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CRIS making efforts to adopt AI, ML and data analytics in next 1 year: Mukesh Nigam

Digitalisation is shaping up Indian Railways and its IT arm CRIS is looking to provide a better IT experience to customers and facilitate their travel with technological solutions

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With the volume of data increasing multi-fold, the digital arm of Indian Railways, the Centre for Railway Information Systems (CRIS) is looking to start exploring emerging technologies like machine learning, artificial intelligence and business analytics. This 33-year-old society is seeing a 10x surge in collecting data coming from varied applications. Currently, CRIS makes 10 crore transaction per day. This volume of data will open the tremendous possibilities of new technologies like ML, AI, and data analytics. CRIS is making an endeavour to use these technologies in the next one year, infoms Mukesh Nigam, Managing Director of CRIS.

Nigam says, “The Indian Railways services are 165 years old. When an organisation lasts more than 100 years, it means there is something robust about the organisation, which could withstand the rigors of time. When you do digital transformation of this organisation, you need to be careful about both the processes that get entrenched as well as the capacity to react to changes. When Indian Railways decided to digitalise, the model of CRIS was that it will have domain experts as well as software professionals. The domain experts bring in the culture of the Indian Railways and the software professionals use the latest on the IT front.”

Indian Railways started its digitalisation in the area of freight business efficiency, to bring up the profits. This was followed by Passenger Reservation Systems. It took a decade to stabilise the platform, but once it was established, the capacity of CRIS to roll out digital projects increased multi-fold.

Sharing the example of Digital PRS, Nigam states, “When we started, the counters were not able to keep the records, so we emphasised on computerising the data. Then we realised the need for creating regional windows for ticket booking and later moved to a single window. Scenarios changed with the internet regime; it was easy for our ticketing system to adapt to internet ticketing. Presently, 70 per cent of PRS booking is done by e-ticketing. With the popularity of the mobile phone and 4G, out of 70 per cent of our PRS booking, 60 per cent of online booking is done on mobile phones. All these innovations were possible because we went to a digital platform.”

The PRS has also helped CRIS to further introduce digital services for end-users. Today, CRIS has a range of in-house activities such as asset management, finance management, etc. The launch of finance management and e-procurement applications have not only speed up the process and handling of tenders, it has also played a role in rolling out GST effortlessly.

The digitalisation process has also paved way to transparency. When CRIS introduced these applications for the Indian Railways and later rolled-out a single dashboard for the consumers as well, it led to the introduction of RailDrishti was born. In the last 4-5 months, this has become popular among users. The public can see a plethora of activities and various parameters of performance are available for the public to see.

On real-time train information, CRIS has completely revised the process wherein the station master used to inform the section controller about the arrival and departure of the train. This process has been revised with the advent of technology, especially Edge Computing and Internet of Things. CRIS has installed an antenna on the top the locomotive which communicates with the satellite systems set up by ISRO. This has helped in getting updates within 30 seconds, along with the speed of the locomotive. So far, 4000 locomotives have been integrated and another 3,000 locomotives will equipped with antennas in three months.

“We believe that by the end of next year, the entire fleet of trains will have this RTI device and significantly improve the train positioning on a real-time basis,” he informs.

Another area CRIS’ focus was the usage of Radio Frequency Identification Tag (RFID) on wagons and coaches. With the reduction in prices of RFID tags, this project is on roll with Indian Railways. CRIS is expecting that every wagon will have an RFID tag, which would cover 7,000 odd locations’ status of the wagons and coaches to be monitored. When the government issued an instruction to the government bodies to start using cloud computing in 2017, CRIS was among early adopters of public cloud.

“Earlier the systems were sanctioned project-wise, and as a result, lot of our servers were not getting used optimally. With cloud, we saw the optimal use of servers and faster roll-out of testing and launching of applications,” adds Nigam.


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