Tuesday, July 26, 2011

How top Indian IT companies help higher ed institutions

Post the placement season, educational institutes are seeking help from information technology (IT) companies to automate their systems, as the number of students and applications increase every year. Companies such as IBM, TCS and HCL Infosystems are offering campus automation software, enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions and education management solutions to educational institutes to automate their work flow.

From brochures, profiles, online lessons to placements to managing alumni database and making finance and accounting divisions paperless, they are helping institutes like Faculty of Management Studies (FMS), Delhi, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) and Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies (NMIMS), Mumbai, get more efficient.

"We will be able to manage the increasing scale of work with the same number of employees. Also, it will make us more globally competitive. Imagine an executive pursuing a course who can log on to the system anytime, anywhere in the world while he travels, avoiding the hassle of visiting the campus to select courses, attend classes or even make payments. That's a great convenience," says Debashish Sanyal, Dean, School of Business Management, NMIMS.

At TISS, for instance, the number of applications went up to 20,000 for 680 seats this year from 3,000 applications for 120 seats in 2004, which necessitated a gradual shift towards handling the process online. "We have been getting outside help, besides our internal resources to speed up the process and stick to the deadline of processing applications. Online registrations will help lessen this pressure and make it more efficient," says S. Parasuraman, Director, TISS.

Here's how the automated system helps across levels: When students apply online for various courses, they get automatic acknowledgements and intimations at each stage of the admission procedure. But this is a transition phase, where offline applications are also accepted.

The cut-off for each department is fed into the system and the students are short-listed. Call letters are automatically generated and sent by email and also through post. Selected lists are uploaded automatically to the web. Fee payment is also automated with the challans printed. Bar code scanners are used to read the roll numbers from the challans and expedite the process. Identity cards are printed in-house and instantly handed over to students. Students can register for electives through the college websites like universities abroad, and staff can enter student attendance and grades on the intranet.

Question bank modules are used to store the questions set by the examiners. Seating plans are given by the system eliminating the time consuming manual process. Mark sheets with security features can be printed through the system. Students with arrears can register for the supplementary exams online. Overall, colleges and universities are managing organisations and processes better.

NMIMS has already invested Rs. 13 million on blackboard technology over a five-year period and is now working a large-scale SAP implementation with IBM's help. It will cover a wide array of activities from managing the entire student lifecycle to buying books online, archiving results and keeping track of management spends. It has spent Rs. 50 million on this project in a year's time.

At Birla Institute of Management Technology (BIMTECH), Greater Noida, TCS is implementing a comprehensive campus management ERP system, for the past one year, which covers all activities from admission to placements. Besides, it is also in discussions with a specialist firm on archiving the guest lectures, seminars and workshops. This will have the added facility of converting phonetic matter to text. All the investment and the effort these institutes are putting in, leads to a substantial cost saving as well, they say.

"It will take another two years to complete the project and we expect 25-30% savings on the cost on processes that were earlier offline," says Rajan Saxena, VC, NMIMS. And in some cases, it can even save around 50% of the cost incurred otherwise, according to TISS' Parasuraman. "Efficient use of such systems can bring in huge gains, not only in terms of speed and accuracy but also in terms of cost," he says.

This also means a huge opportunity for companies in this space. "A recent research study by Springboard Research says India's education sector will step up its IT spending from an estimated $356 million in 2008 to $704 million in 2012, reflecting a CAGR of 19% during 2007-2012. That's good news for players in this domain," says Rothin Bhattacharya, EVP, HCL Infosystems.

Source: The Economic Times (Online Edition), July 26, 2011
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