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December 11, 1997


Suspicion falls over Tata IBM's Indian Navy project

Not all are happy with the office automation exercise that the Indian Navy's Western Naval Command has taken up.

Some are calling the drive toward a paperless office an impossible task. Others are suspecting that Tata IBM, the company involved in the automation, does not have intentions that are entirely above board.

The Western Naval Command is currently testing a pilot project pertaining to DB2 and Lotus Notes based on advanced office automation systems in an
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effort to convert itself into a paperless office. It is being planned to extend these applications to other departments as well in due course.

The project has been developed an implemented by Tata IBM Limited, the 50:50 joint venture between the US-based IBM Corporation and the Tata group in India.

The first shadows of doubt fell on the project when it was learnt that the Indian Navy is not spending a single rupee on the implementation and testing of the project. The work is being carried out on a "no cost no commitment basis" is the official explanation.

According to Vice-Admiral and Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief Avinash Rai Tandon, "We already have the hardware in place which comprises computers and connecting paraphernalia. Only after the pilot phase is approved shall we discuss further with Tata IBM about the terms of monetary costs involved. Our main aim is now to reduce the administrative time and effort that our naval command requires, thereby giving us more area to focus on our core operations."

Interestingly, a section of the navy is sceptical of these developments. A senior officer of the command, on pleading anonymity, disclosed that "Although the project's aim is to introduce a paperless system, just to give you an example, we would still have to manually fill out the gen form which enables a naval personnel to avail of leave.

"So, in reality, the office can never be called a paperless one. Even the Indian courts do not admit any electronically produced or reproduced document as proof of evidence which is another factor hindering the path to a paper-free office."

Meanwhile, Tata IBM executives are trying desperately to hammer home the point that the project "demonstrates IBM's commitment to the emerging market segment of the Indian subcontinent" and that "the present OA solution is a basic platform on which the Indian Navy can construct its complete networked infrastructure".

Several industry veterans are, however, not willing to buy the argument.

A senior official of a large information technology company in India claimed "There are two issues here. One is of security, which concerns the entire nation because one of the defence forces is involved. But the second issue is even more important. Since nothing is free this apparently free-from-cost offer from the IBM stable can be compared to a kind of long-term investment which will be used to arm-twist the navy at a later stage. A time when the navy will not be in a position to do away with the system that their personnel would have got accustomed to."

- Compiled from the Indian media

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