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Role of Information Technology in Marketing

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					    Role of Information Technology in Fertilizer Marketing
                                     S.C. Mittal,1 T.Sudhakar2

                                               ***
                                             Abstract
           The potential of Information Technology is yet to be fully tapped in the
           major segment of the fertilizer industry with respect to marketing activity,
           not withstanding the need for quality information for decision making.
           This paper evaluates the possibilities of improving the efficiency and
           effectiveness of marketing operations with a well conceived I.T.
           deployment. The paper also outlines the emerging business environment
           with the passing of Information Technology Act, 2000 and the consequent
           prospects for fertilizer marketing operations.
                                               ***


                The fertilizer industry is passing through a critical phase which promises to
significantly alter the future of the industry. The recent policy pronouncements point to a
direction, in which even the fittest of the industry are required to stretch themselves to survive.
Over and above the current domestic scenario, thanks to WTO, the industry has to gear up to a
new environment where adoption and adaptability to latest technology will prove to be a decisive
factor.

                Not withstanding the turmoil, one factor will remain certain. The country needs to
ensure smooth and timely availability of fertilizer to all parts of the country. The marketing
divisions of the fertilizer industry will continue to handle millions of tonnes of fertilizer material.
Greater responsibilities will be thrust upon the marketing personnel as they are among the limited
gateways to rural India. New opportunities are likely to unfold in the rural sector which will
encourage fertilizer industry to add new activities for their marketing divisions. The emphasis
will be on efficiency and effectiveness and this will bring into focus the speed and quality of
information flow for decision making. This will call for a radical overhaul of the existing
information systems in the industry.

                The contribution of information technology in bringing down costs, increasing
efficiency & improving productivity and thereby contributing to the bottom line needs no special
emphasis. In the fertilizer marketing context, I.T. can play a major role in logistics, efficient sales
operations, checking the marketing costs, safeguarding market share and providing efficient
customer services. A well conceived I.T. set up can endow decision makers at all levels with
better reflexes to effectively respond to market conditions.

1
  Joint General Manager, Management Services Division, Indian Farmers Fertiliser Cooperative
Limited, 34, Nehru Place, New Delhi
2
  Deputy Manager, Management Services Division, Indian Farmers Fertiliser Cooperative
Limited, 34, Nehru Place, New Delhi
                                             1
                Unfortunately, it may be argued, that information technology has not received
adequate attention from the major segment of the fertilizer industry. This is more glaring when it
comes to marketing function. I.T. does not usually find a place at industry level activities such as
seminars, conferences, etc. It is time for all the companies in the fertilizer industry to appreciate
the complete potential of computers and communications and to fully tap its benefits to
strengthen marketing operations. But before proceeding further, it may be useful to review the
present situation with respect to information technology in fertilizer marketing.

Present Status of I.T. in Fertilizer Marketing

                 In a recent Survey (1), interesting factors have emerged on the current status of
information technology in the fertilizer industry with respect to fertilizer marketing. About 16
major fertilizer companies were studied to analyse the extent of I.T. penetration in fertilizer
marketing activities, verify their perception on the existing computerisation and to obtain
feedback on future possibilities with special emphasis on e-commerce. The companies were
selected from public, private & cooperative sectors. Almost 75 % of the sample have recorded
turnovers of above Rs 1000 crore, involved marketing volumes of over 8 lakh tonnes of various
types of fertilizer, with at least 1000 people on rolls. All the companies surveyed have marketing
operations in more than three states with about 60% of the sample having operations in more
than 10 states. About 45% of the companies have more than 200 field personnel while about 50%
have between 50 - 100. The sample studied contributes to a major chunk of fertilizer industry’s
marketing activities and the survey provides an insight into the status of usage of I.T in these
companies.

               Of the 16 fertilizer companies studied, 13 companies have less than 50 systems
personnel at various levels. About 60% reported more than 200 computers in the organization.
However, when it comes to deployment of I.T. usage on the field, the situation is not very
encouraging except for a few companies. About 60% of the companies have less than 50
computers in the field. Most importantly, these are used for simple tasks such as word processing
and spreadsheet based jobs. The preferred means of communication still happens to be
conventional channel i.e. courier, fax, telephone and postal system. Ten of the companies are
using e-mail to a varied extent. Six of the companies have set up wide area networks to facilitate
message and data transfer. While the extent of use of e-mail and electronic data transfer may be
constrained by the availability of access, even where available, most of the industry is using it in
a limited way. Three of the companies have reported availability of integrated systems over their
networks through which substantial data transfer takes place.

                 About three quarters of the industry placed the I.T. awareness of their field staff
between low and medium. Three of the companies have reported that most of their field staff is
not even conversant with office automation packages. About sixty per cent have reported that
their field staffs are not very comfortable using packages developed for them. When it comes to
awareness levels on latest development in I.T., 13 companies have reported that their field staff
have no idea about e-commerce. As far as overall rating is concerned, only 3 companies have
reported that their existing systems are very good and six have rated satisfactory on a scale of

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very good, good, satisfactory, poor. In almost all cases, it appears that the over all rating is
influenced by existing usefulness of the applications alone and not based on the complete
potential benefits from I.T.

                An important factor that emerged from the survey was that the relatively new
entrants have managed to set up more advanced systems and make more effective use of I.T. in
marketing functions. About half of the sample which had started active computerisation prior to
nineties have to contend with their legacy systems requiring major effort on upgradation and
integration. It is interesting to note that most of the successful companies in this aspect have
supplemented their in-house development with out sourcing. This should encourage the other
companies to take advantage of downward trend in hardware and software prices to hasten the
process of catching up.

                As far as e-commerce is concerned 11 of the companies felt that it is not possible
in the next three years. Not withstanding this, 50% of the sample are considering various
e-commerce proposals. Of this, five of them are either actively in the process, or planning to
execute during the course of next one year. Some of them have made major headway in this
direction. In general, most companies would like to be ready as and when the e-revolution
catches up in the entire country.

               The broad outcome appears to be that the industry has a very small island of
excellence, mostly consisting of relatively new entrants, with strong I.T. penetration in
marketing functions. The majority of the companies in the fertilizer industry appear to be
inadequately tapping the potential of I.T. in marketing activities.

                It is clear from the above that fertilizer companies which are presently lagging
need to immediately acquire ‘I.T. fitness’ to remain competitive in the future. Even those
companies that have running applications should not be content with them and introduce
integrated systems and explore innovative ways of using I.T. in the marketing front. The fertilizer
industry should recognize that automation is only one of the benefits of I.T. and further value
additions to consumer services are possible with I.T. Introduction of such innovative I.T.
services is not a luxury but a necessity in the future.


I.T. and Fertilizer Marketing

                In order to create suitable I.T. infrastructure it is necessary to formulate the broad
issues that are sought to be addressed. It is necessary to summarise areas of concern for which
solutions from I.T. can be expected in relation to fertilizer marketing so that suitable I.T. strategy
can be evolved. The basic expectations from I.T. would be with respect to the following issues :

y   Effective Executive Information Systems : A well designed executive information systems
    that will ensure that the activities at all the levels of marketing function are directed at
    achieving the goals of the organisation. Necessary monitoring and decision making tools are
    required to be provided.

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y   Breaking Distance Barriers : The operations related to fertilizer marketing involve large
    territories. I.T. should provide means of acquiring latest information from all parts of the
    country so that the managers have access to latest information.
y   Meaningful Information : The problem of too much data or too little data needs to be
    addressed. Mere provision of access to a large volume of data can lead to confusion. The
    decision makers should not be inundated with too much of raw data. The data should be
    provided as meaningful information which contributes to proper judgement in decision
    making.
y   Raising Alerts : The systems should provide alerts to exceptions and achievements.
    Projection and speculation reporting may also be provided.
y   Interactivity : Interactive communication with facts and figures between various layers of
    management needs to be provided.
y   Online Support : Online support to sort out any problems along with dynamic identification
    of an expert to assist in solving the problem, online access to policy guide lines, etc. may be
    provided.
y   Transforming the present marketing activity to a new paradigm of conducting business
    electronically by switching over to e-business.

                In order to find effective solutions to the above issues, solutions from information
technology in fertilizer marketing may be broadly visualised under the following heads
(i)Planning, monitoring and control applications, (ii)Business applications, (iii)Productivity
enhancement applications, (iv)Empowering applications for the field personnel, (v)Consumer
service applications. While the list is not exhaustive, the broad classification facilitates defining
thrust areas in various aspects of fertilizer marketing.

(i)Planning, Monitoring and Control applications

                 Since major users of these applications are members of various levels of
management, most of the fertilizer companies already have applications catering to this, albeit,
with varied degree of sophistication. This class includes management reporting applications and
decision support systems. In most of the organizations there is a need to improve the
effectiveness of these applications with better backward integration, feedback mechanism and
data warehousing. Several business intelligence software exist which can organise information in
any required manner so that decision makers are not lost in a confusing maze of data. The
reliability and timeliness of this class of applications depend on the speed and quality of input
data. Hence, applications in the other classes need to be strengthened before these applications
reflect latest status. In addition, there is scope to provide appropriate I.T. tools to field personnel
to carry out this function at micro level.

               The effectiveness of monitoring and control functions can be further improved by
use of electronic interactions between marketing executives. An economical solution would be to
encourage online discussion to sort out issues over the Internet using Chat facilities. It is possible
to hold crucial meetings of key executives using video conferencing facilities so that critical
decisions involving policy issues are taken instantaneously. Video conference may prove to be


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cost effective when compared with the cost of holding an actual meeting involving several key
officials. What is more important, it saves time and facilitates timely decisions.

ii)Business Applications

                These broadly cover those applications which involve business applications
requiring direct input from the marketing offices or field personnel. This class of applications
typically contain fertilizer despatch information systems, logistics such as movement from
production units/ports, warehouse management, dealer/cooperative network management, sales,
invoice, accounting-outstandings-overdues system, fund transfers & monitoring systems, subsidy
claims & monitoring system, other accounting applications, etc. Here again, most of the
companies have different types of running applications. The emphasis needs to be shifted to
online integrated systems whereever isolated applications are running. There is a general
temptation to not to interfere with smoothly running systems which may prove to be detrimental
in the long run.

               The endeavour of the online integrated systems should be to capture information
once and at the source. Once the data is contributed by an authorised personnel, all the changes
on various systems should be immediately reflected. Integrated systems can help in avoiding
duplication and data re-entry which which is prone to human errors. This may be difficult to
achieve overnight but should form a goal with appropriate phasing involving careful design
considerations. In order to achieve this, fertilizer companies may develop their own systems,
explore possibilities like ready made ERP solutions with required customisation or even tap
Application Solution Providers (ASPs). The basic requirement for successful implementation of
these solutions is availability of a robust network.

(iii)Productivity Enhancement Applications

                This class of applications influence the way field personnel operate and may
involve cultural changes. Often, they do not form a separate set of applications and may involve
improvisations in portions of the existing applications. It is generally noted that substantial time
of field staff is spent on attending to paper work. In a competitive environment, the field
personnel will have to devote maximum time attending to the customers. At present, most of the
field personnel do not have direct access to computers. Most of them need to visit their nearest
marketing office for access. Considering the downward trend in prices of hardware and software,
it may be feasible to provide field staff with desktops.

               The field personnel may be provided with training in basic office automation
packages like word processing, spread sheet, scheduling, usage of web browsers and emails.
Simple trouble shooting mechanisms related to hardware, operating system & application
packages may also be provided. This is a minimum necessity which every company may strive
to achieve immediately. Attempt can be made to bring them on to the organisation’s wide area
network, virtual private network or at least to Internet through an appropriate means such as dial
up connection. These measures will not only enhance the productivity of the field personnel and
directly improve the efficiency of the organization, but have the potential to reduce the costs. In

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IFFCO’s case, substantial reduction in FAX/Telephone/Telex bills was achieved besides
providing faster data transfer through e-mail whereever the facility was provided.

                 Development of integrated systems can eventually lead to facilitating field
personnel to directly update data pertaining to them. Introduction of web based applications can
facilitate field personnel to register all their transactions using a simple web browser. This will
lead to an instant reflection of the effect of any transaction on the entire performance of the
organization. This will inculcate a sense of direct participation in the marketing force and may
result in a drastic improvement in the efficiency of the organization as a whole. It is also possible
to raise alerts to draw the attention of the concerned marketing personnel to exceptions, problems
and any achievements.

               The productivity of field personnel can also improve if supporting information
needed by them such as manuals, guidelines etc. are provided online to them for ready reference.
Similarly, approval cycle of their tour plans, loans etc. can be handled electronically so that their
focus is not diverted during crucial time in peak season and their need to visit their local offices
is minimised.

(iv) Empowering Applications for the Field Personnel

               Most of the organizations appreciate the need to empower the field personnel with
applications to more effectively discharge their marketing functions. Through effective
knowledge management and knowledge sharing the vast experience gained by the organization
can be stored and retrieved. Such applications can include statistical bank on a marketing
territory, micro level information on agriculture, agronomy and other related information,
consumer profile, developments in the industry, fertilizer environment, market intelligence, sales
policies & guidelines, on line tutorials for skill upgradation, electronic access to experts and
capsules on latest developments from agricultural universities and research institutions. Several
software exist that can facilitate effective knowledge management which are extremely user
friendly. The field personnel from the industry consists of a large number of trained and
qualified personnel. Such applications can boost the morale of the field personnel and contribute
to improved organization profile as projected by the high quality marketing personnel.

(v)Customer Service Applications

                 At present, the fertilizer industry undertakes a large number of agricultural
extension activities to serve their target market and also improve their brand equity. The
potential of information technology can be fully utilised to increase the scope and spread of such
activities. It is possible to develop multimedia based applications which educate the farmers on
various aspects of agriculture and allied fields. Such applications can prove to be economic and
provide interactivity which will encourage user participation. Tutorial material, expert services
can be provided to farmers. Although farmers are the ultimate consumers, adequate attentions to
the needs of the channel is also essential. Applications focusing on specific requirements of
intermediaries like dealers and cooperatives can also be developed.


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              Initially, such services may have to be provided through CDs from limited outlets
supervised by the concerned fertilizer company through their marketing offices. This may
involve production and distribution related issues. As the spread of Internet widens in the
country, companies can compete to provide online information based services such as local
market conditions, weather, advise on agricultural prospects, counseling, etc.

Internet & Fertilizer Marketing

               The fertilizer industry needs to ensure that the above mentioned applications are
in place at the earliest so as to not lose competitive advantage. A whole gamut of economical
solutions exist for this purpose. A discussion on technological options presently available is
beyond the scope of this paper. It may be useful to adopt Internet based technologies as major
developments are focused in this arena and substantial efforts on standardisation are already
undertaken. Since it is difficult to extend speedy and reliable support to most of the field
personnel, web based technologies will minimise the number of tools to be used by them to a
simple browser, like Internet Explorer, Netscape, etc.

                Once the Home PC revolution catches up in the rural India, the opportunities that
will open up could be unlimited. As it is, India has 37 million cable TV connections with a
substantial portion of it in rural India. This broadly gives a guestimate on the size of possible
target segment which can be reached through Internet. It is also pertinent to note, thanks to a
series good monsoons, rural markets are no longer ignored by even major luxury automobile
producers like Benz. Since the fertilizer industry has a talented pool of field personnel who can
be one of the conduits to spread electronic services to rural India, it may be useful to be ready to
avail diversification opportunities through information technology in the new economy.

                Technological obsolesence is a known source of risk with respect to information
technology, yet, the web based technologies and world wide web (WWW) are here to stay for a
long time. The point to be noted is that these are only a means by which the world as a whole is
moving towards a knowledge based society which promises to bring in drastic changes in the
course of human civilisation. During this process, technologies may under go radical changes but
the basic underlying course towards a knowledge based society itself is unlikely to change.
Further, the growing popularity of internet, its penetration and web enabling of new gadgets like
cell phones, etc. can alter the course of the way fertilizer marketing transactions will be handled
in the future. It would be useful to be ready and be on the right side of the course of society. At
the very least, the fertilizer industry can ensure that it is prepared to carry the knowledge
revolution to rural India without delay as and when such an opportunity fully materialises.

e-Commerce and Fertilizer Marketing

                The first thing to be recognised with respect to e-commerce is that it is not
necessary only for generating more sales but it can be adopted to improve the efficiency and
effectiveness of an organisation. The broad goal of e-commerce is the “creation of a new kind of
commercial environment in an electronic milieu, in which many of the separate ‘steps’ that
normally intervene between a buyer and seller in a commercial transaction can be integrated and

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automated electronically, thus minimizing transaction costs”. Thus, e-commerce is not limited to
transactions related to buying & selling alone but will include all the activities that are aimed at
supporting them. The emphasis is in laying out a new environment in which transactions can be
taken up online over the Net without geographical barriers, with greater choice and at a minimal
marketing cost.

               What does the foregoing discussion mean with respect to fertilizer industry?
Enormous potential for e-commerce exists in various activities of the industry such as supply
chain management, etc. which is beyond the scope of this paper. But the immediate questions
which are pertinent to the subject are : Why should the fertilizer industry consider introduction
of e-commerce? Is e-commerce feasible in fertilizer marketing? If yes, is the basic infrastructure
available in the country to extend e-commerce to fertilizer marketing? Not withstanding the
general reservations expressed, there appears to be reason to believe that there is substantial
scope for it in the near future. The sheer extent and volume of the fertliser marketing and its
impact on the country’s agriculture should make it a first, and not a last, candidate for
e-commerce. As already emphasised, even the smallest company in the fertilizer industry has
operations in more than three states and handles lakhs of tonnes of fertilizer. In addition to
possessing robust “bricks and mortar” infrastructure for production, & marketing, the major
segment of the industry has adequate I.T. strength at the organisation level to initiate “clicks &
mortar” technology through e-revolution.


                Fertilizer marketing involves consumers who are farmers and a channel to reach
them. Distributor/dealer and cooperative networks are the usual channel through which the
fertilizer industry reaches out fertilizer material to farmers. A symbiotic relationship exists
between the channel and the fertilizer industry which goes beyond a ‘seller/buyer’ relationship.
Substantial inputs are received from the distribution channel on farmers practices & preferences,
anticipated demand, etc. The marketing personnel of a fertilizer company facilitate in relaying
this information to their decision makers who may initiate any necessary modifications. The
marketing personnel also undertake various agricultural extension programmes which are in the
nature of service to farmers. In addition, fertilizer being a sensitive subject, constant coordination
and interaction with central/state governments, local bodies and other agencies is required. All
this involves substantial delays leading to inherent inefficiency in the system. A good number of
companies find it difficult to know the latest position on revenue inflows, outstandings and dues.


               Once the basic infrastructure is in place, it is possible to undertake all the above
mentioned steps electronically. Initially, Business to Business e-commerce may be initiated
between the fertilizer suppliers and dealer/cooperative network. This will not only improve
efficiency of the fertilizer industry - distribution channel, but will also herald first wave of
penetration of e-culture to rural India. The channel partners will also gain in the process as they
can streamline their activities and take the advantage of efficient processes. With a little
encouragement, it is possible that enough competitive enthusiasm is created in the channel to
acquire ‘early bird advantage’. The business acumen of the channel partners will encourage them
not to lag behind the others. The improved operational efficiency, downward trend in PC and

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modem (which is required to access Internet through telephone line) prices may encourage the
channel partners to jump on to the I.T. bandwagon.

                Introduction of Business to Consumer e-commerce may take longer period as PC
penetration is not adequate in the rural segment. With the increasing popularity of PCs for
multipurpose uses, it is expected that it will become a household item. The Home PC Revolution
will throw open opportunities for Business to Consumer e-commerce. In addition, new
opportunities get thrown open as e-governance become full-fledged. It is likely that e-governance
will extend e-culture faster in rural India than mere e-commerce. This is because e-governance
can provide many more services of immediate concern such as making financial payments for
taxes, bills, etc. right from home from a remote village using Internet. It can also provide
additional features like facilities to monitor the status of applications/complaints made to local
administration, etc.

               Introduction of e-commerce and e-governance involve a preparatory phase in
which both the public administrators as well as corporates have to create necessary infrastructure,
train the manpower and create supporting systems. A test phase for building confidence in all the
players - marketing personnel, channel partners & consumers is required to be taken up. In order
to contemplate a journey to e-transformation, it is necessary to understand the legislative frame
work in which it is to be undertaken.


Legal Framework for e-commerce

                The     fundamental      requisite    for    successful      implementation    of
e-governance/e-commerce in any country hinges on a reliable, well defined and enforceable legal
framework. Absence of a legal framework that infuses confidence in electronic
records/transactions makes the environment uncertain and unpredictable for taking advantage of
full potential of I.T. E-governance/e-commerce, involve a major paradigm shift and necessary
confidence needs to be still built in the Indian context. It is pertinent to note that e-commerce
may involve transactions between unknown and unseen parties over the Net. A changeover from
traditional approach demands that necessary trust is generated in all the parties involved.

               The Information Technology Act, 2000 (referred to as I.T. Act in this Paper) is
expected to be a path breaking legislation where in electronic records and contractual obligations
of electronic transactions are granted equal status as those in writing and under signature.
Measures for enforcing security related issues and mechanism to enforce and monitor the system
are spelled out. The necessary executive orders to supplement the Act are still awaited, yet, the
basic course to a e-world is already charted. While details on the nitty gritty are to be released,
it would be useful take an over view of the I.T. Act so that necessary parallel processes required
with respect to fertilizer marketing are initiated by the industry.

              The major contribution of IT Act lies in recognizing digital signature for the
purpose of signature and writing requirements. This removes the major barrier for electronic
commercial transactions, which hither to, suffered on account of the requirement of signatures

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for such transactions. This issue is addressed under chapter III which explicitly recognizes digital
signature as equivalent to normal written signature whereever such a demand is to be met in
Indian Law. Section 5 states that “Where any law provides that information or any other matter
shall be authenticated by affixing the signature or any document shall be signed or bear the
signature of any person, then, notwithstanding anything contained in such law, such requirement
shall be deemed to have been satisfied, if such information or matter is authenticated by means of
digital signature affixed in such manner as may be prescribed by the Government.”

                The recognition of digital signature facilitates any fertilizer company to introduce
e-commerce for fertilizer marketing at all the stages of sales with the help of appropriate
software. Internet based systems can be developed to undertake sales to the direct consumers,
cooperatives or dealer network. Whenever a transaction is sent electronically, the concerned
individual may ‘affix’ his/her digital signature to the electronic record. The individual in question
may be a consumer, dealer, cooperative or an authorised marketing official representing the
supplier. The digital signature can be used to ascertain the identification of the individual sending
the information and also to authenticate the data contained in the electronic transaction. Once
such an electronic record is received, it is deemed to be equivalent to a paper based signed copy
of the transaction in future. Thus, it is possible to eliminate inefficient paper based transactions
and improve the efficiency of dealings between the supplier, channel and even consumer.

               One issue that crops up in the case of fertilizer sales is the volume of transactions.
The large volume of transactions in fertilizer sales, particularly if sales to direct consumers are
considered, would make it difficult to ‘affix’ a digital signature from the supplier’s side with
human intervention for every sale. Such a requirement would be akin to ‘manual’ signature and
will be counter productive to e-commerce. This is where the significance of section 11 of the
I.T. Act can be appreciated. Section 11 explicitly allows the use of electronic agents to operate
automatically on behalf of any person. In other words, software programs can be created which
can automatically respond to any transaction without direct human intervention. Such responses
created by electronic agents are deemed to be authorized and authenticated responses from the
individual concerned. The individual would be liable for any consequences emanating from such
responses generated by the automated agents. Thus, it is possible to automate routine responses
involved with fertilizer sales such as invoices, purchase orders, billing, etc. which require to be
signed by an authorised representative of the supplier. The entire sales system can benefit from
this automation which can check, respond and affix digital signature on behalf of the fertilizer
company. This can drastically improve marketing productivity and release field personnel from
the drudgery of manual work.

                It is to be noted that digital signatures are not acceptable in certain cases. Section
1(4) of the I.T. Act lists out transactions that are in the nature of documents such as wills, deeds,
trusts, power of attorneys, negotiable instruments, contracts for the sale or conveyance of
immovable property. The Central Government is authorized to enlarge the list if deemed
necessary.

               The next issue that needs to be addressed is as to what kind of electronic
signatures are recognised along with the associated security features. Chapter 2 of the I.T. Act

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provides specific connotation for a digital signature. A digital signature based on assymmetric
crypto system with a secure key pair consisting of a private key for creating a digital signature
and a public key to verify the same are recognised. The keys are mathematically so related that a
public key can verify a digital signature created by the private key. A hash function, which is an
algorithm, is used to envelop and transform the initial electronic record into another electronic
record. The strength of this approach is that it is the state of the art technology that makes
unauthorised hacking of information infeasible.

                 It is to be noted that digital signatures, as specified in I.T. Act, are one of the
technologies in the constantly evolving field of electronic signatures. It is contended that explicit
recognition of a technology introduces bias which is termed “technology penalty” as there would
be little incentive to immediately introduce latest and more economical technologies which may
be better than the existing one. Since changes in I.T. field take place at a fast pace, delays in
granting recognition may lead to avoidable costs to the entire system. It is also argued that not all
transactions require a very high security levels and insistence on a particular technology may add
unnecessary costs to such transactions. In the fertilizer marketing context, access to information
based databases such as product availability, participation in knowledge sharing and agricultural
extension activities, feed back on consumer preferences, projected requirement of fertilizer
material, etc. do not require a very high cost technology. It may be useful to have simpler and low
cost technologies which may have limited use. But, as at the moment there is no differentiation
between different levels of security.

                What is the institutional framework of this e-commerce set up and how does it
operate? A ‘Controller of Certifying Authorities’ along with Deputy Controllers and Assistant
Controllers are to be appointed by the Cental Government. The Controller is authorised to issue
licenses to various agencies to issue Digital Signature Certificates. Thereafter, such an agency
becomes a “Certifying Authority” of digital signatures. Those who require digital signatures are
required to approach an appropriate certifying authority. This will throw open new opportunities
to set up Certifying Authorities’ for the benefit of rural markets.

                Any individual can make an application to such Certifying Authority in a
prescribed format by the Cental Government along with a prescribed fee. The individual applying
for a digital signature needs to create a private and public key pair (which are inter-related
complicated mathematical codes) using appropriate software and provide them to the certifying
agency. The certifying authority may ascertain that the applicant holds a private key for creating a
digital signature and the associated public key can verify the corresponding digital signature.
Thereafter, the certifying authority may grant digital signature certificate to such an individual.
This means that all the suppliers, channel partners and even those consumers who are interested
in benefiting from e-commerce in fertilizer marketing are required to get their digital signature
certified by a Certifying Authority. This certification itself can take take place electronically by
the digital signature of the certifying authority which has the approval of the Controller.

              Once a digital signature is sanctioned, the concerned individual can ‘affix’ the
signature on any transaction using the private key which is a complicated mathematical code.
Those individuals who are transacting with such individual may use his/her public key, again a

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complicated mathematical code, which can verify the authenticity of the original digital
signature. The public key of the individual will be supplied to all those who require it or made
available to the members of the public through a repository. This process facilitates verifying the
identity and authentication of any information sent by any individual using that concerned
individual’s public key. The source of authentication is the certification from the certifying
authority. The exact manner in which any information or matter may be authenticated by means
of digital signature will be specified by the central government. A very important point to be
noted here is that the private key is used to ‘digitally sign’, hence, needs to be securely protected
so as to avoid misuse by others who manage to get access to it. If and when any breach or
compromise of the private key is suspected, it is necessary to be brought to the notice of the
concerned certifying agency.

                Chapter IX, X and XI of the I.T. Act specify measures for effective enforcement
of the provisions of the law. Elaboration of various types of penalties and offences are listed.
The central government is empowered to appoint an adjudicating officer who is not below the
rank of Director and has adequate expertise to deal with I.T. & legal issues. The adjucating
officer is vested with the powers of a civil court. Any person aggrieved by any order from a
controller or an adjudicating officer may approach relevant Cyber Regulations Appellate
Tribunal consisting of one person who is referred to as Presiding Officer of the Cyber Appellate
Tribunal. The proceedings of adjudicators and cyber appellate tribunals are deemed to be a
judicial proceeding and civil courts are not vested with jurisdiction over this. Any decision or
order of Cyber Appellate Tribunal can be challenged before High Court.

e-Governance and Fertilizer Marketing

                An interesting point to note is that the I.T. Act heralds a beginning of
e-governance. The Act allows transactions with government and its agencies to be conducted
electronically. Provision is made for even financial transactions with government to be
undertaken electronically.

                The activities of fertilizer industry involve lot of interaction and coordination with
the Ministries and other agencies. Lot of data on the marketing front including despatches, stocks
is to be submitted periodically. In future, it may be possible to handle these transactions
electronically. In general, various types of records are required to be preserved for prescribed
periods. Legal acceptance of electronic records will facilitate storage of such information in
compact media at a low cost. Retrieval and presentation of any required records can be easy and
efficient. Section 4 and Section 6 recognise and grant approval to file any electronic record in
lieu of any document that is to be submitted to the government or any of its agencies. The only
conditions are that the data should be accessible for subsequent reference, data should be in the
authentic format in which it was originally generated and the identification details related to
origin, destination, date & time, etc. are retained in the electronic data. This will call for
efficient document management systems which will comply with these legal requirements. This
can release substantial floor space for the fertilizer companies which house vast record rooms for
the purpose of maintaining records. It can also release resources which are required to maintain
these old records intact to be presentable to the authorities when required.

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                However, before one rushes to file electronic data immediately with any agency, it
would be useful to note that there is a caveat in the form of Section 9 of Chapter 3 that right to
insist electronic format is not granted. This may be a cautious measure to take care of transition
period during which the ministries and various agencies of the government have to make
arrangements to equip themselves to accept such information. Since the intentions of the
government to adopt a course towards e-governance is stated explicitly, the fertilizer industry
may get ready to generate the required data in conformity with the requirements specified by the
government.
.
New Opportunities

                With the emergence of e-commerce and spread of e-governance in the country
new opportunities are expected to be thrown open. E-governance can change the way dealings
between people, organisations and the government are undertaken. It will herald emergence of
‘e-person’ and ‘e-society’ which will transform the society into a knowledge based society.
E-services will be part of daily life and a demand on organisations to meet these requirements
would arise. The fertilizer industry can partially fulfill such a demand with respect to its
traditional strong hold - rural India. When exactly such a transformation will come about may
be a matter of speculation, particularly with respect to rural India, but the course is already
clearly spelled out through I.T. Act. The industry can diversify its activities and endeavour to
take these e-services to rural India through their marketing divisions. This will give rise to the
emergence of a reoriented market force which will not only supervise efficient online fertilizer
sales activity, but will transform into an agent which will help the company to exploit new
opportunities in the e-world. In the long run, this can add to the bottom line of the fertilizer
companies.

               Information technology industry in India is highly competitive and internationally
acclaimed. Recent media coverage suggests that I.T. industry in India is interested in bracing the
WTO deadline ahead of time with respect to intellectual property rights in information
technology. The I.T. sector in India is interested in maintaining its competitive advantage by
creating innovative products and services, which are sought to be protected with appropriate
patents. The challenge of spreading e-commerce and e-governance in a country like India can
throw open many technological and implementation related challenges which require new and
innovative solutions. The marketing & systems divisions of fertilizer industry can join hands with
the I.T. industry in the country to create new solutions, products & services to spread
e-commerce in rural India. This can add a new dimension to fertilizer industry in terms of
opportunities for acquisition of intellectual property.


Conclusion

               The fertilizer marketing activity involves flow of large volume of information,
movement of documents in addition to handling of millions of tonnes of fertilizer material.
Information technology can play an important role in improving the efficiency and effectiveness
                                               13
of marketing personnel. The major segment of the fertilizer industry is not fully availing the
potential available from information technology. It is necessary for the industry to utilise this
unused potential so as to be able to retain competitiveness, control marketing costs and improve
monitoring mechanisms.

               It is necessary for the fertilizer companies to review their present I.T.
infrastructure with respect to marketing function and undertake measures to strengthen the same.
  Online integrated systems, well developed executive information systems, applications to
enhance the productivity of the field personnel and efficiently serve the requirements of channel
partners & consumers are to be taken up at the earliest. Marketing field personnel need to be
provided with the necessary hardware, software, training and brought on to Internet so that
smooth integration is possible. Internet based technologies can facilitate creation of applications
which can be operated by the field personnel by using simple browsers. Customer support
services can also be partially provided over the Internet which will increase the reach of such
programmes.

                With the passing of Information Technology Act, 2000, necessary legislative
framework has been created to launch the country on a firm course towards e-commerce and
e-governance. This will open up a new and efficient means of transacting business between the
fertilizer supplier, channel partners and eventually the consumer. New commercial opportunities
for the fertilizer industry will come up in which fertilizer marketing personnel will play a key
role. The fertilizer industry would do well to initiate necessary measures immediately to prepare
its marketing personnel for the e-culture and exploit this new channel as and when the required
procedures and processes are notified by the government. Such a preparation could be an useful
investment for the future and will help the fertilizer companies to be ready to take advantage of
the future opportunities which promise to herald e-revolution in the country.


References

(1) Singh, V.P., Unpublished MBA Thesis, Institute of Management Studies & Research,
Maharshi Dayanand University, Rohtak (2000)




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