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May - 2005 - issue > Technology
Refining IT for excellence
Subhasis Chatterjee
Saturday, April 30, 2005
Ever since BPCL implemented SAP R/3 it’s IT department has changed dramatically. Today IT is not just a service department in BPCL – it has literally become the backbone of the organization. Since every thing is on ERP platform, the focus of the Information System (IS) department is higher on business than solely IT.

Therefore, it is absolutely essential that the person heading the IS department have a business orientation. Singh embodies all this. His varied experience in project implementation, maintenance, material management and corporate planning helped him to handle both IT and the business of IT. For him it was not a challenge, but rather an opportunity. He claims “The role of the IT head in an organization like BPCL is more of a facilitator and leader rather than an IT specialist.”

After making massive investments to build an IT infrastructure, business houses expect better results. Singh is responsible to ensure that BPCL can derive the best out of its IT monolith.

In 1997-98 the company had completely reconstructed its various departments and at that time, the need for an effective ERP system was apparent. After evaluating several vendors, the company finally implemented SAP R/3 as the backbone for its business process. The IT department had two wings— IS and ERP.

The IS had more than 100 computer engineers while the ERP had 120 professionals with few computer engineers. The rest were taken from other departments including purchase, sales, maintenance, finance, and HR. When Singh received the mandate to head the entire IT operations of BPCL, the two existing IT divisions (i.e. IS department and the ERP cell) merged together to create a new IT department called Integrated Information System.

Interestingly, BPCL is one of the first companies in India to implement ERP systems to integrate all its operations. Its SAP R/3 version of the ERP package has almost 3,100 end users. Today all the corporate transactions of BPCL are done on ERP platform.

The earlier legacy system is no longer in use. Last year the company upgraded its ERP package and adopted SAP R/3 enterprise version on IS-OIL (a standard for oil refining and marketing companies). As the head of Integrated Information System of BPCL, Singh leads a team of more than one hundred IS engineers and more than sixty SAP-certified consultants. BPCL has not only successfully implemented ERP across the organization but also assisted several companies in India and abroad, including petroleum refiners like Cochin Refinery, Maligarh Refinery Project, Qatar Petroleum apart from Malaysian Airport, BTT Thailand, and L&T InfoTech to introduce ERP in their respective organizations.

“We provided them training and technical support to implement ERP,” he says. BPCL is the only company in the Asia-Pacific region to be a member of Global Industry Advisory Council of Oil and Gas for SAP. Even though the ERP solution was implemented in BPCL almost four and half years ago, it was during the tenure of Singh the up gradation of the ERP package has been accomplished.

The successful ERP implementation has not only increased the efficiency but also has introduced transparency and accountability in the system. Today virtually everything from inventory to bill payments can be monitored through ERP. “ERP has made life much easier for us,” says Singh with a sense of satisfaction.

Before introducing ERP in the organization, around 3,200 BPCL employees were trained rigorously and Singh was deeply involved in formulating the right training method for this purpose. “The biggest challenge to formulate an effective training process is that if you train people too early it will become outdated and if you don’t train them in time you wouldn’t be able to train everybody,” he quips.

In the first phase, 90 trainers were trained for 15 days at the ERP centers to build a core ERP team and were later sent to 28 training centers across the country to train likely users. They developed the training material during their own training program, which was made available on the desktop of every probable user. Whether they were really practicing or not that also was monitored carefully. The entire training process was two months long. The performance of all training recipients and training process were simultaneously evaluated at the end of their training.

BPCL uses IT extensively and the whole corporate office is literally paperless today. The entire e-mail system, online ticket booking, and online booking of vehicles everything is available on the user’s desktop. The company has implemented several e-commerce platforms, which include some B2B and B2C initiatives. The company’s eagerness to emerge as an IT-savvy organization became evident when it introduced two smart cards-Petro Card for individual car owners and Smart Fleet Card for commercial vehicle owners. These smart cards have given freedom to the users from carrying large amounts of cash in their wallet. Particularly, using the Smart Fleet Card the vehicle owner can track their vehicle location and monitor the vehicle performance.

Now drivers need not carry cash on long trips. Regarding the role of IS department in rolling out these IT initiatives Singh says, “Any IT initiative in the whole corporation has to pass through the IS department, since we are responsible to provide the connectivity and technology.”

Presently, the company is using three layers of connectivity- leased line, V-Sat communication and the Internet. Today all the outlets and offices of BPCL are connected through either of the forms. The leased line is the main backbone of connectivity and V-Sat connection has been established in 300 locations. In the future, the company plans to connect 1,000 locations through V-Sat connection.

The company is not currently outsourcing any of its IT requirements from outsiders. But in the future, it will consider outsourcing, provided those services are more economical and superior to the in house capabilities of the company.

“We are not averse to outsourcing,” opines Singh. To retain a talented pool of IT professionals the company provides challenging assignments and beneficial working condition to its IT workforce. “Being a Public Sector Enterprise, we are unable to provide matching salaries offered by private sector organizations. So, we train them regularly. That’s how you can fill the void, in case someone leaves your organization,’’ says Singh.
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