in training the new recruits on processes and brings them to a productive level in a very short time," adds Mitra.

On the business side, it is said to manage the largest CRM user base of all auto companies in the world, covering 500 dealer branches and 13,000 users. "This has replaced hundreds of fragmented dealer systems with one integrated application for our dealers and us," says Mitra. In the case of retail financing, the company has implemented sap-Lease Accounting and Management (SAP-LAM), the first in Asia and third worldwide. This system has been integrated with the CRM system. However, Tata Motors' CRM system is about to get tested like never before: the mass-market Rs 1-lakh car isn't too far away.

Pilgrims' Progress

Gateway to Tirupathi: Biometrics has helped simplify things for devotees

On an average day, 45,000 devotees throng the Venkateshwara Temple on the Tirumala Hills in Andhra Pradesh. On special days, that number can burgeon to 120,000. For the Tirumala Tirupathi Devasthanam Trust (TTDT), which manages the famous temple, handling such numbers would have been a nightmare had it not been for technology, admits A.P.V.N. Sarma, an IAS officer in charge of TTDT.

Time was when devotees flocking from India and around the world to the temple had to wait in cage-like enclosures for time periods varying from 6-48 hours for their turn to pay obeisance to the deity. Then, in 1999, the temple opted for a bar coding technology where a wristband with a bar code detailing the time of the 'darshan' was provided to each pilgrim. But that led to a scalpers' market in wristbands, with people trading them at a premium. Moreover, in the searing summer heat, the barcodes would fade or the wristbands tear.

To overcome all these challenges, in 2003, TTDT adopted biometrics. An impression of the index finger and a back-up photo of the face is taken for each pilgrim using a webcam at Tirupati, the base station before entering the Tirumala Hills. The data is then seamlessly transferred to the temple precincts where fingerprint and photos are matched before each pilgrim is allowed to proceed for 'darshan'. This has slashed the waiting time for devotees down to a few hours. God bless it.

Wired Campus, Wired Town

Reducing the digital divide: And VIIT is doing its bit, says Goje

Baramati, 120 km away from Pune, is a town most people, with the exception of keen trackers of politics, would not have heard of. But it has been in the news in recent times for non-political reasons. Last November, Intel Chairman Craig Barrett chose this nondescript town as a location for implementing Wimax for the first time in India. And helping the chip giant in the project is a local college called Vidya Pratishthan's Institute of Information Technology (VIIT).

Established in 2000, the 30-acre campus has a network of more than 250 computers powered with Gigabit Fiber Optic Cable. Besides, most of its buildings have a Wi-Fi connection. In addition, online tests are the order of the day at the campus. A brainchild of Indian cricket's big boss and Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, VIIT has been at the forefront of implementing several Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) projects in the region. "We made it a part of our mandate to disseminate it among the people who did not have access," says Amol Goje, Director, VIIT. "We wanted to do our bit to reduce the digital divide," adds Goje.

Today, the people of Baramati can boast of world class connectivity thanks to the deployment of Wireless Local Loop (WLL). VIIT also runs a community radio service for nearly 7 hours every day, reaching out to 30,000 farmers. It has also been instrumental in setting up a telemedicine project initiated by Intel, cardiac and ophthalmologic consultations to local residents.