“Infosion” for local firms

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Infosion Software Private Limited is a company established in India in 2005. The company operates from Chennai. India and already had off-the-shelf Retail Banking and ERP applications on offer. It has clients in Sudan, Ethiopia and Mauritius, besides India and recently completed a retail banking project in Singapore. With the implementation of its Mithra-GIIS application in Awash Insurance Company (AIC), Infosion has added the General Insurance Application to its Product Offerings. The company has a blend of young and experienced professionals with a skill set in contemporary technologies and rich overseas exposure. Capital’s staff reporter interviewed S. Gopalakrishnan, Chief Executive Officer of Infosion software Ltd, about the Company and its projects in Ethiopia.

Capital: What is the underlying philosophy of your company?
S. Gopalakrishnan
: This is best explained by our Vision and Belief statements which clearly show the path the company follows. For example, our company is all about providing our customers with quality, reliable and cost-effective Computer Software Solutions, which will enable them to achieve profitable growth and it does this by acquiring and sustaining financial stability and knowledge capability.
Capital: Your Company had a project involving Awash Insurance. When was it launched and what is its current status?
Gopalakrishnan:
The project contract with Awash Insurance was concluded in early 2010 and the project activity commenced in March 2010. After a parallel run, the project went online in November 2012. The software application, known as Mithra – General Insurance Information System (Mithra-GIIS), was commissioned with select branches in Addis Ababa connected to the Central Server. As of now, all 33 branches of the company are using the application. The application is under warranty support from us.
Capital: Could you tell us more about this product – Mithra-GIIS?
Gopalakrishnan:
Mithra-GIIS is an integrated web application that covers all aspects of General Insurance operations. The application structure is segmented into different modules in the outer layer and this segmentation is based on different business functions of General Insurance Operations. The principal modules are Customer Relationship, Intermediaries Management, Underwriting, Claims and Reinsurance. All these modules are linked to Budget Control and Finance & Accounting operations. Transactions management is carried out by a Workflow Engine and all the modules are seamlessly integrated.
Capital: What about the cost factor of this software?
Gopalakrishnan:
For obvious reasons, we cannot disclose pricing details, but we have a value proposition and offer good value at competitive cost. Secondly, we strive to provide the Total Cost of Ownership of the application – all inclusive – and freeze it. There is no fine print; therefore, we provide a very transparent cost structure. There is no doubt that the cost depends on deliverables on the client’s side in terms of infrastructure readiness, approvals as per schedule, etc.
Capital: How is Mithra-GIIS different from other products in this domain?
Gopalakrishnan:
We feel that it would not be good form to answer that question. Only an external consultant who examines the highs and lows of comparable products can give an unbiased opinion; or business people who have experience in using different products. But I can confirm that we have received feedback from such users that our application is much simpler to understand and use.
Our assessment shows that Mithra-GIIS scores over other comparable products on the following parameters:
Mithra-GIIS is much generalised. This gives the clients greater flexibility in launching new products and maintaining existing ones. Thus, if in the next week or next month the client desires to launch a new product in the liability or property segment, it can be done with ease as the logic for defining business rules are generic in nature and user configurable.
Internal programs are complex, but in the User Interface layer the application is very simple and easy to understand. Uniformity and standardisation in look and feel of the screens and navigational aspects of the application have rendered a very short learning curve for users.
Mithra-GIIS is tightly integrated. This enables data capture at source, thereby maintaining a high level of data integrity.
Mithra-GIIS is a complete application. Its depth and breadth enables an organisation to grow without any automation constraints. Accounting support provided by the application can be used to record non-business transactions – financial and administrative transactions – as well.
Mithra-GIIS is customer-centric. Customers can be grouped and exposure tracking could be done for individual customers. A 360 degree view of the customer showing the policies issued, policies live, policies expired, claim record, account statement, drill down to specific transactions, is available.
Mithra-GIIS meets the requirements of all stakeholders – customers, transaction users, decision makers, business intermediaries, statutory authorities and so on.
Capital: When off-the-shelf solutions are available for General Insurance operations, why did AIC opt for new development?
Gopalakrishnan:
This question is best answered by AIC. From the inputs we have received from interactions with them, we understand that AIC went through two rounds of selection process and were not satisfied with the coverage of the offers received. It was against that background that they decided to go for new development. Of course it was a risk that they took. We sincerely hope that they are satisfied with the dividend they have received. It is better to check with them on this.
Capital: How is AIC going to benefit from Mithra-GIIS?
Gopalakrishnan:
AIC is moving from a manual system to a computerised environment. Normally, in such cases the focus would be on Transaction Processing, because that is the area where the bulk of the efforts are deployed in manual activity. In the second stage, an organisation would go for strengthening the Management Information Process from the computerised environment. In the third stage, an organisation would seek to use the environment for analytical purposes. Mithra-GIIS is a Transaction Processing cum MIS application. We have also added the first stage of Analytical Processing in the application.
Mithra-GIIS is a web and centralised application – something similar to core banking applications in the Banking domain. Obviously, it facilitates top management to access information without any time lag. Information is available at the Head Office as and when a transaction is completed in any of the branches. No need to send reports or seek approval over the phone.
It also enables management access to consolidated company-level information on a daily basis. On time, accurate information leads to better control and wiser decision making.
The MIS and Analytical processing aspects of the application provide information on unit-wise and product-wise performance, product profitability and budget control.
The benefit is spread across all stakeholders – staff convenience, customer satisfaction, intermediaries (Broker/Agent) appreciation, etc. Even the re-insurers will be happy to see a well-established automated system working in the insurance company with whom they have relationships.
Resultant benefits from the project are speed, accuracy, safe record-keeping, process convenience, quick retrieval of information, an effective tool for informed decisions, etc.
Thus, AIC has made a quantum leap in technology adoption and could be considered to be on a par with any modern organisation.
Capital: What are the contributing factors for this success?
Gopalakrishnan:
There are two sides to the coin.
Capability, Commitment and Process are the bedrock of Infosion’s approach to any project and we continue to repose our faith on these factors.
But the differentiating factor comes from the client side. We have no hesitation in acknowledging the stellar role played by the AIC team. While Board/Top Management, taking cognizance of the importance of technology in operations management, decides upon investment in computerisation, it is the middle and junior management functionaries that oversee/participate in the execution. One of the most important contributing factors is the commitment and enthusiasm shown and efforts put in by staff members of AIC – at all levels – in making this project a success.  
Capital: What do you mean by Process?
Gopalakrishnan:
We have not gone for any third-party certification. However, we ensure strict adherence to software engineering practices at each stage of the project.
In this project, we went for an exhaustive requirements gathering with the AIC Business Team. For this activity, we brought in Insurance experts from India who helped us in understanding the business processes, control points, exceptions, etc. This step also paved the way for incorporating the industry’s best practices in the application design. We went through application design, testing procedures, acceptance plan including Parallel Run, Data Migration and Commissioning.
The Process aspect involved Infosion preparing extensive documents on each item in the Project Plan, providing adequate time to the client for internal discussion, review and acceptance of the document. A well documented project enables a common platform of understanding and this shared understanding strengthens trust and confidence in each other.
Another important factor in this process is the capacity building in the client organisation, participative development and knowledge transfer. More than a Vendor – Client arrangement, the Process fosters a co-operative approach. The Client organisation has active contributions at every stage of the project. It is worth mentioning that we facilitated the visit of AIC IT team members to our development centre in Chennai, interact with Infosion’s Development Team and participate in the development process as well.
Capital: Will this application be useful for other Insurance companies in Ethiopia?
Gopalakrishnan:
Yes, we believe so. Mithra-GIIS has been implemented in one of the leading insurance companies in Ethiopia. All the local practices are built into the application. It may be regarded as a home-grown application or a native application, in so far as Ethiopia is concerned.
The application can be implemented in any of the insurance companies in Ethiopia. The principal advantage would be quick and smooth implementation. The implementation could be completed in about three month’s time as against a longer period for other applications. Other insurance companies can reap the benefit of computerisation within a very short time as there is very little need for customisation.
Capital: What about after implementation support?
Gopalakrishnan:
We provide support both on-site for some time and from India thereafter. We are flexible on the mode of support. We do provide warranty services also. We have, over a period of eight years, gained experience in supporting our installations from Chennai. This includes customers in Sudan, Mauritius, Ethiopia, Singapore and different parts of India. In these days of instant communication, physical presence does not matter much. Nevertheless, we have never hesitated in sending our professionals for on-site support, if the situation warrants.
Capital: Is this your first project in Ethiopia?
Gopalakrishnan:
This is our second project in Ethiopia. Both projects are successful.
The first project was carried out during the 2005/06 period. It was the customisation and implementation of retail-banking solutions in a newly established bank in Ethiopia. Our team completed implementation in seven branches of the bank in two phases. Based on the documentation and training provided by us, the bank went on to implement the same application in over 30 branches, without anyone from our company visiting them. The support was from India. Later on, the bank moved on to a core-banking application and discontinued the maintenance support from Infosion.
However, a few months back when I visited, I learnt that the application was still being used in many of the branches of the bank. It was being used without any support from us. This is just to demonstrate the quality of the application we delivered and the training we imparted to the users.
Capital: Do you plan to set up office in Ethiopia?
Gopalakrishnan:
We have an open view on that. It will be need-based.
We do have plans to station our engineers in Ethiopia as the number of installations increase. We have set up a partnership with a local company in Ethiopia. Therefore, we do not have any workstation space constraints. In the first instance, we plan to station our engineers in our partner’s office and thereafter scale it up in terms of numbers or separate offices. It all depends on how fast we succeed in getting more installations.
Capital: What does the success of this software project mean to Ethiopia? Are there any lessons learnt?
Gopalakrishnan:
I have been visiting Ethiopia since 2005 and have had extensive interactions with IT professionals and senior management professionals across different industries on matters relating to computerisation.
The despondency and scare that I used to observe in the Computer Software procurement area has slowly given way to more confidence over this seven/eight years. However, there is still considerable apprehension in the minds of decision makers and this is contributing to delays in decision making and associated uncertainty. There could be several reasons for this – many of them universal for all software projects – lack of familiarity with software project methodology/process, improper understanding  of requirements, incorrect estimate of time and cost, delay in benefits from investment, project failures or overrun all around, etc.
In this kind of an environment, Infosion has been completing projects successfully. What it demonstrates to Ethiopia as a country is – it is possible to make software projects in Ethiopia a success if there is a cooperative approach from the client and the vendor, and if there is a commitment and enthusiasm from the customer, not just from the top management but all levels of the staff. The requirements are shared understanding, transparent process and a cooperative approach to reach the goal.