Calcutta, Aug. 30: Prompted by the success of its online reservation system, the Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) is taking the first step towards serious mobile commerce by introducing reservation through cellphones.
“We are already in talks with service providers like Reliance, AirTel, Hutch and others and are trying to work out a viable solution for mobile-commerce. The corporation has conveyed its technical requirements to the operators, who are trying to sort out things at the users end,” said Amitabh Pandey, IRCTC group general manager (IT services).
In mobile-commerce, the important issue is payment, as operators will charge users in the monthly bills. The entire cycle of transactions, including banks, payment gateways, operators and the railways reservation system, will have to be integrated carefully.
“The credit card base in India is small and online reservation is restricted to this base. With m-commerce, we will be able to extend the facility to a wider base,” adds Pandey. “The modalities of easy use of cellphone keys and the smaller size of the screen has to be taken into account while deciding on the plan of action. The process of booking has to be made concise,” he said.
As a stepping stone, IRCTC is considering introduction of a subscribed service for request of PNR status before the date of journey. This will allow the user to skip the interactive voice response system and also receive the information at a pre-determined time.
IRCTC is a public sector enterprise under the railway ministry. The corporation also runs food courts at railway stations, in-train catering, refreshment rooms, and special catering and hospitality services for Indian Railways.
IRCTC’s e-commerce site has a daily turnover of around Rs 35 lakh with 1800 to 2000 tickets being sold on an average. “During the first year of operations ending August 2003, we registered a turnover of Rs 53.33 crore. This is expected to double by August next year,” Pandey added. The service is currently available in 72 cities.
IRCTC has also tied up with banks to offer reservation through their call centres. “Banks will be able to identify their own customers and hence the security risk is minimised. Payment is also assured as the customer will have an account in that bank,” Pandey said. The facility is expected to be available by next month.
IRCTC is also in the final phase of allowing reservation using debit cards through the internet banking site of Citibank, HDFC Bank, ICICI Bank, IDBI Bank, UTI Bank and Global Trust Bank.