BOOTS or COTS?

An employee of a landlord was found running very fast on the road. He was holding an envelope in his hand. One passerby asked him why he was running so fast and where he was going. The employee replied that he was running fast as he had been ordered to deliver that envelop quickly.  The passerby shouted, “Okay! Where should you deliver that letter?”. The running employee shouted back, “No time to see that. Have to run fast”.

The ESIC has, so far, diverted so much of its own resources. But, the I.T.Roll-out work in the ESIC is still going on without knowing the direction in which it is going.

Cartoon

Click on the image to have the enlarged view.

The process of computerisation started about four years ago in the ESI Corporation. The work assigned originally to one agency was cancelled all of a sudden and diverted to a different agency. Onlookers were puzzled.  But, people wanted computerization of ESIC work to be done somehow that no one was prepared to go into the reasons behind such pre-assignment activities. There were rumours galore that the agreement entered into between the ESIC and the new agency was very loosely drafted containing ambiguous sentences and escape routes in case of non-performance of the work assigned. Yet, nobody cared – or dared –  to look into it.

The work started with a lot of fanfare. Almost entire office machinery of the ESIC was diverted to do the work already assigned to the agency. Regular work of the organisation had, virtually, come to the standstill for months. Social Security Officer, Dealing Assistants and others were diverted to do only  the I.T. Roll out work. Instructions were issued to do many things in one way, in  spite of representations to the contrary. All of them were reversed later. Even new Declaration Forms were collected from the already covered insured persons for reasons not known. Employers and insured persons too bore with many hardships. Camps were arranged on a massive scale throughout the nation for this purpose. The insured persons were directed to attend the camps with all the family members. The practical problems faced by the people were ordered to be ignored. There were strict instructions in this regard but they were modified after some law and  problems were reported.

The plea for computerisation as a pilot project in a few small regions met with scorn and contempt. Trial and error methods were adopted throughout the nation.

Time-tested methods followed successfully in other organisations like Railways, Banks, etc., were deliberately disregarded and discarded.

The Software Requirement Specification is always the core area to be concentrated before computerizing the work of any organization. It requires proper concentration and devotion of time at the initial stage of computerization. But, the ESIC’s priorities were upside down. The SRS for various processes were prepared without adequate depth and content. Even the Input and Output requirements were not spelt out in clear terms to the agency,  for reasons not made known. Yet, the work was started on a very massive scale throughout the nation.

Now, almost four and half years are over. Yet, the software prepared by the agency is not helping the ESIC to go anywhere near the goal of 100% computerization. Defective software has rendered the office work complicated. The staff members find themselves doing the same work twice, both manually and through the System, after waiting for a long time to get access to the System.The reality is that the organization has simply been betrayed. The ESIC looks like a child left alone in the deep woods, knowing no way to come out.

As far as the agency is concerned, the defective SRS handed over to it, has come handy to escape responsibility. ID cards without proper use, highly inflated figures of coverage of insured persons, inaccuracy in monitoring revenue, non-reconciliation of financial figures in the approved way, wrong output regarding the eligibility and rates of benefits for insured persons, wrong and unhelpful outputs while processing the inspection reports in the Regional Offices have become the norm and not exceptions in the day-to-day functioning of the organization.

The state of affairs is such it would be better to discard the entire I.T. Roll-Out and do the work the way it was done before the introduction of the present I.T. Roll-out, manually in some areas and with self-developed or market-purchased software in other areas.  Such Commercial Off-The-Shelf software can be used for hospitals, dispensaries, libraries and in certain wings of the Accounts Division.

The authorities, at present, may hesitate, for bona fide reasons, after having spent so much. But, the field reality necessitates only such a decision.

 The experience of the US Air force cited here as a precedent may help the ESIC authorities to take appropriate decision as deemed fit.

It is time the ESIC moved from BOOTS to COTS!

US Airforce article

Click on the image to have an enlarged view.

***BOOTS – Build, Operate, Own and Transfer the Software.      ***COTS     – Commercial Off-The-Shelf Software.



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1 Comment

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One response to “BOOTS or COTS?

  1. Partha

    ESIC in early 1980s did make a few feeble attempts to computerize its activities but could not make much progress for various reasons, most important,in my personal view ,is due to lethargy and conservative attitude of several doubting Thomases’ and ever fault finding officers in their ranks. Everyone knows that no two officers in this org agree on a solution ,egos being the cause. With IT and IT enabled services growing exponentially, a service organization as ESIC was compelled to shed its inertia and act quickly. I should say that their current approach was quite appropriate given the excessive resistance to change among most staff and officers.One may ask why their staff were not motivated for change when there was no other go but to go for extensive IT roll out . Culture of the organization was unfortunately was not very conducive for such an experimentation, Somewhere any job has to start and and it did start well with reasonable time lines. Let us not be naive to assume that in this Rs 1100 cr project, the modalities of awarding work were not examined. Endlessly debating and discussing, sitting idle and doing nothing in the name imaginary ghosts has put this service organization in a primitive state for nearly two decades and in this context , it is good that a bold initiative was taken to award the work. Preliminary work and detailing the SRS were carried out in an orderly way associating the persons with adequate knowledge of inputs and required outputs. True, the result may not be that great as one would have desired, but the reasons for that are not related the initial conceptual planning and related preliminary exercises Surely the reasons lie elsewhere . Despite hiccups surely the system will stabilize and deliver the results. Here the address is known and the urgency is also well known but the runner is not greatly motivated hoping that some other runner will come to his rescue. If the runner is dealt firmly the results will come. very sorry state no doubt, but there is no reason to be desperate
    ESIC should also start evaluating the success or otherwise of their IT roll out program and act quickly to attain a level of stability, given that the contract period is fast closing on.

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