Saturday, October 19, 2013

Project EMERALD - Indian Army's Continual Thrust Towards Network-Centricity

Indian Army initiative to implement an Information Technology-enabled eco-system for its Engineering support duties.


The Army recently issued a notification [above] seeking responses from Indian System Integrators [SI] to plan & deploy an Enterprise Resource Planning [ERP] solution for its Corps of Electronics & Mechanical Engineers [EME]. The EME is entrusted with the responsibility of ensuring that all of the Army's war-fighting equipment live up to its description, in fighting fit condition, at all time. The staggering diversity of IA's equipment & their numbers - from many 1000s of Tanks [Soviet T-50 tanks of the 1950s to indigenous 20th century Arjun MBT] to Helicopters & UAVs [with its mix of French, Soviet/Russian & indigenous origin] & missiles - makes the job EME performs a Herculean one.

The EME meets this challenge by overseeing more than 600 locations of operation where it carries out a diverse variety of tasks including

  • data analysis, formulating procedures & functioning as a knowledge repository
  • training establishments
  • facilities that actually repair & maintain the hardware

At its 10 Base Workshops, the uppermost echelon of repair facilities, it essentially carries out a complete rebuild &, when required, upgradation of the arriving hardware. At present, the nature of its operation is, as it itself puts it, "through manual paper based transactional processes and procedures".

The Indian Army has, thus, initiated 'Project EMERALD', with an aim to change its style of functioning. An acronym for 'EME Reliability Availability Logistics Delivery', the Army plans to revamp its operation on a backbone of Information-Technology, by adopting a suitable ERP system. This undertaking, being headed by a Brigadier-rank Officer, aims to link up the EME's numerous establishments to one another, so that data & information can be conveniently shared, updated & accessed remotely, in real-time. It would make possible, remote collaboration between people, for analysing problems & arriving at solutions, that could then be made available through the same IT-infrastructure, on the fly. Besides streamlining operation & preventing unnecessary duplication of data & processes, it would enable information pertaining to a recently experienced problem & its corresponding solution to be quickly incorporated into the regimes of personnel undergoing training, thereby equipping them to address the latest challenges, once they are deployed on the field. Digitisation of its million+ inventory data & the proposed geo-tagging of all information should translate to much better management, providing the Army's procurement arm an accurate overview of the inventory status. Subsequently, orders could be placed for spares & corresponding financial transactions handled, all within the a consolidated eco-system of the ERP. Planning a system that would be equipped with multiple redundancies & safeguards, it would be safe to state that, once successfully implemented, upon attaining stabilisation, the IA would have, at its disposal, an unprecedented scale of data fusion, that it could utilise to create accurate optimisation models & undertake failure predictions. A significant leap into the contemporary, with a foot in the future.

Being a turnkey project, the entity eventually chosen would be entirely responsible for the acquisition of the necessary hardware & software building-blocks, configure/customise them to meet the Army's specific needs, deploy them & offer training, maintenance & troubleshooting services thereafter. The Army has estimated, from the time the contract is awarded, a time duration of 5 years for executing EMERALD throughout the EME Branch. Of this, it would run a 2-years pilot programme to test & familiarise itself with this concept, followed by the actual Corps-wide deployment, estimated to take another 3 years.

The Army's decision to go ahead with EMERALD could be seen in light of its earlier experience with ERP solutions. The Army Ordnance Corp [AOC] was the 1st of its branch to initiate & deploy such a system. Undertaken by the AOC's Computerised Inventory Control Project - Technical Group [CICP-TG], the ERP system helped automate & standardise processes, saving time & streamlining its logistics support function. First mooted in 1996, the solution was an integration of 24 software modules, accessible from more than 300 computer terminals. Within 3 years of its implementation, in the early 2000s, the Army reported cost savings of Rs. 250 Crores INR, 20 times the cost of its investment. Buoyed by this positive result, it decided to expand the scope of its adoption, initiating Phase II of its implementation at the AOC. This time, it brought in the National Institute for Smart Government [NISG] & Management Development Institute [MDI] as consultants, to help it in the adoption of an ERP solution, built using Commercial Off-The-Shelf [COTS] software, a sign of maturing ERP modules.1&2

Migration to an ERP system isn't without its share of bumps. An improperly conceived solution would result in a sub-optimal utilisation of the system, that could produce results worse than present situation. Adhering to budget & time schedule is a persistent challenge System Integrators face. The Indian Army's first forays into ERP too faced such time & cost over-runs. The US Air Force, last year, cancelled one such project owing to this. Digitisation and/or migration of data into the new ERP solution pose a major challenge. This is especially true if the data presently exists in paper form. Maintaining the quality of data during such digitisation process would be critical to ensure smooth functioning of the system. Maintaining data integrity while transferring it from one system to another is a widely encountered problem. Even if the data is digitally stored, one could come up against possible incompatibility in the file formats. This is especially true if the legacy system is a one of a kind, custom-coded solution. While the reasons cited till now are of an inanimate nature, arguably the biggest challenge would involve the human workforce, introducing them to an all-new way of operating, helping them overcome their initial inhibitions, through persistent hand holding in the early phases. This would call for formulating & running a comprehensive re-training programme, where they're made to "un-learn" legacy practices & embrace the new ones, overcoming an individual's inertia to change. Given the critical nature of the Armed Forces profession, slip-ups can get magnified many times over.

Upon successful completion of 'Project EMERALD', the Indian Army's EME Branch would operate in a wholly network-centric environment, bearing testament to a paradigm shift in the Army's means of operation, elevating itself to a  whole new superior level of performance, joining the company of the most advanced.


The Army has provided the same contact details for getting in touch with the one heading the project & his deputy.



Also Read: DRDO Looks For Partner To Build & Maintain The Indigenous AEW&C Systems