6 Oct 2009, 1304 hrs IST, Pankaj Mishra, ET Bureau Print
GUJARAT: Arvindbhai Bavajibhai Patel, a 47-year old milk farmer living in a village near Anand in Gujarat, could become an early user of perhapsone of the most important technology innovations developed in IBM’s research labs. ‘Spoken Web’, a new technology solution being evaluated by Amul, will allow users to browse the Internet and access information by merely speaking in a local language, without having to use any computer keyboard, or type any text. For Amul, which started with the objective of removing middlemen and allowing farmers to get the best price for their milk, the next mission is to empower milk farmers with information, which is relevant and served in a language they understand. Amul is hoping technology will help it solve some of the newer challenges emanating from much largerbusiness around $1.5 billion in revenues and more complex supply chain.
“I am not sure if I can speak and interact with a computer ever, but if it becomes possible to access information needed just through speech–it will be a great help for me and many others who cannot read and write,” Patel said. Officials at Amul are currently evaluating IBM’s ‘spoken web’ solution among other specific products for serving the farmers better by providing them with information about animal husbandry, cattle management and best practices in milk productivity improvements.
Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation (GCMMF) serves around 2.79 million members, across 13,328 village societies, handling almost 11.22 million litres of milk every day. Earlier this year, increasing business complexity and need for becoming a more agile enterprise prompted Amul to sign a 10-year IT outsourcing contract with IBM, estimated to be worth around Rs 100 crore.
As Amul prepares to use IT for automating and integrating its complex business processes, newer technologies such as ‘spoken web’ will help India’s biggest dairy producer solve some of its unique problems and serve over 2.7 million milk farmers better.
Over next few months, Amul plans to deploy a common enterprise resource planning (ERP) software from SAP and also develop specific software solutions for helping the end customers and users access information about milk pricing, quality and cattle management. An ERP software will help establish a strong platform by automating and integrating different business processes across 13 milk unions, and serve real time data to the management and farmers.
“This will change the way we do business, as information will become knowledge, enabling us to do things in a better fashion,” said BM Vyas, managing director of GCMMF. Commenting on Rs 110 crore investments on new IT initiatives, he added that the efficiency should be able to pay for itself.
While an ERP software will help AMUL simplify its back end business processes, some innovative software applications such as ‘spoken web’ willmake transacting easier for farmers such as Bavajibhai Patel.
“We are always looking at the entire supply chain-from cow to consumer. There are several pilots going on focused on enhancing user experience and information access for end customers,” said Niraj P Garg, IT manager at GCMMF. IBM, which was selected by the union after some aggressive bidding by other tech vendors, has already started working on the blueprint.
“AMUL has very unique needs, and we have some innovative solutions from our labs apart from best practices from other dairy engagements to help them serve their customers better,” said Sandip Patel, managing partner of Global Business Services, IBM India. Globally, IBM serves dairy companies including Nestle and Kraft Foods of Australia.
“In the first phase over next 14-15 months, we will deploy ERP at the federation and atleast five unions,” Garg added. GCMMF plans to bring all of its 13 milk unions under a single ERP solution from SAP. Despite initial positive response from other milk unions, Amul faces challenges in terms of educating different users and making them embrace the new IT agenda. RS Sodhi, chief general manager at the federation has already formed a steering committee for overseeing the cooperative’s IT progress.
“Timely implementation of the solution, standardisation of different processes and older legacy systems are some of our biggest challenges,” said Sodhi. “The biggest benefit will be much higher speed of operations-for instance real time inventory data instead of a week-long update process,” he added.
IBM’s Patel added that AMUL officials have shown interest in some of the solutions developed by IBM labs in the areas of genetics and ‘spoken web’. “In a recent survey AMUL found that almost 30-40% of cows were not producing enough milk-now we have been working on solutions in our labs that can help manage, for instance, milk fat and enhance productivity,” Mr Patel added.
Meanwhile, for thousands of Amul members, what matters the most is the federation’s undiluted committment for their cause, and new technology initiatives at some level do seem to reflect that. “Over past few years we have seen Amul introduce newer systems including the automated milk fat-reader, which brought great transparency,” said Bavajibhai Patel. “We welcome more computers and other systems as long as they make our lives simpler.”