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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.

"Although, most of our branches were networked, we found that we missed crucial information related to business transactions happening outside of our offices. We only had data regarding transactions that happened within our premises. A large portion of our on-field employees and agents were reaching out to consumers at their doorsteps to either initiate business or collect EMI payments. The information captured in that last mile was getting either delayed or lost in translation," recalls Shanmugam.

The problem also increased the NBFC's risk exposure since it only had a fudgy picture of how its executives had collected from existing consumers in EMIs.

"Connectivity between our office and our field executives was one of the biggest issues we faced. Other than that, there was no proper control on cash flow and monitoring of performance," remembers Santanu Roy, business regional head (Chandigarh).

That was because, with consumers staying as far as about 300 kilometers away from their nearest Mahindra Finance branch, collection teams traveled for days to meet multiple consumers and get back to the branch with updates on EMI collection. These updates, whether cash collection, verbal negotiations, future payment commitments, consumer queries or any other communication, were then noted and entered into the NBFC's systems.

This process created a world of paperwork, delays and old data. Worse it got in the way of work at remote branches.

"Such last minute updates not only pressurized the branch staff during monthly financial closing, but also overloaded the networking infrastructure between the branches and the datacenter. Further, management couldn't get its hands on a timely review of the collection status as the information, coming in from the branches, overshot monthly closing time by about 10 days. Monthly books were taking about 40 days to close. Such manual MIS management lost us value in terms of both time and money," says Shanmugam.

Reaching Out

The existing investment in a robust network was clearly not delivering benefits because of the lost last-mile information. That's when Shanmugam decided that it was about time they did some out-of-the-box thinking -- and fast. The longer they waited, the more consumers and business they were losing.

MFConnect-3000, Shanmugam's brain child, was devised to fix the last-mile problem. This networked mobile workforce initiative promised to take care of all Mahindra Finance's problems. "Instead of increasing the number of branches to further our reach, we decided to transform our on-field executives into mini-branches to bridge the last mile gap," says Shanmugam.

About 2,800 employees were equipped with Wi-Fi and GPRS enabled, VisionTek handhelds, running Linux as an operating system, and weighing about 750 grams. The handheld was pre-loaded with indigenously developed custom-made, multi-lingual business application modules to capture on-site data and update the central servers directly through the Internet.


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