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Reaching out to rural customers with g-tech

Suresh A. Shanmugam Head - Business Information Technology Solutions Mahindra & Mahindra Financial Services Limited
Suresh A. Shanmugam
Head – Business Information Technology Solutions
Mahindra & Mahindra Financial Services Limited

In an exclusive interview with Geospatial World, Suresh A. Shanmugam explains how a non-banking financial services company is taking the geospatial route to enhance services to its rural customers

Mahindra & Mahindra Financial Services Ltd (MMFSL) is one of the largest rural non-banking financial companies in India. Why and when did you embark upon the use of geospatial technology?

MMFSL-BIT embarked upon its technology initiative with an aim to strengthen corporate role in nation building by utilizing rural information through geospatial technology. We also teach and train the rural population to benefit from it, while also reducing carbon footprint.
In a traditional approach, the focus was more towards drawing the map to locate the customer’s place to execute business. This is now being automated through current geospatial technologies like Google Maps and GPRS. The innovation now is towards map pins to operate which makes the process more productive and gives accurate and reliable information.
Such information can help us identify the challenges involved in rural India, the way ahead, and how the learnings can be converted into business.

Can you detail us on how MMFSL is using the geospatial technology as part of its workflow?

Before the deployment of our route map locator, MF Vazhithadam, our branch executives were using manual route map (a rough sketch) drawn on a paper file to mark the customer location which was often not understandable for other executives handling those cases. Many times, the map would be lost due to tear and damages. This map locator can overcome such disadvantages.
Further, updated information on any particular route is attained every time it is mapped. For example, a street can be renamed, a road can be declared as one way, or a new landmark could have been built. All such information can be captured and the latest route displayed.
The locator uses universal mapping standards so that everyone can follow, unlike earlier, where the used marks, hand writings and indicators by one person could not always be followed by other.
Our basic objective behind embarking on use of geospatial technology was to have a well-defined route map for our customers’ location in the map and in the process, eliminate the rough sketch route drawn on the customer’s KYC (know your client) files. But considering the potential and its influence on the business drive and branch operations, the project was scaled up to the multi-dimensional module called ‘ Mahindra Finance – Vazhi Thadam’ meaning Path Finder in Tamil.  The objectives of the scaled-up project included deploying a route optimiser tool for an effective route trace to customer doorstep, reducing carbon footprint, navigating executives to the customer location, dealer locating and providing a pictography BI tool of customer categories for business development.

Financial services is a competitive market. Were there any particular innovations for this market?

 Being a player in the competitive market, it is difficult to expose customer details in the public domain, hence there is a further need for unique and customised modules for such tools. For example, using the open resources and information from Google at the same time ensured that the data was not shared. We just captured the directions, landmark information, scenic icons, nature marks etc, while at the same time shielding the plotting information of the customer from the public and successfully retaining it within our domain for internal analyses.
Can you elaborate upon the benefits accrued from the use of geospatial technology?

The key benefits that we found are in terms of morale, productivity and planning.
Our executives are able to reach the customers faster without disturbing them with phone calls asking for locations. Using the navigation services and simple business intelligence dashboard which are very user friendly, the executives enjoys the benefits of the technology.
Further, there has been an improvement in work environment. ‘Where is the customer located’ has been the question of every executive who handles remote customers. Our field force can now cover more customers in a day by pre planning and effective utlisation of navigation and route optimiser services. Now, even before visiting the customer location, the executives check the distance, area, route, category type etc and pre plan their strategies well in advance using the location and navigation services. Such a service provides the user with a realistic planning for the routes and accuracy in kilometre calculation as near as possible to the actuals (+ or – 5%). Such planning reduces the unplanned visits on unclear routes, which may increase fuel consumption and increase carbon foot print.

The use of geospatial technology in financial services is in very nascent stage in India, more so in rural financial services. What are the challenges you faced in implementing geospatial technology in your processes?
Implementing this technology was an altogether a new arena for us. Incorporating the geospatial tools into the day-to-day operations and applications was very difficult as there was strong resistance from using as it was an additional task.
The fear of technology was visible among users from the very first stages of project deployment. This was successfully eradicated by continual sessions on product advantage briefings, news bits circulation, posters etc.

There was a huge challenge in terms of connectivity and internet access in branches. We tried to address this issue through proxy internet services. Further, many users where not used to Google Maps, plotting etc. We had to extensively use our IT team for training activities to familiarize users with these activities.

Also, integration with existing modules were difficult, as our initial location tool development was on Php. Later, we migrated it to Java platform. There were also limitations with Google access during month-end when our volumes are high.

What are your plans going forward vis-à-vis the use of technology?

Mahindra Finance is planning to integrate GPS and BTS (Base Tower Services) information soon into this project which will automate the reimbursement and travel claims of the field force using our route map locator, which in turn will reduce the task of entering and processing their claims manually.