Heard, and overheard

Feb 21 2010   1:53AM GMT

IT and the art of “Jugaad”

Anilpatrick Anil Patrick Profile: Anilpatrick

Jugaad: A colloquial Hindi word that can mean an innovative fix, or a resource that can be used as such or a person who can solve a vexatious issue. In essence, it is a tribute to native genius, and lateral thinking. (Courtesy: www.wikipedia.org)

We Indians love the term “Jugaad” (Here, I’m referring to positive connotations attached to the term jugaad). Whether it be retreading worn tyres for reuse, ways to make yourself comfortable in crowded buses, or taking photocopies of out of print textbooks, our lives indisputably run on jugaad. In fact, jugaad is definitely the grease, and sometimes even the wheels, that run the Indian subcontinent. So is it of little wonder that the typical IT team also depends so much on jugaad to efficiently run its systems? Well, our IT implementations have become all the more better due to this jugaad.

The reliance of Indian IT teams on jugaad is legendary. In fact, many of these implementations have proved their mettle over the years. Hence I’ll be using these time tested examples of jugaad than dwelling on the negativity of skeptics, or quoting the spiel of management consultants.

At the risk of using a cliche, I feel that the best example of such ingenuity is the much quoted e-Choupal project of ITC’s Agri Business Division. There are unique aspects to this rural supply chain management project, which make it standout from a technology implementation point of view.

Indian rural locations suffer from severe infrastructure constraints when it comes to aspects like power, connectivity and even physical connectivity (as in navigable roads to get to the village). E-Chaupal tackles power constraints through means like solar panels to power UPS batteries, whereas the project deals with connectivity issues using VSATs and upgraded local BSNL telephone exchanges. Fast application response is achieved using HTML front ends and local caching. The lack of proper roads to get to villages was addressed using mobile Chaupals. If I remember right, some of the first mobile Chaupals used bullock carts to get to locations. Get more “jugaadu” than that!

Yet another example of such ingenuity is Indian Railways’ online reservation system. The sceptics point out that IRCTC’s online passenger reservation system might run slow at peak hour loads, but which system doesn’t? And for those who can’t take a printout, IRCTC will do jugaad and courier the ticket home. I for one, prefer this wait to standing in a queue or dealing with touts (a la the 1980s). The system’s implementer Center for Railway Information System (CRIS) deserves a standing ovation for making our lives easier.

As I sign off, I’d like to mention Ahmedabad-based SEWA (Self Employed Women’s Association), an NGO which leverages IT to create a supply chain that empowers rural women. I don’t know about you, but I’m definitely proud of how jugaad is being used in IT to drive India forward.

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