Articles

 

 

 

 

 

Management Information: Limit and Extent
Gaining New Ability
Export of IT Services
Data Communication in Nepal

The role of IT: Efficiency or Burden?
Sharing Multimedia Endeavor
Intelligent System
Memory Hierarchy
Emerging Technologies

   


The role of IT : efficiency or burden?

 

Published in CORE, Nov/Dec, 1995

 

Even the Himalayan kingdom has not been spared from the influence of Information Technology (IT).  Though IT has only been in Nepal for around ten years, it has grown rapidly to become a field for potential development.  Unlike in most fields of development where the public sector is the driving force, the private sector has played a major role in the development of IT.  Both private organizations and government offices have begun to use IT to boost their efficiency and productivity.  But is the adoption of the latest technology helping these organizations or increasing their financial and management burdens?

 

Offices must maintain harmony among computer hardware, software and their technical support and maintenance to ensure the successful use of IT.  Since the latest technology in the international market can be easily accessed in Kathmandu, the availability of solid technical support has become the primary factor in determining the success and efficiency of IT in an organization.

 

Unfortunately, technical support is hard to come by in Nepal, and organizations suffer as a result.  Either computer vendors are not capable enough of supporting their customers, or customers expect too much from their vendors.  In this issue, CORE Magazine delves into this problem.  We have selected the UNDP office in Kathmandu as a case study.  We will look into the state of automation in this UN agency, and the services it receives from the local market. Of course, we have also noted the grievances of both the parties providing and receiving services.
 

UNDP Survey:

Interview with Mr. Om Rajbhandari

Om Rajbhandari currently holds the position of SRIM (sub-regional information manager) at the UNDP office in Kathmandu.  In all 117 UN offices, there are 20 SRIMs.  Their job is to exchange "information between SRIMs and with headquarters,"  and to maintain UNDP standard throughout the world.

 

Rajbhandari joined Data Systems International(DSI) in 1982 and moved to Mercantile before landing his UN job.  We interviewed Mr. Rajbhandari about the automation in his office and his assessment of the services provided by local vendors.  Excerpts from the interview follow:

 

What is your role in the UNDP office?

I advise the management on the entire office automation process. This includes users training to increase productivity, system analysis of business processes in each section, and in-house and external source database setup.  (is this your meaning?)  I also support office automation at the Bhutan UNDP. I visit their office once a year, and give reports on both countries to our headquarters in New York. Every quarterly, I inform headquarters of my plans and activities and receive instructions.

 

How did you start your job at the UNDP?

When we started office automation in 1990, I trained most of the staff, but was faced with hardware limitations.  For that reason, my first aim was to flood the UNDP with computers.  Eventually, even those people who initially did not want computers requested them at their desks.  I trained them first to use word processing, and only after a year did their fear of computers diminish.

 

Later, I started to provide both in-house and outside training, in organizations like Sama and Mercantile. The UNDP eventually began to use corporate software like e-mail.  We have come a long way, but still have a long way to go.

 

What is the UNDP procedure for the purchase of hardware and software?  Do you give priority to buying from local vendors?

We are allowed to buy from anywhere, and do not necessarily give priority to local vendors.  Initially, we got our equipment directly from New York. In the last five or six years, however, we have started to buy from local vendors.  This is advantageous because we also get technical support from them (during warranty).  If I find that the local vendors do not provide adequate support, I can advise my management to buy from outside.  However, while outside purchases are cheaper, they are risky because sometimes the equipment does not work.

 

These days, we mostly encounter problems in networking.  About 50% of hardware problems are user problems. These problems could be reduced if a small training was given to users.  Such training needs to be negotiated with the service providers.

 

Why does the UNDP change its hardware service providers every year?

All of the hardware companies in Kathmandu lack a sufficient pool of well-informed personnel.  For example, for both networking and hardware problems, Mercantile has an excellent support team, but perhaps they have more clients than they can attend to.  We need our problems solved immediately (within one or two hours) at UNDP; my staff cannot stop working because a computer is down.  Mercantile cannot respond to our calls for half a day, one day or even two or three days sometimes. To minimize computer downtime, I requested that Mercantile provide us with a full-time support person.  They could not comply, so we opted for a smaller vendor, Elite.  They provided fairly good service, but then we had a misunderstanding and had to switch to CAS Trading House.  However, CAS began to have problems after the division of the company. They have one or two good people, but they cannot spend all of their time here. They have assigned one person to UNDP, but he can only do limited work on-site.

 

What specific improvements are required of the local service houses to meet the expectations of their customers?

I do not expect every person assigned to the UNDP to know everything. In an organization like ours, where there is e-mail communication, network communication, different brands of computers, different users' requirements, and software made and used exclusively for us, I do not expect to receive excellent support.  Since our system includes two kinds of networks and 70 interconnected computers, an outsider needs six or seven months to become familiar with it and to be able to recommend solutions to problems as they arise.  CAS personnel can quickly fix problems with HP or Compaq computers, but have difficulties fixing other brands.

 

I am aware that it is impossible to get a "complete" person.  I want a person who can respond to problems in the office automation, diagnose and fix them immediately, if able.  Otherwise, the equipment must be sent to the workshop, and even then it may not be fixed.  In these cases, I send the broken equipment to the local suppliers who can fix it quickly and at a cheaper price.

 

What are your requirements in hiring equipment and services?

We want a contract that does not require us to use a service contractor to repair equipment, and that allows us to divert equipment to other places that will do the repairs quickly.  This helps us to minimize our downtime.  They should also control their database.  This implies that they should know the location? of the repair works sent to other organizations, when it will be done, and when to pick it up. (I don't understand this)  The most important objectives of the service house should be to minimize computer downtime in organizations.

 

I have a hard time finding quick service.  My management demands a lot from me, and they want immediate service for a downed computer.  I think it is difficult for an outside vendor to understand the demanding nature of a UN office.

 

Have you heard about the local vendors' complaints, especially regarding the bureaucratic nature of the UNDP?

Yes! I admit that the UN is bureaucratic; decisions are not flexible. They have to be made through the proper channels and procedures, and this often results in delay.  Vendors mostly complain about payment delays.  We understand why vendors are dissatisfied, and are trying our best to minimize our delays.  We used to take months to process our payments, but now we have come down to four or five working days.

 

What exactly do you seek from local vendors?

Although we do not consider the local service providers to be  inefficient, they are still not able to meet UN standards.  Whenever we ask for new contract bids, everybody bids, including the companies that have previously separated from us.  They still want our business.  We choose the service proposals ( or equipment contracts? unclear, because the following paragraph seems to address service) that are the most cost-efficient and that meet our other criteria.

 

We are more flexible about service.  For regular maintenance, we use the person assigned to the UNDP from CAS.  If the work exceeds the capability of that person, I ask him whether the repairs can be done at his workshop.  Then, if I am certain that the problem cannot be repaired at the workshop, I send the equipment to the supplier. This procedure is not a breach of contract. (whose?)  I decide where the equipment will be repaired, and in 90% of the cases, it goes to the contractor.  Only in rare cases is it diverted.

 

Have you also thought of partial contracts?

I look for people who can fill an advisory position amongst technical staff, and work with both hardware and software.  I am trying to find more people that can provide technical support for software, especially.  I also look for people who can fill administration positions and technical support positions for hardware.  Ideally, I require a person who can diagnose problems with hardware, has expertise in software and can handle administration too.   (This section is very unclear to me.... do you mean it as I have written, or do you mean, "what are his priorities when he takes a new job?"  If my first guess is correct, then you need to specify what type of position he is hiring for, and where... at the UNDP? ...or as a consultant for the UNDP?)

 

Have you also thought of sub-contracting

We are currently thinking about sub-contracting (with service providers?).  Its main advantage is that is enables us to boost our efficiency.  However, it is difficult to coordinate between different contractors, and people often disagree over whether problems are hardware- or software-based.  With careful coordination, sub-contracting could be beneficial.

 

Below, we provide a service evaluation by the UNDP office of their past and present service providers:

Company Name Period Grading
Mercantile Office System 1992 - 1993 Fair
Elite International 1993 - 1994 Good
CAS Trading House 1994 - 1995 Fair

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