Merce Select

NCFM for the NSE
  • Summary

    Industry Capital markes/ stock exchange

    Client The NSE: one of the world's top five stock exchanges by number of trades

    Requirement They needed to operate a certification programme for members of the trading community, to facilitate spread of knowledge in derivatives trading. They needed a completely computerised system to allow them to operate all aspects of this operation with minimum overheads and tight control processes.

  • Our solution

    NCFM The system developed for the NSE was called NCFM (NSE Certification in Financial Markets). Later, the certification programme was launched with the same name.

    The aim was to conduct tests online, but from physical test centres. The online testing decision was taken to eliminated printed question papers. Physical test centres with human invigilators was decided to enhance security and check malpractice. All test centres were connected to the NSE data centre over private data links. Tests were to be conducted as per a pre-published time-table.

    Technologies and platform The system was originally developed and demonstrated on Linux with MySQL database. The code was in Perl. After initial user acceptance, it was ported to HP-UX with an Oracle DBMS, and soon afterwards, was ported to a Sun Solaris system with Oracle DBMS. There were hardly any code changes needed for each porting step.

    Features The system was originally spec'd as an online test administration system with the following broad features:

    • Management of a question bank with various types of questions
    • Each question paper was unique, created by selecting a set of appropriate questions from the question bank as per defined criteria, randomising the set of selected questions, randomising the order of questions, and randomising the order of alternative answers against a question in multiple-choice questions
    • Support for question groups with static leader content displayed if any or all of the questions in the group are used in a question paper
    • Support for dynamic questions: pieces of code which, when executed, would generate a static question of the type normally supported by testing systems
    • Support for applicant registration (lifetime), test registration (per test), and payment processing for test fees
    • Logistics module to manage the sending and tracking of hall tickets through various courier companies to applicants
    • Fine-grained access controls based on roles
    • Any number of types of certification tests, any number of test centres
    • Each test centre could have its own timetable of test slots. Any applicant could take any test at any timeslot from any test centre of his choice.
    • MIS reports of every flavour: question bank management, test management, fees management, applicant database management, centre management, etc
    • Generatio of printable certificates

    As the system was deployed and initial trial runs were completed, more features were added to run the certification service smoothly:

    • Integration with the NSE financial accounting system so that accounting entries could be passed in it from NCFM, thus eliminating the need for manual reconciliation
    • Sophisticated tracking of utilisation and performance of each question in the question bank, to assist in editing the question bank
    • Additional attributes to be associated with each question in the question bank and to be used in defining question papers; this allowed for finer control over the generated question papers
    • Fine grained access controls with additional roles: Question Bank Administrator, Registration and Enrolment Officer, Centre Invigilator, Hall Ticket Printing Officer, Certificate Issuing Officer, etc. Some of these roles were for the entire system while others were for each module, i.e. each type of certification.
    • Improvement in processes to tighten security and prevent any leakage of questions
    • Flexible payment options, including advance payment, deferred payment, group payment

    Eventually, this system grew from a test administration system to a complete computerisation of all business operations of the test administration division of NSE.

    Development and deployment The system specifications were drafted with the active involvement of the NSE team, who went into great detail. This assisted in clarifying their own perspective on the details of operating this service. Development commenced in 1997. Initial development was done over a period of 5-6 months for a subset of features and extensive acceptance tests were carried out, since the entire approach of online browser-based delivery of a critical activity was new in India.

    After initial deployment and migration to the Sun Solaris infrastructure, additional features were added and the functionality was extended as described. The project team remained active for more than two years, transitioning from development to maintenance and support roles.

    The system continued to be in active use for about eight years, and was later replaced by a new version re-written by another vendor. The NCFM service continues to operate today with the new software system.