Centre for Railway Information Systems: Delivering the Best in Digital to Indian Railways

The Centre for Railway Information Systems (CRIS) designs, develops, implements, and maintains most of the important information systems of Indian Railways and their ongoing digital transformation is enabling them to achieve operational stability and adopt the latest technologies to deliver the best of services

The year 2020 has been one of the most transformative years this generation has seen so far. And the new normal that we are experiencing now is something that no organisation had imagined. Technology has come out to be at the centre of all this change with most organisations accelerating their digital transformation journeys. The Centre for Railway Information Systems (CRIS) designs, develops, implements and maintains most of the critical information systems of Indian Railways. According to Anuradha Mukhedkar, Managing Director, Centre for Railway Information Systems (CRIS), COVID-19 has been disruptive for all organisations, including theirs. “In these times, we needed timely interventions and hence our on-prem cloud implementation was very useful. It has provided business continuity and accessibility to our workforce. During the lockdown, we also faced the daunting task of keeping our projects on track, our employees engaged, and their productivity unhindered. Coupled with security risks, it was challenging. However, we managed to ensure that, with a judicious combination of work-from-home and alternate-day office working with social distancing, to ensure that employees were not impacted,” she shares.

Building a business case for digitalisation

Technology imperatives have been continuously changing, and convenience and personalization at all possible touchpoints are now on top of the government agenda. On its digital transformation journey, there were a few challenges that the Centre for Railway Information Systems (CRIS) faced, but timely intervention helped them find the right solutions. The on-prem private cloud has provided operational stability to the IT ecosystem. Providing secure access to the employees remains a challenge in the face of the changing threat landscape, which is being managed continuously. Additionally, CRIS is testing newer digital platforms to address anticipated challenges.

For the Centre for Railway Information Systems (CRIS), digitisation is a journey, and the CRIS on-prem private cloud is an important step its consolidation and modernisation plan. Earlier it used to take 6-12 months to procure new IT infrastructure and hardware to start greenfield projects or expand old projects. Now the cloud setup is enabling CRIS to provision VMs in minutes. It is a dramatic improvement in the speed of overall application rollout. Also, previously, CRIS had to dedicate several key resources to prepare the RFP for procurement of IT infrastructure, but now the focus has shifted to the primary objective of developing IT solutions for Indian Railways on time.

Other than these developments, CRIS was also facing a shortage of data centre space due to IT separate IT infra procured for each application. However, now the cloud setup will gradually lead to consolidation of the infrastructure and reduce overall costs. Mukhedkar shares, “We see many benefits from the features inherent in cloud technology. The ability to allocate infrastructure resources dynamically to the applications that need them most is of tremendous utility. The ability to better integrate our various applications is also very beneficial.”

According to Mukhedkar, the time taken to provision hardware infrastructure for new application development projects was a big hurdle for CRIS, and it led to delays in development and final launch of the IT solutions. “It was also comparatively costly, and so we were exploring methods to reduce our IT infra footprint. Cloud with automation is a step in that direction with agile / scalable provisioning to accelerate the launch of new services,” she adds.

Collaborations that matter

Being the IT arm of Indian Railways, the Centre for Railway Information Systems (CRIS) has been providing IT solutions for all units and departments of the Indian Railways. In order to further the need for consolidation of their physical data centres and integration of the various applications, CRIS decided to deploy an on-prem private cloud, for which CRIS selected VMware as their partner. The present cloud uses VMWare’s VCloud, NSX, vRNI, and PSO solutions.

“We are working towards integrating Indian Railways’ applications to provide a truly unified platform for a seamless user experience for all users, that is, our passengers and freight customers, Railway end users and managers, regulators, etc. Our on-prem cloud is a vital part of this IT platform.”

“Our on-prem cloud is being implemented in phases. The first phase has been built on the VMware solution stack, which my Cloud Technical Team tells me is well integrated and was implemented smoothly. We have also skilled our internal team to manage the cloud, for which VMWare provided effective training. As our teams are becoming familiar with the solution, we hope to further customise it to our needs,” shares Mukhedkar.

CRIS also wanted to cut down on the hardware infrastructure dependence of its software developers. They were looking at transforming the legacy applications and exploring public cloud infrastructure as well. They aimed to achieve agility, scalability and operational excellence through all these solutions. Mukhedkar points out that this is their foremost initiative towards data centre consolidation and modernisation and it will help them optimise their operations cost further so that they can focus on the solution development process rather than on the procurement of the infrastructure.

Heading towards a digital revolution

CRIS has been developing large and complex software applications on different platforms for the last few decades. In the future, as they plan their next technology adoption plans, they see cloud-ready container-based modern applications playing a significant role in the future. “We are assessing different platforms for this purpose and will be implementing one shortly across various project teams. Also, we are looking for a better enterprise-wide solution for giving secure access to our data centre for our employees when they work from outside the office,” she says.

Mukhedkar further adds that in terms of measuring the impact of their digital initiatives, they look at:

  • User experience
  • Scalability of solutions
  • Ease of management
  • Security
  • Flexible operations – agility
  • Business continuity.