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The rural connection

Gunjan Trivedi | Feb. 18, 2009
Mahindra & Mahindra Financial Services empowered its field force with handhelds, creating 3,000 mini-branches in nine months, and reaped new business benefits.
Our main business is not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what clearly lies at hand. -- Thomas Carlyle

Carlyle, a Scottish essayist and historian, explained the essence of running an effective business, way back in the Victorian era.

A couple of hundred years on, a leading non-banking financial company (NBFC) has taken Carlyle's ideas literally. Mahindra & Mahindra Financial Services, with its business cemented in rural and semi-urban India, wanted to expand its reach and quicken the delivery of its services across remote areas of the country. So, Suresh Shanmugam, the national head of Business Information Technology Solutions (BITS) and CIO at Mahindra Finance, led a team that helped the organization keep its customers clearly in hand.

Instead of setting up more branches to cover rural India, Shanmugam and his team transformed about 3,000 of Mahindra Finance's on-field workforce into roaming mini-branches. Armed with wirelessly online handhelds, this mobile workforce ensures that Mahindra Finance reaches the doorstep of its consumers, living in far-flung villages or semi-urban locations. They also act as mini-branches (the brick-and-mortar ones can be as far as a couple of hundreds of kilometers away) equipped to conduct financial transactions and update the central servers at the company's headquarters in Mumbai, all in a jiffy.

The IT team enabled the enterprise to increase Mahindra Finance's 300-odd fully networked branches to a whopping 3,000 in less than nine months. And that was achieved -- without any investment in brick-and-mortar infrastructure or headcount.

Missing Links

Mahindra Finance, part of the Mahindra & Mahindra conglomerate, is a leading rural NBFC and has about 430-odd branches and about 4,000 employees. The financing major offers personal, vehicular and housing loans, insurance and mutual fund products to rural and semi-urban customers of the country. The nationwide distribution network of the organization soon proved a challenge for Mahindra Finance which wanted to rollout out branches faster, deploy IT applications quicker and manage their operations with more granularity.

It is a known fact that agility and transparency are paramount for any business to succeed. Adequate interconnectivity and the seamless flow of information help organizations become competitively agile and transparent enough for their senior management to take quick business decisions.

But the expanse and reach of the company looked like an insurmountable roadblock.

The problem wasn't new. Shanmugam and his team had already ensured seamless interconnectivity with about 418 branches riding on various networking technologies, such as MPLS-based leased lines, VSATs and ISDN connections.

However, despite core business apps interfacing with the systems deployed at remote branches, Shanmugam realized that the organization was wasting a lot of time gathering data in the last mile -- between the consumer and the employee. It made all their work look like it just wasn't enough.


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