It was circa March 1999 and I was working in a small software company (CITIL – Citicorp Information Technology Industries Limited) which was specializing in core banking products. This company went to become a giant in the core banking space and was subsequently acquired by Oracle in 2005. In the late 90’s if you were working in a software company by default you would land up in US or UK on a project.
I had an eventful association with CITIL for a long time and approximately 90% of its core banking business was coming from Africa. So by default if you travelled from this company on a project it was to Africa. My friends used to be bewildered when I used to say that I am going to an African country on a Software project – Reason being Africa and Software never went hand in hand together for many in those days and I guess it might be the truth today also.
Amidst this background I had gone to office one day and it was business as usual suddenly when one of my bosses (I never used to know who my boss was in those days – as we resources were in a pool and the cherry picking bosses used to pick the right fruits for the right assignment) called me with all his 32 pearly whites visible and said “ I WANT YOU TO TRAVEL“ – I just dreaded the moment as I had just returned from Ghana (For those of you wondering where Ghana is – it is in West Africa) after a 8 month assignment. I contained my emotions but in vain – My boss could see the pain on my face – so he made a ‚Project sweetener“ and that was I would be travelling to Vanuatu – an island – a paradise. I had never heard this name before „VANUATU“ – I wanted to be sure I heard it correctly – I asked my boss which country it was the second time he said Vanuatu and it is in pacific islands. He said he is going for lunch and will speak to me after lunch about the project.
In those days in the absence of Google or any online search engines – I went to the library to figure out where Vanuatu was. I took out the Atlas and sat next to the globe which was there in the library. After a microscopic search I realized it was a small island in the south pacific ocean. Next my mind was on the travel route and I realized I had to travel either via Sydney or Auckland – Excitement had sky rocketed inside me.
Finally the „D“ Day arrived I travelled to Vanuatu (Bangalore -Singapore-Auckland-Vanuatu). I was simply blown up by my first impression of Vanuatu – It was simply a paradise – the pristine beautiful beaches, the lush greenery and the happy go lucky locals, I reached the hotel where I was supposed to stay and then the reality stuck me that I had come for a software project and not a holiday.
The next day armed with my software kit and my ubiquitous bag I set out to start my first day on the project. I was welcomed by an elderly Aussie who was in his 50’s. After a brief introduction he introduced me to the management team of the bank who were all Aussies incidentally. So post the formalities I was supposed to commence installation of the software on the bank’s server. The operations manager introduced me to the IT head (Local Vanuatu) and said he will show the server where the software had to be installed.
As I was walking with the IT head – I asked him what kind of server is there which is used for production – His response was it was „white server and a big one“. His response sent some shivers down my spine as I was getting the enormity of the task in front of me. Finally I got hold of the server with which my fortunes and life were to be associated for the next 7 months.
I started my work in all earnest and downloaded the contents from the CD to the server and typed the required commands in the server. The Banking software – Microbanker (MB) – (Microbanker was the earlier avatar of current FLEXCUBE software) was not getting installed even after giving the necessary commands and I started my investigation process. After a brief investigation I realized the environment software necessary for running our banking software was not installed on the server. I enquired about the same to the IT head.
The discussion went somewhat as below between me and the IT Head:
Bank IT Head: What’s the issue? „You mean you need something called operating system and Environmental software to run your software?“
Me: !@#$ u… maan… (I was pretending to smile)
I was on the verge of losing my cool, I thought it might not be prudent to get in to a direct confrontation on Day 1.I spoon fed him or rather pigeon fed him that operating system and Environmental software are mandatory to run our application. To be fair enough to the IT head he seemed to have understood what I had said fairly quickly and he in turn escalated it to the Operations manager.
All hell broke loose when the issue was escalated as the bank blamed me and the company for not having informed them earlier that certain environmental software need to be in place. I had to recover lost ground as I was being blamed for no fault of mine. My presence of mind in spite of the mounting pressure made me tell the bank that this would have been mentioned as part of contract. To my bad luck contract never made any mention of it and it took some persuasion skills to pacify the bank.
The issue here was the project implementation had to be completed in a certain timeline and the environmental software (Business Basic BBX) which was required was not available easily of the shelf. We had to reach the supplier in US who said it will take 3 weeks to deliver the software and on top of it was costing the bank 200K USD – This was something the bank had not budgeted for – again the entire brunt of this was borne by me as the bank was not ready for this kind of spend all of a sudden. They knew that if the environmental software was not procured the actual project could not commence. Finally the order was placed and the software arrived after a month or so.
What happened further on the project made me go through several emotions over the next 8 months – angry, laugh at myself, frustration, inspired, helpless, determined to make things work against odds… I can probably write a book or even make a short film on my experience in Vanuatu. Coming back to the main story the implementation project went in full swing post the installation phase and had its own share of challenges. In between I managed to enjoy the local Melanesian hospitality and visit some of the local islands and the world’s only living volcano.