Group General Manager (IT Services) | 04 Aug 2004
The fact is that it is a big market and there are not too many major universal services on offer. Railway ticketing is a mass consumption service. Internet is getting localised at a fast pace. And this means higher coverage. Anyone anytime and from anywhere can access the Net.
Prior to joining the Indian Railways in 1982, Amitabh Pandey, a St Stephens College alumnus and a Masters in Eeconomics from Delhi School of Economics, was a lecturer in Delhi University for three years. In his 22-year-stint with the Railways, Pandey has been instrumental in evolving IRCTC into one of the most successful e-commerce websites in Asia. In an interview with Ashish Singh of exchange4media, Pandey shares his views, experience and his perception about the potential IT services hold for Indian Railways.
Q. How large is your customer base? And what percentage of the Railways’ overall ticketing business is done through IRCTC?
At present our customer base is close to 4 lakh. In the first month of IRCTC’s launch in August 2004, we sold 3,343 tickets, whereas in April 2004 we sold 1,04,167 tickets online. I am proud to say that it has been a strong, linear growth. The percentage of contribution to the Railway’s overall business is one per cent. But we have just started and a one per cent contribution gives us a lot of hope and space to grow.
Q. How would you define the unique selling proposition of IRCTC? Is it a typical e-commerce operation?
That’s very hard to say. There is a lot more potential for e-commerce in India and we have just started offering online payment service for Indian Railways. Till now, the customer had to come to the ticket window but now we are taking the ticket to him. The fact is that it is a big market and there are not too many major universal services on offer. Railway ticketing is a mass consumption service. Internet is getting localised at a fast pace. And this means higher coverage. Anyone anytime and from anywhere can access the Net.
Q. Who manages your site?
We manage the site, although, the technical support is from our technology partners, Broadvision, which has been there from the very beginning. They are the technical implementers and software managers. The basic application to build the software is done by them and the rest is taken care of by us.
Q. IRCTC has recently selected the Red Hat Linux platform to run Oracle’s E-Business Suite. How do you think it will help you?
IRCTC is supposed to take over the catering business of Indian Railways, which is also the basic objective of IRCTC. We could either run it in the traditional government style or in a more efficient manner by using the most modern technology available, like Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP). On the whole, when we are talking about the corporation, it has been implemented but data entry from respective zones is yet to be done as the network is now being rolled out. We chose Red Hat Linux because it is a more efficient technology. We cannot use technology for the sake of it; we have to value the technology, its repercussions, impact and usage for us. Given our business, we are always looking for the latest cost-effective technology. We are always concerned about cost-effectiveness.
Q. Can you explain the IRCTC architectural system?
Sorry, I cannot share it.
Q. Security is a major concern for customers, especially when it comes to giving out credit card numbers. How have you addressed this issue?
We use high standard encryption available in India, that is, 128-bit. When a person is choosing a credit card route that information cannot be stolen. Theoretically, 128-bit is hackable, but with the kind of resources it would require to do so, the whole exercise would be a ridiculous one! Moreover, we do not store the information.
We have an integrated banking set-up with us. We are integrated with a large number of banks in India, which enables direct debit facility for account holders in these banks. Initially, there were ICICI, HDFC, UDI, SBI and IDBI, but the number has now grown to 14. In April 2004, online transactions totalled to 1,04,363 out of which credit card transactions were 74,985. We have had online bookings of around 5,000 tickets per day. ICICI, Citibank and American Express also run the credit card gateway for IRCTC
Q. Are there any plans to link up your online ticketing service with those of tour operators or airlines?
No. Presently, our policy is to reach the end consumer directly.
Q. Finally, what are the key challenges and future plans of IRCTC?
We are in the process of starting ticketing services via mobile phones and land phones. We are waiting for the final approval. Also, we will be opening up an IRCTC office at Mumbai Central.