“Forward ever, backward never: onwards with Breaking Through”

Poor network, staff crunch hit shift to core banking

Kolkata: Logistics, connectivity and manpower issues on either side of the counter have turned India Post's ambitious programme to migrate to core banking a nightmare for both staff and customers.

With 1,739 post offices in Bengal that have 68 lakh NREGS accounts, 2.5 crore savings and monthly income scheme (MIS) accounts and another 1 crore savings certificates customers, the scale of the operation is mind-boggling. Add to that low staff strength, poor computer literacy and an ageing customer base, the problem becomes even more acute.

Poor internet network has emerged a biggest impediment in smooth implementation of CBS. The Wide Area Network (WAN) connectivity to central server has not happened in several of these offices, and hence migration to CBS cannot happen. When connectivity does happen, it is unstable and unreliable. Sify that won the global tender for connectivity has BSNL as the primary network service provider. There is a provision for a second service provider to ensure alternate link. But this is extremely poor as it is usually through a dongle that offers either a CDMA or 2G GSM connection.

"Half the problems would disappear if we had access to proper connectivity. When link is down, no operations can be done. Nationalized banks had faced the same trouble when they were computerized in the late 1990s. However, it is more challenging for post offices because unlike the banks, which fed manual data into the Finacle, we have to transfer data from our earlier software Sanchar Post to Finacle. Infosys has detected 425 types of discrepancies in the data transfer from one software to the other. Every time a post office migrates, all this needs to be sorted out," an India Post official said.

It takes 18-22 days for a post office to migrate. It then takes around three weeks for operations to stabilize as glitches in network as well as operations by the newly trained manpower are common. The official says till the entire process is completed, niggling problems will persist. Even when this problem is resolved, average transaction time will be three times than the previous duration because due to the time lag is higher for executing each command with a remote server. Also, there are more fields that need to entered for each transaction.

While training the staff, most of whom are 40-plus, in a new software is a challenge in itself, it is further compounded by poor staffing. In two decades, staff strength has reduced by a third. While single person post offices have to be manned, those that had two staff now have one and those with three are doing with two. It is the head post office that has taken the worst beating with staff down from 60 to 30-32.

At the other end of the spectrum are customers, a bulk of whom are above 60 years. "We cannot blame customers but they are resistant to change and averse to new technology. Like banks, we want to reduce customer visits to post offices by linking all MIS, recurring deposit and other types of accounts to a single Post Office Savings Bank account. If a person has three MIS accounts on different dates, he will need to visit the post office only once to draw the amount from his bank account where the interest will automatically get credited. But customers are just not willing to open a bank account and insist on queuing up to withdraw amount for each MIS account," the official said.
By mid-2017, ATMs will be installed at all 47 head post offices and major sub-post offices in Bengal. The head post offices where ATMs will be located in Kolkata are Tollygunge, Burrabazar, Alipore, Park Street, GPO, Barasat, Belghoria, Cossipore, Beliaghata, Barasat and Barrackpore in Kolkata. There is already a provision for net banking but it is hardly used by the customers.